Portraits are momentary, organic stitches in time. The pictures are vulnerable agreements to share someone’s truth; complicated when meeting a subject for the first time, with little planning.
Before I start shooting I’m asking myself, what is the story? Once at a destination I’m scanning for colors and geometry – is there a pool of natural light or am I adding light? Should the subject sit or stand?
These decisions take minutes.
While I’m shuffling gear, conversation shifts to a subject’s story. I listen, I share. Maybe we’re simply talking about the weather but sometimes it’s deeper than that – swapping stories about our backgrounds, or exchanging quips about our kids. It’s these moment where subjects decide if they are going to trust me.
The picture of Norma Alcantar was a hustle. Alcantar, a professor at the University of South Florida, had an early-afternoon eye exam and I was up against a 2 p.m. deadline. Despite having her eyes dilated she met me on a sunny day at the USF botanical gardens for a portrait next to a Prickly Pear cactus. The setting was essential since Alcantar was inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame with 22 patents for her work using cactus plants for water filtration, something she learned from her grandmother who grew up on a Mexican farm.
I quickly realized she and I had both recently turned 50. I shared a laugh with her about “the big number” and we made a handful of pictures.
I met Florida Highway Patrol Corporal Tabarie Sullivan at the southbound easement of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge where people have taken their life by jumping. I was escorted to the location by the FHP and given a few minutes to make the picture. I asked the FHP escort to hold a single strobe pointed at Sullivan. I made six pictures while leaning over the edge of the bridge. I was nervous and did not look down.
Sullivan has patrolled the bridge for about three years and interacted with roughly 10 people who were threatening to jump. We talked briefly of his heroism before ascending the bridge together. He was very humble.
Lindsey Bergo Rachel was teaching her seven-month-old student how to hold her breath underwater during a private swimming lesson, when we met. The story was about Bergo’s business, Little Inks Swimming, which provides mobile swim lessons. We talked about Rachel’s background as a swim team coach and nanny. I have three young children so we connected on the importance of learning to swim.
“Not only am I teaching children how to save their own lives, I’m giving the parents peace of mind,” Rachel said. “We forgot how smart children are at such a young age. We can teach them the skills, you just have to believe in it.”
I took a camera underwater and made a series of pictures while Rachel swam with the child.