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.
And they're hanging out at the museum.