Three men influenced my skills as a photographic artist: Mr. John Hatfield, Mr. Arthur Mintz and Mr. Yusuf Karsh. Mr. Hatfield was my high school photography instructor who observed in me a natural flair for making photographs. He invested many hours of his time into my technical development. He was regularly taking my new images and pinning them to the bulletin board as examples of interesting student work. I was thoroughly absorbed in every aspect of the camera and the darkroom so I spent many hours beyond the classroom taking pictures and developing them in the campus darkroom. Finally, one morning, he invited me to be his teacher's aide and assist him in all the activities of teaching the next arrival of beginning students.
Two years later, I took a wedding portrait of a bride to get it framed by a world renowned photographer who owned a studio 10 miles from my home. He saw my photograph and asked if I would be his apprentice and help him in his studio. I could not believe that he would invite me, but without a moment's hesitation, I humbly accepted his generous offer.
Mr. Arthur Mintz’s portraits of children are spectacular. Even after the internet opened the floodgates of beautiful portraiture from around the world, I still say, without any hesitation or reservation that he is one of the finest children's photographers that I or the world has ever known. Much of my technical and artistic knowledge was influenced by him.
In 1986 I heard about a world famous photographer of my own heritage. He escaped the Armenian genocide of the early 1900's as did my own family. He immigrated to Canada and apprenticed with a master photographer. As he developed his talent, he began photographing people who would influence the world.
As I completed my psychology degree from college, I went to a local museum that was featuring Mr. Yusuf Karsh’s black and white images. They were breathtakingly unbelievable. He captured more than just the subject looking at his camera; he captured their soul for everyone to see. I began buying books by Karsh and reading the stories he told about each of his famous clients.
“His portrait of Winston Churchill is one of the most famous portraits ever made. Some say it is the most reproduced image in history. It was on the cover of LIFE magazine when WWII ended. It was taken on December 30, 1941 after Churchill gave a speech to Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa. Karsh was hired by the Canadian government to do this portrait and knew he would have very little time to make the picture. He began by researching Churchill, taking notes on all of the prime minister’s habits, quirks, attitudes and tendencies. When he finally got Churchill seated in the chair, with lights blazing, Churchill snapped
“You have two minutes. And that’s it, two minutes.”
The truth was that Churchill was angry that he had not been told he was to be photographed; he lit a fresh cigar and puffed mischievously.
Karsh asked Churchill to remove the cigar in his mouth, but Churchill refused. Karsh walked up to Churchill supposedly to get a light level and casually pulled the signature cigar from the lips of Churchill and walked back toward his camera. Karsh recounted:
“I stepped toward him and without premeditation, but ever so respectfully, I said, ‘Forgive me, Sir’ and plucked the cigar out of his mouth.
By the time I got back to my camera, he looked so belligerent he could have devoured me. It was at that instant I took the photograph. The silence was deafening. Then Mr. Churchill, smiling benignly, said,
‘You may take another one.’
He walked toward me, shook my hand and said,
‘You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed.'”
It is important to have accurate light meter readings of your subject. It is important to have a good camera with high resolution. It is important to have elegant backgrounds and lighting, but if you do not capture the soul of your subject and portray them in the best light, you might as well sell your studio to J.C. Penny or Sears and Roebuck. As one photographer so eloquently said,
"A photographer's depth and perception is weighed by one thing and that is the ability to produce an image [on film] which portrays the spirit, strength and personality of the person in front of his camera."
I am grateful and thankful to God for giving me amazing role models in my lifetime that steered me through some of the rough waters of my profession. It is true, there is nothing new under the son, as King Solomon once declared in his book of Ecclesiastes, so I apply the same skills and technical elements of my heroes each time I depress the shutter of my camera, but I also I pray that God will reveal a momentary glimpse into the soul of the one before me so that I can properly portray their personality, strength and spirit!