“Run, Frank. Run,” I said as calmly as I could. I had just slipped in between demolition fence gates to capture a shot spontaneously during what was only supposed to be a location scout for an album cover with a new potential client. A helmeted head appeared wavery in the distance as it came over the horizon, and I could see it shaking side to side in disapproval of what I was doing. I slipped back out, trying to act as cool as a cucumber, and directed my hopeful customer that we should probably move along as fast as possible.
It turned out, that sneakily obtained shot was the one he used for his album. The site being demolished had emotional significance for him, which related to the pieces he had written and recorded. Even the guerilla approach I used to get the shot before I had been hired, somehow just seemed to fit with what his music is about. I love connections like that. I find there is an openness to musicians that allows these kinds of ethereal experiences a significance in their lives often overlooked by others over the age of 7.
There’s nothing like live music for totally immersing yourself in the present moment in time. I worked in a jazz club after I graduated from college, and that experience fostered an appreciation of musical performance and improvisation that has utterly informed my photographic approach.
Naturally, my first instinct, then, was to work with musicians, and most of my business when I first moved to NYC was photographing concerts, rock bands, and album covers. I admired equally contemporary photographers like Danny Clinch and Anton Corbijn, who actually photographed rock stars exclusively, and historic photojournalist-style photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, who endeavored to “do justice to a moment,” by capturing it naturally in all of its whimsy.
I was simultaneously cultivating my practice as a children’s photographer, and tuning in to the sweet essence of life force energy exuding from my young subjects. To me, it was not dissimilar to try to grab the moment of pure expression from a musician on stage, and capturing that of a young child in his or her first explorations of the world. Before I knew it, my rock-n-roll approach had made its way into my children’s work.
A colleague of mine at the top of the industry noticed this, even before I did. He said, “No one is doing this with kids photography. You’re doing something utterly unique.”
I took that to heart, and have spent the last several years experimenting with the overlap between a Life magazine, behind-the-scenes approach previously reserved for rock stars, and the more gentle, yet equally unabashed, world of photographing babies, toddlers, and children. Kids are just like musicians in their natural mastery of being present in the moment. With practice, I acquired the skills to feel the swell of the music, and anticipate the shot by lining up the composition, and then waiting patiently for an energetic expression to appear. That developed patience has served me well, as I now work entirely with young families and small children.
Babies and kids are incredible in how quickly they figure out my approach — generally well before their parents do. I am not looking for a pose, or a phony smile. I am waiting for something real, something genuine. A glimpse into their world.
Many times, I have worked with non-verbal children, or kids with any variety of development issues or disabilities. Amazingly, I never have communication problems. Even non-verbal children are quick to understand what I am doing, and connect with me and the camera.
I think it’s because I look at them the way I looked at Frank, when I had snuck into the demolition site that day, in the name of art. Kids can see it in my eyes, “This isn’t something everyone would do. We’re doing this our own way. And, we’re going to get away with it.”
Kids and rockstars have that in common, for sure. They love to feel like they’re going to get away with something. And, they love it, because I’m like, “Yeah, and let’s record it.”