Hi, I am so excited to be here and to share a little bit with you about portrait photography and particularly my own experiences and how I apply body language and light to my everyday work. And I think regardless of whether you're a photographer or not this part about body language can be applied in every facet of our life, so interestingly enough, we can use it when we're in meetings, when we're interacting with our family, in social settings, so it's not just about photography. But it's not also just about how we perceive our subjects that are in front of our cameras, but how we are perceived by others. And what exactly we're saying without saying it. So before I get to that I'm gonna tell you a little bit about my background. Let me get my little happy clicker here. This is the introduction portion of the class y'all, there's a nice little thing that explains that. All right, my background. There I am. Haven't changed much. That was a joke, you guys can laugh. (audience laughing) Ok...
ay, I started out in the military as a photographer, I enlisted at 17, and spent my most formidable years traversing the global covering the military story. Now I traveled to over 41 countries. What's universal about traveling to international countries? I don't speak 41 languages, I speak just one and that's English. However, there's a universal language that we all speak and that's body language. So over the course of those 10 years as a military photographer I've learned a lot about observing human behavior, about watching the human experience, almost interjecting their experiences in my own life and how that related. It took me seeing other's experiences to kind of step out of my own to better understand it. You're like wow, that's really philosophical, what exactly do you mean? If I walked into somebody's home I didn't just dive right in. I would walk in very courteous and observe. I would observe the people there, watch the dynamics, watch the non-verbals, and then I would take my place and begin to photograph that dynamic. It was all done subconsciously and we do it every day. So when's the last time you went to meet up with your friends and it was a social setting for instance, perhaps it was a gallery opening. You walked into the room and there's a cluster of people over there and there's the person in the center of the attention, they're like ha ha, bringing all the attention to themselves. They're that high energy, effervescent person that draws everybody to them, moth like a flame. Then there's the person holding up the wall in the corner, just kind of observing. You could tell they're cool, somebody interesting that you'd kind of like to know. There's just something about them. And then there's the person who's kind of schizophrenically walking the room and pacing around, because they're feeling really nervous and they don't know exactly what to do. Where do you fit in that dynamic? As a photographer I would step back, observe this, and know that based on the body language this person is somebody who's sort of the person in charge of this particular space, this environment. To allow myself to watch this behavior allowed me to best capture the individual's story. It's sort of interesting that way. And how that time in photojournalism where I controlled nothing has now allowed me to control the environment in the studio. Interestingly enough everything that I photographed was sight unseen. Never met these people before, often didn't speak the same language, being able to watch body language and know where I needed to go, and we're going to talk about light, and so talking about how we observe light, how light impacts mood and emotion, incorporating that body language, that observation, what they're (mumbling) to me and I in return, and how that light will impact it, all told the story of these individuals. So imagine that concept when applied to portraiture. When I meet somebody with the Veterans Portrait Project I have literally 10 minutes from start to finish to assess and evaluate, to look past the projection of themselves, to dig a little deeper, capture their essence, hug it out, and then say goodbye. 10 minutes flies by really quick. But how did that every come to be in the first place? Now as a combat photographer I sustained injuries. I was in the hospital feeling really quite low. All I had ever thought I would do in my whole life was be a combat photographer. When they said I couldn't be a combat photographer anymore I was devastated. I had lost my identity. And frankly, the doctors were saying that I couldn't do photography period, because it was sustained periods of standing, ups and downs. I had a spine trauma and a brain trauma and they said, this just isn't gonna work. So when I was in the hospital feeling kind of pitiful for myself I was looking at all the other veterans, predominately male. When I left the service only 12% of the military was women. In the VA hospital even less were represented. So I really felt marginalized and I felt alienated and that I was consistently battling to get the care that I justly deserved and that I had earned over the course of my career. And I was feeling like everybody was prejudiced against me. When I looked the gentlemen surrounding me, my fellow veterans, I always felt like they were judging me in some way. And so I would close myself off and I would protect myself, not only physically, but emotionally and with my attitude and all the things I wasn't saying. One day I was waiting for my neurology appointment, two hours past my scheduled time, typical of the VA at that time, and an elderly gentleman came and sat next to me. And I could see him staring at me in my peripheral, which was driving me crazy. And all I really wanted to do was turn to him and give him a piece of my mind. The softer part of myself however and my leveler head prevailed and I turned to him and I said, is there something that I can help you with? And his eyes lit up and his eyes got wide and there was this just recognizable face of pure excitement that he finally got my attention, which is was he was waiting for in the first place. And he started telling me about how he joined the Army, how he survived Normandy, how he liberated a concentration camp. I mean, the guy was a national treasure. And here I was thinking so negatively about him. But there was a lot of factors in that moment. My life and my environment at that time was very negative, my energy was negative, everything I thought about the world around me was negative. I didn't have a job, didn't really have much of a future, I was only 27 years old. And so everybody else in my mind was out to get me. That was my mindset. It turns out he wasn't the prejudiced one. Turns out that it was me. That's when it flipped the switch and something inside me said I've really gotta turn my mind around, I gotta take this guy's portrait, I gotta tell his story. How many people don't know this man is an awesome, awesome dude? So despite the doctors and all their ideas about what I could and couldn't do, grabbed my camera, and with the help of the public affairs officers at that VA I started taking portraits of my fellow veterans. What I realized was that all that I had learned in the service about observation, storytelling, being observant, taking my own biases out and allowing people to be themselves, could be applied with telling people's stories through portraits. I'm not a psychologist and I never will be, but I do know that I've spent the last 20 years observing human behavior. And it's that experience and that like experience with my fellow veterans that allows me to be relatable and to really break through the barrier of what they're projecting to me, that safeguard that we all give to strangers and really thrust through in less than 10 minutes. That's what this course is about.