DPP Home Profiles Timothy Greenfield-Sanders - The Portrait's The Thing

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders - The Portrait's The Thing

For an ambitious project spanning several years of the New York spectacle that's Fashion Week, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders shed his 8x10 view camera in favor of small-format digital capture

“I think retouching is just another tool,” he explains. “I look at it this way. If I wanted to make you look bad, I could light you in a very ugly way. So I choose to use lights in a certain way where you look good. And I can choose to change the image later on in Photoshop to make you look good just as easily, so I don't think there's much difference. Can it be overly used or used poorly by unartistic people? Sure. Just look around.

“Sometimes,” he continues, “it's a lot easier to take a picture and know that you're going to retouch the way the skirt is falling later because to stop what you're doing and fix it is so distracting and could ruin the mood of the moment. So you have to kind of decide as a photographer, ‘Am I going to be really specific right now or am I going to fix it later?' And I think that's a smarter way to shoot because it's the moment that you have with the subject that's so critical.”

Greenfield-Sanders only had a moment to shoot many of his subjects during the Fashion Week sessions. Although the digital cameras would have enabled him to quickly shoot far more frames than usual, he chose not to throw all of his large-format discipline out the window and worked in the same deliberate fashion as he does in his New York studio.

“I don't take a lot of pictures when I work in large format, and I didn't take a lot here,” says Greenfield-Sanders. “If you know what you're doing and you know how to shoot, I think in 10 frames you can get a good picture. So I tried to think of each frame that I was clicking as an important image, that I wasn't just shooting and hoping at the end that I'd have something. The more you shoot, the more work you have later on. So if you can be very disciplined, it's worth it in the end. Imagine 200 people times X amount of shots—it's unbearable.”

Though the digital cameras are certainly fast, Greenfield-Sanders says that even when he's working with a mammoth view camera he's not a slow shooter. Speed helps keep things interesting for his subjects.

“I'm very fast,” he says. “I shoot 8x10 like it's 35mm—but only because I have two or three assistants and I know what I'm doing at this point. I've been doing it for so long that I can look at something upside down and see it very clearly. I feel posing for a photographer is dull, basically. So it's up to me to make it feel quick and fun and easy; otherwise, it's just boring. I posed for someone the other day, and I almost fell asleep I was so bored by it.”

With more than 200 subjects eager to sit for Greenfield-Sanders during Fashion Week, time was of the essence. He found that his ability to work quickly, needing only a few exposures, was a great asset.

“Anywhere from a great 30 seconds to an hour,” Greenfield-Sanders says of the time with them, “depending on how they enjoyed sitting back there with us and getting away from the paparazzi. Lindsey Lohan—I don't think we had more than two minutes. I took, like, six frames. Literally, they said you're only going to get 30 seconds with her. I said that's all I need, and I stopped before they asked me to. And I got a good shot, I think. There were some people who were difficult, but in the end they seemed to like the pictures. Try to imagine how hard it is to be a designer whose work is about to be shown on the runway and you're five minutes before that posing for a portrait and trying to be cool and collected. It's not easy. It was a very hard place to shoot people, in that sense, but also it was an easy place because there were so many great people around.”


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