“In 1989 I began working in total darkness, using a small ﬂashlight as the sole light source to create a series of close-up portraits of friends’ faces. By the end of 2001 I had become so adept at counting light that it became possible to sustain an exposure for the hour or so required to explore an entire human ﬁgure. I count out loud—it becomes a chanting meditation for me, and my subject becomes as involved in my performance as I am in theirs. The only task I ask of my subject is to gaze toward the lens. I take notice if my subject has a ﬁxed stare or is trying to pose. To break the camera face, I have different strategies. I count, make comments, make the subject blink while exposing each eye, and so on. The information is accumulated sequentially on one sheet of ﬁlm. Just as a movie unfolds in real time, so I build the image by exposing one part of the person after another with my tiny light. If I add more light, it emphasizes that body part; conversely, not enough light and that area never becomes visible. I expose the parts of the body in the same sequence in order to exaggerate the differences between each person’s performance. I photograph the head, then move down the right side, then up the left side. In all of the portraits there is an interesting shift in the gaze, from the right eye looking outward, to the left eye looking inward. This is a result of the long interval between exposing the two eyes. What happens during the session remains private, an intimate act between me and the subject. There is an enormous amount of information collected during the session, both emotional and physical. The accumulation of all this information is impossible to interpret simply or decisively. There are so many variables. For example, while I was photographing Ellen, her belly kept moving. This was the result of her baby following my small light. Ellen was six months pregnant at the time. Each person, in his or her own way, has contributed something unexpected. What an adventure this has been for me.
“I would like to thank all of my subjects for their trust in me and for giving themselves to the process.” – Gary Schneider, 2004.