Jan Banning is an extraordinary portrait photographer.
The quotes below about the difficulties of portrait photography are from a presentation he made about his work at Eramus Huis Jakarta on August 14th, 2010. The full text may be read here.
For portraiture, the digital camera I think is one of the most difficult things and I tend to think you should throw it away and start to use an old camera because you cannot (*looking the images right away) so you will be contacting people. That do that among yourselves and you will notice the difference in your own reaction.
If you work like this …
There’s no contact !
You have contact with your camera but not with the person. That will never lead to a good portrait. So if you use a digital camera, I think you have to really disciplined yourself and not keep on looking at the back. No, you have to be busy with the person in front of you and all these technical things. You have to do your preparation right and solve that basically before you are interacting with the person you want to portray.
The most basic thing in a portrait, you are there as a person first and only second as a photographer
If you would go and portrait a manager of a company there’s not a big chance that they give you two hours. What I normally try to do is, I make the appointments, well especially, people that have the least time are generally these managers, etc.
So, in a lot of cases you have to make the appointment with the secretary. Be nice to the secretary, the secret weapon is the secretary. So, be nice. And then very often this people are spoiled because they are used to photographers com- ing in and taking a photo in five minutes. So normally if I make that appointment, nowdays it doesn’t happen very often anymore, but that’s how I did it in the past. I make that appointment, I try – without boasting, i try to make it clear or give them the idea that I’m kind of a special photographer and I tell them “Well, I know you probably used to five minutes but I work in a different way, I need an hour.”
You probably not going to get the hour but then you can start negotiating and try to somehow make it clear by what you have already done to give a good image of yourself to them so that they also take you seriously. And what I’m usually did was simply try to make it clear to the secretary that I absolutely wanted that time and I try to get information.
A practical information sometimes, does he wear glasses, etc, how long is he, things like that but also other things that you can talk about with the person, anything. Does he like music? What kind of music? Try to discover things about the person so that you can start the conversation and I think that helps very often. Most people have some kind of vanity and when they discover that you have been trying to discover something about them and you invested time in finding out who they are, the feel flattered … So I think that will help very often. You have simply have something to talk about with them that interest them.
And lastly I think, prepare the situation. So, I would normally go, I would tell the secretary, look I want to be there half an hour or sometimes an hour before I do the portrait. So I can look at the spot, I know where to put my light, if possible I would bring an assistant to pose there. I can put my lights and all that is finished, is ready. So I can concentrate on the person and not like “oh yeah…shit… how am I going to do this…where… indirect flash.” [act panicky]
Below is a video on his series, Comfort Women