Greg Heisler and I grew up into the uncertain profession of taking pictures for magazines about the same time. Which was wonderful, as you could watch his extraordinary talents literally change the face of magazine portraiture and the use of color right then and there, in real time. And not so wonderful, like when you would be called into a meeting with the creatives at a mag and they would throw one of his recent triumphs down on a table in front of you and say, “We want our pictures to look like this.” Gulp.
His talent is prodigious, and his grasp of what a photo needs to work is formidable. He shifts gears from fantastical colors to the simplicity of black and white with astounding dexterity. His sense of graphics, of ways to include prescient, story telling information in a manner so subtle and richly pleasing to the eye that the reader is unconsciously being informed while simultaneously being seduced by the pictorial splendor of the frame, is nothing short of remarkable.
This book is a compendium of pictorial successes, some simple and direct, others complex and hard won, coupled with a conversational, often humorous assessment of those fraught moments behind the scenes when all things hung in the balance, awaiting the outcome of the simplest of questions. Like, “When will she come out the makeup session?”
If you are any kind of photographer, but perhaps, especially if you are a young photog, breathing fire, aching for success, poised on the verge of as yet unknown failures and successes, this book could be viewed as a letter you need to read. The time machine known as a career mellows, informs, enriches and deepens raw talent, which Greg had aplenty when he burst onto the scene in 1980 or so. As David Hobby mentioned over @strobist, some of the book feels like Greg is writing a letter to his twenty year old self. His reflections, insights, humor, and technical notes stem from a life on the pictorial edge. As he says himself, he took his biggest risks on his biggest shoots. Admirable, indeed.
One of my favorite things Greg says in his classes (and I have been to a bunch of them) is that there is a certain kind of lighting you do because it informs the picture, and shapes the message. And then there’s a kind of lighting you do BECAUSE IT LOOKS COOL. He is very matter of fact about this, which automatically frees him up from the more ponderous concerns of certain elements of photojournalism and allows him to experiment and have some fun. And fun, in any kind of photography, is key. I have worked for numerous editors in my career who were seemingly so weighed down by the gravitas of their mission (and thus, by association, their own importance in the grand scheme of things) that they literally would send you on assignment with an anguished look on their faces, as if they were sitting there with an A-clamp on their private parts. When Greg departs from reality, which he blessedly does every once in a while, his virtuoso command of color presents a visual riot, a bit like a well done sci-fi flick.
This book is a very deep pond one can take a languid dive into and be pleased and informed on so many levels. It is, absolutely, in my opinion, required reading and viewing, should one take the process of picture making seriously, or casually. It is also a refreshing turn of the road in the world of photo books. This is not a couple years experience married to a snazzy workflow. The ease with which this knowledge is imparted belies the hard won nature of it. Greg has grappled, more successfully than anyone, with that age old conundrum of seeing stories in faces, and telling them beautifully.
If there is a photog in your life, Christmas is coming. Just sayin’.