Tips and Tricks

Don Blair – Turning Back Time: Thirty Years Ago


​by Skip Cohen

My apologies for the quality of the scan. It’s a page from Rangefinder Magazine thirty years ago. It was the first article I ever had published and I sent it to my Dad. 

The year is 1993, and Don Blair wanted to do a portrait of my daughter for the cover of Rangefinder Magazine. While in Nashville for the convention, Don arranged for access to an incredible plantation home in the area. His visualization was a sort of Gone with the Wind look, complete with my daughter Jaime in a gown reminiscent of the period.

Jaime had the cover, and I had the last page. There are no words to describe the smile on my face as I write this Throwback Thursday post. Please take the time to read the article because it describes how Don built the relationship with his subject. (I retyped it below) His ability to build the relationship is what many artists miss today. Sure, technical skills are important, but it’s the relationship that brings out the smiles, sparkle and relaxed pose that creates a stunning image.

Don grew to become one of my very dearest friends, but at this time it was early in the friendship and it wasn’t until this experience that I understood why he was such a master – his love for the craft. There’s rarely a day that goes by that he doesn’t pop into my thoughts. Immortality does exist…in our hearts.

And here’s a fun sidebar: My good buddy Clay Blackmore and Lilia were engaged at the time and with us. I remember Don fanning out the dress as she sat on the floor, and then shooting down from the top of the stairs. I couldn’t remember what year this was and called Clay a few minutes ago. So, not only does Throwback Thursday bring back memories, but at times it keeps us in touch with old friends!

I promised myself I’d stop quoting Jodi Picoult, but her one quote about photography is still so perfect:

​This is what I like about photographs.
They’re proof that once, even if just for a heartbeat, everything was perfect.

     If there’s one constant in the photographic industry, it’s knowing that a Don Blair program in any city, at any convention, is going to be standing-room only. Although he’s one of photography’s most beloved and respected pros, it wasn’t until I watched him work that I truly began to understand his magic.
     The photography being created was for this month’s cover ot The Rangefinder. The subject: my daughter, 16 years old and being photographed professionally for the first time. She was a bundle of understandable apprehensions, with her parents only a short step behind her.
     So how doe Don Blair tackle the insecurities of a new subject, creating the moment that yields a winning image?
     It started weeks before the actual shoot, as he visualized the way he wanted that 2 1/4 piece of Kodak film to look. Like an award-winning architect designing the house of his dreams, Don created a visual blueprint.
     Construction started with his belief that every image is unique. Every photograph becomes the most important shot he’s ever done. There’s no subject more important than the one in front of his camera.
      The next step, for lack of a better word, I’ll call “nourishment.” Each week prior to show time Don was on the phone with his soon-to-be-subject. He shared a small piece of his vision. He asked her how she felt about the look he wanted the image to portray. He got her involved in the project.
     The conversation would then switch to a style of fatherly trust, making me realize how he’d earned the title of “Big Daddy.” He asked her about her thoughts of the shot. He

replaced each anxiety with verbal nourishment which we watched develop into self-confidence.
     Almost a month later Don met his new subject for the first time. It was in the lobby of the Stouffer Hotel in Nashville. He had spent so much time talking with her prior to actually meeting, that they instantly recognized each other.
     Throughout the entire evening prior to the shoot he never talked to her, only with her. She was not just his subject, but a partner, working with him to turn a vision into reality.
     The next day, as I watched Don shoot, he was more like a symphony conductor than a photographer. The shoot became a team effort as assistants and subject worked in unison to capture the perfect shot.
     He examined the site, paying careful attention to the lines of the room. As he placed his subject in position he seemed to be looking in every direction at once. He knew exactly how he wanted his lighting and when to start to shoot. 
     He never stopped talking to his subject. Not once did he look away. He kept in constant contact. Like a potter working with a piece of clay, he turned her head, focused her eyes towards the camera, lifted her chin until just the right moment when the masterpiece could be captured on film.
      I finally understood the Blair legend. It’s not his extensive knowledge of photography, his equipment, or even his subjects that have made him one of the world’s best. It’s a simple four letter word, love. His love for the craft separates him from many to create the “magic of a master.

Skip Cohen is president of Victor Hasselblad Fairfield, NJ.

Source link