Taste of Uruguay: Street Portrait

You might be getting sick of my Uruguay work but I guess you will just have to fake it. It’s been several months since this trip which has given me time to leave it alone and then come back to it. The last post I did, Taste of Uruguay:2, was about black and white, reportage style images, so I wanted to post something in regard to my “other” work. Several years ago I started shooting color square in addition to my black and white 35mm. I’ve threatened many times to quit doing this, but for some reason I can’t stop. Doing two things at once in the field isn’t the best of ideas, but in a day and age when people are doing four, five or six things at once in the field I still feel like a dinosaur. Shooting two different formats isn’t easy, nor is doing both color and black and white. My last post was comprised of images shot from behind. I wanted to show that I also shoot people from the front. In fact, I do a lot of portraits when I’m in the field. Portraits, for the most part, are easy, that is why so many people do them. I think this is why so much of the fine-art photography world is flooded with portraiture. Black and white reportage takes huge amounts of time to build bodies of work, but portraits can be done very, very quickly. Come up with a theme, a straightforward style, print them 60×60 and you too will be a genius! Seriously, portraits are easy, but they are also very fun, which is why I love doing them, AND they give me a very different look from my “normal” reportage stuff. And lastly, when you’ve been banging away, day after day, and have only a slow drip of reportage images you know are going to work, it’s very alluring and comforting to make portraits, which again are FAR easier to compile.

I wanted to show you these three images because I think they are typical of what happens during a very brief street portrait scenario. In short it goes like this… “see someone I like, devise a plan to engage them, scout for light and then ask to make their portrait.” Finding someone to photograph is rarely difficult, but finding someone you THINK will allow you to photograph can be tricky. If you do this long enough you can sense things. You can FEEL your way into an environment, or person, or shoot and know whether or not you can pull it off. Even those cases when someone says “No,” it doesn’t always mean “No.” How bad do you want it? Why are they saying no? Can you educate them, win them over or get them involved? This people is the game of documentary portraiture. In this particular case, I was at an event where people were preparing to participate in a massive public demonstration, so not a difficult portrait environment by any means.

WAIT! Don’t get ahead of me or yourself damnit! Yes, I saw this guy, and yes I decided to talk to him and ask about making his portrait, HOWEVER before I approached him I did ONE very important thing….I scouted for my portrait light. “Portrait light, what the F%$% is that?” you might ask. Well, portrait light is, oddly enough, the light where I want to make my portrait! You scout this light beforehand, and get prepared, in case the person you are asking says, “Ya sure, go for it, where do you want me?” If you haven’t found your light then you are suddenly dragging a guy in face paint house to house trying to find your personal photographic rainbow. Like packing for the trip, do it before it’s time to go to the airport. In this case my light was just inside a structure across the street, a structure that allowed him to stay in open shade, but also took advantage of the light bouncing off the street outside, an enormous, broad light source bouncing back and into this guy’s face. The light on the street was harsh, midday garrishness, and the light deeper inside the building was dark and green like swamp thing, but the light in the door was magnifique! You can tell the size and scope of the light by looking at the catch lights in his eyes. Pinpoint catch lights means pinpoint light source. Pretty simple. I knew I wanted two portraits, one with eyes open and one with eyes closed, but what happened is what normally happens when I make a portrait. I start with one idea and shoot myself into another.

The last photo in this series is really the image.
I didn’t know it when I made the first portrait, but by the time I made the second portrait my eyes were locked on his lips(We had been drinking if I remember correctly). This was what I was getting at, but I didn’t know it until it presented itself. The first two portraits were done at the minimum focusing distance of an 80mm lens. The third image required me to use my close-up adapter, but it also provided me another opportunity, which was to tell him exactly what I was doing and why(I think I did this in my version of Spanish which means it’s probable he understood nothing and was just being polite). People, making portraits is about a relationship. Granted, it could be like a drunken college weekend relationship, one that happened fast, was a bit confusing and left you feeling used, but in most cases they are brief, intense and positive. When people realize this is MORE than just a hobby, and that you have a vision in mind, they typically are more than willing to work with you. You will hear “NO,” and it sucks, or even better yet, “Eat S%$# and die,” which is one of my personal favorites, but for the most part when people know you are serious they want to assist. This guy, like almost every other human I encountered in Uruguay, was willing to take part.

Using the bellows isn’t the easiest thing, but luckily I’m not looking for easy.
Never have, never will. People love the Hasselblad, or “that old thing” so when I start to look down into it and then proceed to get about 8 inches from their face, the game is officially on. The depth of field is minimal, but that is why I like it. I set the focus, hold my breath, then rock back and forth waiting for those lips to pass in focus. BLAM, I shoot one frame.

15 responses to “Taste of Uruguay: Street Portrait”

  1. Harold says:

    At first a startling image and equally interesting is the story behind it which puts everything in context. Overall it seem photos with people seem to be favored over photos of just stuff. I suppose because we are always curious about our fellow humans. Always interesting to see what’s happening in “other lands” (as the social studies teacher used to say). Since you’re working in film… are you waiting till you get home to process it all?

    • Smogranch says:

      Everything I’ve done has been, for the most part, people related. I find the human an intriguing beast, one that I feel I know less and less about. Yes, all my film gets processed and scanned stateside.

    • Harold says:

      Just learning how to photograph people… always a little late to the party but my observations are that photos involving people especially what you term environmental portraiture get a lot more interest. The best portrait maybe my best photo was a total accident. I didn’t even think just snapped it off. The biggest thing was the slap it gave me to get off my butt and get some skills nailed down. I’m learning albeit slowly…

    • Smogranch says:


      the best photos are the ones you want to take. could be a portrait, landscape, just getting out and making it is the key

  2. LionelB says:

    Just a small amount of shared language is ideal. Enough to communicate the basic idea but without the possibility of a debate. That their image can become global instantly is a relatively new anxiety but then again millions now upload their lives to social media and share indiscriminately. I suspect that even in remote places a person being photographed is silently measuring themselves up to the perfume adverts and fashion shoots that envelop them. But maybe that maybe also means a more equal relationship with the photographer.

    • LionelB says:

      Erm. One maybe would have sufficed … [Note to self : proof read]

    • Smogranch says:

      I like mistakes.

    • Smogranch says:


      All right on the money. The shoot and post mentality has REALLY changed the suspicion level. It has also reinforced the myth that photographers are “getting rich” off images. I actually find a lot of people very suspicious these days and also under the impression I’m selling their image and making all this money. When I explain to people that, for the most part, I’m not only NOT selling anything but I’m also LOSING money, sometimes 1000’s, of dollars, there is a disbelief that occurs. This has come from law enforcement, everyday people, etc. I get this a lot. “What are you working for?” “Nobody, just working for myself.” “Well, who is paying you to be out here?” “Nobody, I’m paying for it all.” “No, you can’t shoot here.” “Why?” “I don’t know, you just can’t.” About 99% of the time they have NO IDEA what they are talking about and have ZERO ability or authority to tell me anything but they still feel the need to chime in.

      As one friend put it, “It’s not enough to go to the Grand Canyon. You have to photograph yourself in front of the Grand Canyon and then post it.”

  3. LionelB says:

    I have even found a suspicion that it is all a ploy to sell them a personal portfolio or something. Selling these days uses so much deceit that people are on their guard all the time. And when I explain that ‘hobby’ misdescribes and trivialises what photography means for me, I become — for some — pretentious. We need to get better at explaining. The way to do that of course is with photographs …

    • Smogranch says:


      I spend A LOT of time explaining myself, and oddly enough when you DON’T work for someone it makes it more difficult.

  4. Great post. “Shoot your way into it” and “find your portrait light” is certainly something you managed to drill into our heads in Peru.

    • Smogranch says:

      I could feel the resistance hence my need to drum it in your melon, over and over and over. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

    • It’s a finely tuned instrument, my brain, can’t just go wasting space by storing all kinds of nonsense I hear — except if it’s Star Wars related.

  5. Danii says:

    Is this blackface? Was that common in Uruguay?

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