As most days as a photojournalist have now become, it was factory day. On these days I am a mercenary sent into the fields, armed to run around from one shoot to the next.
Usually there’s little time for making images. Rather, it becomes an act of taking images, with minimal interaction with the subject — leading to an often zombied and uninspired state. Most jobs are just hit-and-runs sheathed in a dutiful act of seduction between subject and photographer. The type that doesn’t even have the intimacy of fucking.
I had planned to meet Sakhile Moleshe, a musician, for a portrait. I checked his availability and forcefully aligned it with my schedule and the many other shoots planned. I visited his home in Johannesburg. Photographing at someone’s home can be quite tricky because there aren’t always easy spaces to work with.
A shoot starts with, quite simply, placing the subject in a location and taking a straight-up shot, working through correct camera settings. These are mostly warm-ups to get the subjects accustomed to the camera being trained on them and allow them to relax. This gives me an opportunity to work out if there are any unexpected gremlins. It also gives me the advantage of tuning into a person. Once we pass that stage I really start working the shoot and directing it as needed.
Sakhile and I had worked through a few poses and nothing really seemed to work within the given environment.
There was a really nice patch of clean light flooding through a crack in the door, allowing for a bit of playfulness, so I asked him to lie down in this pool of light.
I remember his face looking at me through the lens of my camera. In the small viewfinder I saw him looking a bit lost and unsure about this idea and whether it would work as a picture.
I stood directly over Sakhile for this image, with a 50mm prime lens — my least favourite focal length. It is the magic lens that every photographer is institutionally told to own. It’s said to provide a familiar aesthetic and a realistic representation of what we see with our own eyes. I felt very uncomfortable at the time of taking that shot, stopping down to F2.8 @ 1/30s.
Growing up, we were often told that we should never step over another person as it was disrespectful, especially when a person was lying down or asleep. This extended to animals as well. I never quite understood this, but just accepted the belief.
The reasoning behind this notion is that we have a number of energy fields that exist within and beyond the skin of the physical body, each one becoming a little more subtle than the previous one. When a person is lying down or asleep, they naturally go into a peaceful state in which this energy extends itself outward into the world.
There was a moment when Sakhile seemed to have relaxed enough to close his eyes for what must have been a few moments.
When he closed his eyes it was as if he came into being and something beautiful happened. There was something I felt at that moment.
That’s when I took this picture.
I instantly lit up inside, knowing I had got the shot.
Often when I’m photographing people they talk about being photogenic or not being photogenic. That’s another thing I have never fully understood. A person may physically let their guard down but very often they keep their guard up in the energy space that extends around them. Even though this might not be physically visible, subtly, it exists.
What I have come to experience in my years of being a photographer and having shot thousands of portraits is that the most beautiful portraits of humans often occur when a person allows you in to glimpse the vulnerability and rawness of their being.
There lies the special space between the photographer and a subject.
An empty space as we see it may not be all that empty and the things we may not be able to see, we feel.
It is then that you are able to make an image.