The night before meeting Lynn Goldsmith I researched her career. Holy Mamiya, Batman! This woman has done everything except walk on the moon. According to Wikipedia, “Lynn Goldsmith is a recording artist, a film director and a celebrity portrait photographer. Her work has appeared on the covers and inside almost any important publication in every country for the past 35 years. She has done over 100 album covers. In addition to her editorial work, Goldsmith has also focused on fine art photography with conceptual images.” If you keep reading, your jaw starts dropping every time you get to a new category i.e. books, awards, education, etc. Suffice it to say I had good reason to be intimidated and didn’t know at all what she would be like in person.
The story continues with five videos after the jump
So when she reached out and introduced herself in a quiet, reserved manner, that was cool. Next thing she’s kneeling on the floor – in spite of having a gazillion assistants –taping seamless to the floor. She sounded a little stern when she announced the place needed straightening up, but it was clear that’s how she works. Clear surroundings, clear mind. She’s obviously the boss.
“O.K.,” she says, “here’s what’s happening today. We’re doing portraits of people who look like your average citizen. I want to bring out the extraordinary in ordinary people. Everyone has something unique that can be photographed.”
“We’re also going to make some images for a project that I’ve been working on since 1997, about race, and how that affects us as Americans. In the previous census, there were only three boxes you could check, white, black and other. Since then, people have become more sensitive about mixed races. I have a couple of mixed race models coming today.”
Before Lynn could say anything else, her first models – a father with his baby – entered the studio. Warm hugs said they knew each other pretty well, and before long father and son were in front of Lynn’s Mamiya DL28. The father had a beautiful collection of upper body tattoos and the pure white, soft skin of the baby contrasted against them strongly.
“That’s great,” Lynn said as the session got under way, “but let’s get this light a little lower to open up the baby’s eyes. That’s perfect! Great! Wow, that baby is sooo gorgeous!”
Every time she clicked the shutter you could see the image appear on the big Eizo monitor. No wonder Polaroid stopped making instant film. You could not only see the image but you could zoom in to check sharpness. You knew if the exposure was within the camera’s dynamic range. The man behind the computer is Rich Marot. Called a digital technician, Rich’s job didn’t exist before the dawn of medium format digital half a dozen or so years ago.
“Medium format digital is so much better,” he said “than 35mm DSLR’s. The larger pixel layout and 16-bit capture gives us images than can easily be blown up to 30”x40.” Look at this!” as he zoomed in to fill the screen with the baby’s eye. “Wait until you see a large print from this image.”
Hmmm. Now there’s an idea.
“Rick, can you give us a copy of that image?”
MAC Group’s Cliff Hausner took the CD with the image on it and hopped in a cab. I won’t tell you where he went or what happened later; no sense giving away the surprise! But you get the idea.
Anyway, back on the set Lynn was obviously pleased that things were going well. She started laughing, just a little at first and then a more pronounced giggle that had the crew smiling. Very effervescent. Very magnetic. Very much in control of the subject’s psychological well-being. Little things that the average person wouldn’t think about. Should the room lights be left on? Even asking herself whether the modeling lights should be on or off. What kind of music do we want to set the mood?
Whatever Lynn was doing, she was doing it right. Everyone was really getting into the spirit. That is, until baby Jet peed on the seamless paper. Whoops! Time to take a break. Soon, Jet’s mom arrived and Lynn did some shots of the three of them. I didn’t think they were as powerful as the father/son alone, but certainly the family would treasure those photographs forever.
The next subject, Curtis Stigers, arrived looking very dapper, and under his arm he carried the most beautiful, shiny brass saxophone I have ever seen. Plus, he had in tow a most gorgeous seven year old daughter, Ruby. What was fascinating was the way Lynn interacted with the young girl, asking her to dance behind the camera, for example, as dad played the sax. Later, she photographed the two of them together, dad playing and daughter dancing. Exquisite! Clearly, Lynn understood the subtle relationships between father and daughter, and used that skill to take control of the scene. It made for not only great photographs, but a great spirit and feeling in the studio. It also made you wonder if Lynn could keep up this pace all day.
“I don’t think one can be a real, insightful photographer unless you are a psychologist,” Lynn adds.
We broke for lunch and everyone sat around talking, more about movies they’d seen or books they’d read than about photography. And why not? We were working, like any other professional, and who wanted to talk about work?
Next up were Raul and Miguel for a fashion clothing shoot.
“Hey,” says Lynn, “lets go outside and see what we can do against some of the walls and doors. Might be fun, no?”
Everyone seemed taken aback at this, like it wasn’t in the original script. But what the hay, everybody scrambled to find their coats, hats and gloves. And into the chilly winter weather we went, Lynn shooting with a ringlight and the DL28. What a great look! And of course, this time she wasn’t tethered, so it looked a lot like a photographer shooting a high-speed 35mm motor drive camera. Only it was medium format. Mmmm. Gorgeous. Back inside, the models changed outfits and Lynn continued her high-spirited shoot.
“Oh yeah. Yes, yes, yes. This is beautiful! Keep it up. Yeah. Yeah. Just right!”
The guys in front of the camera were very much aware the woman behind the camera was connected to them in a highly complex way. It wasn’t simply photographer and subject. It had a dynamic energy that sent a tingle down your spine. And the photos showed it. They were fluid, moving shots that were successful by any measure.
“Each of the people in front of the camera is giving a performance,” explains Lynn, and the person behind the camera, the photographer, in essence is the director. And it only becomes great when it is a collaboration.”
Damn, she’s smart.
I walked out of the studio for a few minutes to make some phone calls and when I returned Lynn was shooting small models of buildings and landmarks. Clearly something different was going on.
“I just look for things that awaken me, “ said Lynn, “I call it ‘a pattern interrupt.’ We all do things over and over and therefore get comfortable with it. I think it’s important to try things in your life that jar you in some way if you want to grow both as an artist and a human being.”
At which point little Ruby started dancing with her mother Amy, as Lynn directed. Then Lynn photographed Amy dancing by herself. Hmmm. Something different is going on, but what was it?
“I used to use dolls legs, but today we’re photographing real legs. Then we can make the buildings dance,” Lynn explained. “I want to see landmarks of the world dancing together.”
Next up was Vivica, a bi-racial (African American and Native American) body builder. Yikes! There wasn’t an ounce of fat on her; everyone in the studio vowed to go to the gym the next morning and repent for the overly luxurious lunch we had just eaten.
“I’m trying to show that your muscles are completely beautiful,” Lynn tells Vivica “and that you should be this strong woman who they name a perfume fragrance after. So it’s like totally sexy and beautiful.”
They both laugh. As Lynn shoots, Rich brings the computer station closer so Vivica can see the poses she assumes, changing each time the strobes fire. Watching the screen, the photos were just gorgeous. One after the other. There wasn’t a bad one in the bunch.
“OK everyone,” Lynn announces, “that’s a wrap. Let’s pack up and get outa here.”
Just as she said that Cliff walked in with a curled paper something under his arm.
“C’mon over here, Lynn,” he said.
And he kneeled down he unrolled a 30”x40”print of Tor and Jet, the father and baby. It was so sharp you could count every hair, every pore in the skin. It was unbelievable! We all stared at it for what seemed an eternity until Lynn spoke up.
“Ohhhh, wow!” exclaimed Lynn, clapping her hands together. “Wow. Oh man, in the days of film, I really couldn’t have created an image this size unless I was shooting 8×10. To be able to work with a hand-held camera and get the same results? Yeah. Wow. I love this camera.”
She certainly wasn’t going to get an argument from me.
– Gary Miller