By now most savvy social media users know that the selfie is not new. What is new is how they are made with new portable technology and how they are seen instantly by so many friends and strangers. The digital age selfie is defined by the capturing device generally being held a little overhead and the inclusion of the raised arm in the shot. Often multiple people are included.
As I stated, the selfie as a form of portraiture isn’t knew. It used to be referred to as a self portrait. Artists and photographers alike often made self portraits. Most famous painters throughout art history made them. Self portraits have been made by artists in the earliest of times but it wasn’t until the 15th century that artists can be frequently identified as depicting themselves as the main subject or characters in the work. Portrait of a Man in a Turban by Jan van Eyck of 1433 may well be the earliest known panel self-portrait.
There are many famous self portraits thought history including Vincent van Gough, Edward Hopper and Chuck Close to name just a few. Every artist at sometime in their career makes a few. It is a regular art school activity.
About My Selfie
At age twelve when I first started photographing with a Kodak Instamatic using my own film, the first thing I did was to take a self portrait. An early selfie, if you will. I have made many since then, however I believe this image is my first one.
Between 1983 and 1986 I had a studio in downtown Minneapolis. I was a stone’s throw from the night club First Avenue. From my window I could see the intersection of 7th street and 1st Ave. I also got great light in my studio from the reflective buildings as the sun would set. It was pretty dramatic sometimes.
This is a view looking South-Eastward down 7th street to Hennepin Ave. – into the heart of downtown.
At the time I had a Nikon F3. This was on Plus-X and I metered for the bright spot of the IDS to get a dramatic shadowy effect.
This is Sonya. My muse and one of my favorite art models. She inspired me every time we shot. Even if we planned a certain shot often something else would happen as well. It was always a surprise. This image was captured on a beautiful fall day with a Pentax 67, 165mm lens with Tri-x film.
Watching movies and Tv throughout my life I always noticed strong light and shadow that emanated from windows. Especially light filtered through venetian blinds. I often thought it was funny on Tv shows that had this kind of splash of light from venetian blinds but no reference to a window. Sometimes they would appear in a room that couldn’t have windows. It must have been a lighting designer’s joke to see if anyone was paying attention.
From the very beginning of my photo career as an independent commercial photographer I gravitated to what I then referred to as Hollywood Style lighting. Not for my corporate work but in my personal approach to portraits. I felt that this style. I am returning to that style of lighting but now I refer to it as Noire.
Hopefully in the future I will be able to create images that evoke hazy, dark rooms with streaks of light that reveal the subject matter in a a mysterious Noire way.
This is Michelle. I met her through a makeup artist, which happened a lot. Michelle had a really cool studio full of vintage stuff. At the time I was often carrying a long set of venetian blinds and a faceable spot light to shine through them. It was hard to get believable light if there wasn’t enough room to work. This time it worked out.
About this Image
This was shot on daylight Ektachrome. I liked shooting these type of images with tungsten lamps and daylight film to get a certain warm color. Now, in Photoshop, the image can be desaturated and controlled by me, not a lab.
One of my early clients was NuVo for Hair salon. The owner, Gina Zaffarano, gave me some very nice opportunities to showcase my creativity. Most of the time we would shoot NuVo’s ads on location but I wanted to do a studio portrait of Gina. I thought she had a Hollywood face. In this photo she reminds me a little of Judy Garland.
My second studio in Minneapolis was in the same building as a hair salon called La Boucherie. My friend, muse and favorite model Stephanie worked there in guest services. The salon was a great resource for me and it helped a lot that Stephanie worked there.
There were two weekly publications in the Twin Cities back then and La Boucherie wanted to place an ad for the salon in one of them. Stephanie had the idea of doing a shoot with me for the ad. I don’t remember having any formal ideas or even a layout. We just did what we always did. I know we wanted a close-up hair shot.
Steph came into the studio sporting a wonderful short cut. I had never seen her with such short hair. It really inspired me.
For this shot I used the natural light from the windows in that studio and a reflector. I used 35mm Tri-x film.
Glenwood Avenue in Minneapolis hosted my first professional studio. The building’s number was 14 ½, which sounds magical nowadays, and was nestled on a corner of downtown that boasted storefronts whose vibrant history had faded long before I took up residence. My studio was on the second floor in the middle of the block. The first floor storefronts were only ever partially rented, with a Chinese restaurant, a massage parlor (Hanako’s Sauna) and a hat shop. The rest of the stores were vacant, and the block looked a bit blighted. However, from my studio window one could see a bustling corner of the city. This view is and was the South West corner of Block E, at First Avenue and Seventh Street. On the right side of this photo is the Schubert Theater which has now been moved to Hennepin Avenue. Other than the First Avenue night club (not in the photo), none of the buildings exist anymore. They were razed to build the Target Arena and kick off the development of Block E.
This photo is from my pre-digital days. I was driving home one evening and I saw a most spectacular March sunset over Diamond Lake. Because this lake is near my house I could quickly get home, load my camera with Ektachrome and have time to get a 12-exposure roll’s worth of the scene.
One of the things I like about this image is how one can get lost in the lacy intricacies of the branches.
I made this image using a Pentax 6×7, a tripod and Ektachrome 200 film. I metered for the brightest part of the sunset and opened up 1/2 stop.
In the late nineties I had the opportunity to photograph three women who were fitness competitors. At the time of our shoot these women were at their peak fitness with the goal of being at 5% body fat. I found photographing them very exciting, a great figure photography experience. Muscular bodies offer a great opportunity for showing skin texture through dramatic lighting. When photographing skin, darker tones are more interesting, especially on muscular bodies. Curves, bumps, ripples and texture are all more prominent.
At 5% body fat I have heard that most people are in a crabbier mood a lot of the time from being hungry. Even so, these women were perfectly nice to me.
My lighting consisted of two softboxes on either side of the set which provided the main light. An umbrella behind the camera provided fill light. These images were of course shot on film. For these and other portraits I would under expose and over develop the film for more contrast.
This image was made early in my photo career and as a business owner. A lot of people I knew were starting businesses at the same time and often we would help each other by lending our skills to build our businesses. Sometimes I would do something for no fee if the result seemed worth it.
Mike Olson is a composer who was one of these new start-ups in the creative industry. He came to me with a great idea and something few people have: access to an unusual place to shoot. In this case a power plant on the Mississippi River in St. Paul. It was a simple shoot to execute but access to the location made the resulting image so compelling. It’s worth pointing out that this photo was done before photoshop was around. Because of the type of lighting I used it seems like it could have been composited using a computer. It was entirely done on location and in camera.
This was Mike’s first effort as art director. This photo was used on a poster for one of his performances.