A Ghost In The Gallery ~

My recent trip to Chicago was memorable in so many ways, not least of which was my pilgrimage to the Art Institute. It's one of the world's truly great art museums. I regularly haunt museums and art galleries; this one is Mecca, and this was my hajj. And I'm hardly exaggerating, for in any museum like this (though there aren't many), I make sure to seek out one of the great influences of my career and my art: the great portrait painter John Singer Sargent. If my trip to Chicago had been only an afternoon to see the few paintings of his on display, I would still have been a happy camper.

Let me back up a little bit, say about 40 years or so. I was a young student just learning my craft, earnestly training in the art of studio portrait photography. The city I was apprenticing in was also where my dad had his art gallery, so along with my technical studies I fell under the sway of some incredible portrait painters. They made in watercolor, oils, and even pastels the kinds of portraits that influence me to this day. And something even more: they introduced me to the world of art and artists that influenced them. This was powerful stuff to a small-town kid. To understand the power of light and shadow, sure, study Rembrandt, Caravaggio, the masters. But to understand the modern sensibilities of a portrait -- perceptive, intimate -- you study Sargent.

Photography is my life and my craft; it has its own trajectory that I follow like a bullet on a beam of light. I'm still trying to get good at it. Although I wander around these days taking pictures of darn near everything I see, the portrait is still my passion of choice. And if you're serious about what you do, you draw on the inspirations that have shaped your direction, that have moved throughout time until they hit your eye. John Singer Sargent is that for me, but there are many, many others: painters and poets, sculptors, singers, playwrights and storytellers -- and photographers. We pick up where they left off.

And they're hanging out at the museum.