I’m always interested when a photo of me doesn’t look like me.
Robert said this to me when we were doing a rough edit of the images we had just finished shooting. I had been wanting to photograph him for a couple of years, but the timing was never right. I had had an idea of the exact composition beforehand—I wanted him dressed in the same suit that you can see him performing in here, sitting in a low chair (my friend Walter had this sun-bleached chair outside for several years; when he sat in it one day, a leg broke, so he sawed the other three to match—I’m obsessed with the color), with his pant legs being pulled up above his boots by the low position, and crouching forward with his arms on his knees. The pose came from the Greek statue called The Boxer of Quirinal, but I always associated with the name Thom Jones gave it in his blunt-force-trauma collection of short stories The Pugilist At Rest.
Robert nixed the chair—he’s an artist, so I welcome his input. I judge on a person-by-person basis how much art direction I want to give; with Robert I decided to offer almost none—I wanted to see if it would go off the rails or if it would take us somewhere interesting. So, we replaced the chair with something a little more classic. Here’s a short video of the shoot.
If you can’t see the video above, click here.
I shot 187 frames in about 20 poses. Robert was stiff at first, but then just started playing. Things just started to flow. We took a run down to the store and got a couple of beers. We worked on the Boxer pose, but nothing really struck me.
Then there it was. It wasn’t the photo I had planned; but it was a photo that I desired. If I trusted my intuition more fully, I would have stopped shooting then and there—but I don’t, so I didn’t. I kept pushing it, adding to the frame count, but not getting more of it. Robert, who apparently trusts his intuition a bit more than I do mine finally said he was losing focus and I realized that I hadn’t even really looked at the last ten frames I had shot; true enough, they aren’t keepers. I think there might be a slight desperation involved; if I shoot more frames, more of it will appear as if it is solely a matter of statistical average.
What fascinates me about photography is that it captures a shard of time. It doesn’t capture reality—and photography can be successfully brought up on the charges of irreality quite easily—but it does give us a glimpse into a person. The frames before and the frames after do not show what I see in Robert in this image. Interestingly enough, the person depicted in the photo doesn’t even look quite like Robert. Hell, I think he has a Taxi Driver-era DeNiro look. But it is him, or a version of him, a version of him depicted for only the merest of moments.