After watching Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light, I have been thinking quite a bit about how to instruct the subject to get the kind of look, or reflection of personality in your image. Richard Avedon mentioned that he could play a trick with his subjects, in some cases by talking about matters of which he knew that would touch them, by keeping everything silent and bring the subject in a state of self awareness that would bring out the personality, or the expression that Avedon was looking for.
However, in the contact sheets shown in the movie one could see that within one sitting there had been a huge variety of expressions in the images and that it the way the subject is portrayed solely depends on the artist's choice. I guess that in commercial work this decision is made by other parties as well, or the subject decides which photo is going to be developed or post processed.
Of course the quality of the final images start with having a photo shoot in which there is a good rapport between the photographer and subject, where the photographer is able to get the true unposed version of the subject. But having had a look at Avedon's workflow, I realize the power there is in the selection process of the images. It is important to have thought about what emotion or characteristic on wants to portray and be aware of the effects of a specific choice.
I wanted to add a final image to my series of portraits for assignment 1 and I decided to do an image in the style that Avedon used for his own personal art. So no props, simple lighting and a white background. During the shoot I tried to do 'the trick', so I talked about my friends' mother of which I know that she is terminally ill. It felt a bit unnatural, to be honest. We always have a lot to talk about and I found it also hard to steer the conversation in the quiet, contemplative mood that Avedon had when taking his portraits. Maybe I should try it again with a person that I don't know that well.
Still, looking at the contact sheets, there are a lot of different expressions to be seen. It really all depends on the one hundredth of a second when the shutter closes. I do so a difference between images in which the subject is posing (in a very nice way) and when you see genuine expressions.
Other issues I grappled with are how much depth of field should be used, how much the features of the face should be shown and most of all, how to transform the image in black and white, use a lot of contrast, or not, darken the eyes, or lips, etc. I'll look for more instructions on that online, or otherwise read more books about it. I wish I knew how to work in a darkroom, I realize that I miss the eye for dodging and burning, etc.
I'm still doubting between the final three images. The first two are a bit posed, but I like the engaging and sympathetic look. The final image shows more of an inner pain, or is it boredom? Still need to think about it...
A few days later I have made the decision. The final image is the on in which the subject looks most straight into the camera. In this image the eyes are most visible and it is a headshot, which I wanted for the final image. I think this image complements most with the set that I'm submitting for the assignment.