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

Part of Greenfield-Sanders' success as a portrait artist stems from this sense of empathy and devotion to his subjects. He's able to concentrate on the psychological aspects of portraiture by keeping his lighting, though precise, quite simple. It's almost always from a single source—the largest and softest source possible. He worries less about crafting elaborate lighting and more about putting subjects at ease.

“I think that it shouldn't be all about lighting,” he says. “I think that if you look at a picture and say, ‘Gee, how did he light that? What's this lighting system?'—then it becomes about something technical and not about the person. So for me, it should feel like one light, daylight, very simple, unobtrusive.

“In my studio, it's kind of a dance,” he adds. “From the moment someone walks in, I'm trying to figure out what they're thinking, what they're feeling, what they're interested in—trying to find something we both have in common. Also, my studio is in my house, so people know who I am by my art, my furniture—it's my setting.”

Out of his home element, the relational challenges for Greenfield-Sanders were amplified. Putting an intense, tense, tired or wired subject at ease can be difficult under any circumstances. In the frenzied backstage world of fashion's biggest week, it's a near impossibility.

“It was a challenge,” he says, “but that's what I'm good at, I guess. I try and think about what that person has come from as they arrive into my space. I try to get into their shoes and that's always very helpful. In general, and particularly here where they have just come off the runway themselves or they have been sitting in the front row and they have been attacked by all the press, my job is to sort of relax them and, say, ‘Oh, this is nothing, just a quick little shot. Sit here, here's what it looks like, you look great.' Little things like that make a big difference.

“I think people tend to show you who they are if you let them,” he continues. “I try to create an atmosphere where they're feeling comfortable enough to present themselves to me. I'm very open to people's ideas. I'm not a photographer who feels threatened by people saying ‘Why don't you try this?' or ‘Do you think this would work?' I like that. I got that from Warhol. Warhol was very open to everyone else around him.”

Timeless Quality

Greenfield-Sanders' Warholian approach stems from his early days photographing the art world's brightest stars. It was at this stage in his career that he earned the reputation as the artist's photographer, as well as the respect of those who would ultimately deliver his fame. These days, he has one foot in each of the photographic worlds of art and commerce.

“I do everything,” he says. “I've been very lucky that way. The art world came first. I started out as an art photographer showing in galleries and museums and became known as the person photographing the art world. So when I became known outside of that, I was already established as an artist. It's very difficult to go the other way, where you have a reputation as a commercial photographer and you say, ‘Well, I'm really an artist and I want to show at Mary Boone.' That's a tough nut to crack.”


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