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Elsa's Cyberspace Tin Cup

The photographer and her subjects

November 11, 2007

GREG COOK describes a very different experience from anything I recognize with the "old-fashioned large-format camera," where, because of size and construction, "slice-of-life action is out and stillness and distance are in," and the subjects, he writes, "often appear awkward" (" Here's looking at you," Arts & Entertainment, Nov. 4).

I've worked for some 30 years with the legendary Polaroid 20" x 24" Land Camera, a refrigerator-sized behemoth that shows every blemish in extraordinary color. Something magical happens when a photographer stands beside a camera, which on its tripod is about her height, and asks her subject to commune with this unfamiliar apparatus. I say "unfamiliar" because people now consider motor-driven 35-mm cameras passe; indeed, when they think camera, they think hand-held digital or even camera phone.

But there is ceremony and seriousness in the transaction between subject and photographer with a large camera. It's hard to say who controls the portrait session more. I've not often experienced the subject invoking the "deadpan photography" look about which Cook writes. I ask my subjects to embrace their uneven features and the cowlick that won't stay down, and even the few extra pounds. The Japanese have a word for this pose of total naturalness, total self-acceptance: Sonomama. It's the antithesis of deadpan.



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