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Helen Hunt


On Portraits and Awareness

an interview with Jane Hunt

by Douglas Eby

Jane Hunt is a portrait photographer, and has actively supported 
her daughter Helen's career, and works with a variety of other 
actors in creating expressive portraits.

"There are definite parameters around the kinds of photographs actors need," Jane says. "Eyes must be directed to the camera; we need to bear in mind the kinds of parts that an actor might conceivably be cast in, and so forth. 

"But still, in all portraiture, I think you hope to catch the essence of that person, and the best way to do that is to connect, and find a container of love into which they can move. All the technical aspects of photography - the makeup, wardrobe and hair - are peripheral. It's that other dimension that really matters.

"Since I have been able to consciously bring that to my work, I've been more successful; I've had more work, and I think the pictures are better. The whole thing has blossomed. I'm getting tremendous feedback from clients. People didn't used to send me 'thank-you' notes or gifts and they do sometimes now. 

"What they're reflecting is that they were really cared for while they were here. They came in and they felt we were all pulling together to come up with something that would serve them. And it serves me, as well."

People just beginning their careers "tend not to put adequate emphasis on the preparation necessary for a successful shoot, to take enough care with it, or they give photos a kind of importance that is way out of proportion," she notes. 

"For example, a photograph can't make up for bad acting, or not having good training. And I know some people tend to think that, sometimes. The truth is, a headshot is their calling card, and it's what precedes them into a casting office, or agent's office, and it's what they leave behind once they've done a good or a bad audition. So if the picture, in the former instance, doesn't say something that seems alive, or if it says something that we pick up as psychologically negative, that photo just tends to get tucked away, I think.

"If you've ever seen a casting person go through pictures - it's amazing; it's very very fast. So if something is going to stop them, it's going to be a sense of aliveness. Over the years I've learned to read pictures in terms of any kind of heavy emotional content. If there's a lot of anger, fear or hostility that's up for them that day, it will show in their portrait. 

"I think a casting director looks at these pictures and unconsciously responds; I mean, casting directors are people, too. There's a little bit of 'Would I feel comfortable knowing this person. Would I like to have them into my office? And if a headshot is off-putting, sometimes it's a subliminal thing. And sometimes it's so obvious.

"I'll have an actor bring their old pictures with them, and I may note there's a lot of weariness in a picture, or a lot of sadness, or something. At first, the client may resist agreeing with that, but then they will say, well, you know, that was a very sad time in my life: 'My boyfriend just left' or something. So that's all part of what informs the pictures.

"I never rush someone doing a session, that never works. Roughly, a woman may be here for three hours: she'll come and have her makeup for an hour, and then the shoot will take an hour and a half or two hours. Generally I meet with a client once before we start. We map out what might be needed in hair and makeup and wardrobe.

"I don't think that people always know consciously what matters in a picture. There's a certain kind of awareness, a certain kind of taste that people have in pictures, that will cause them to come to me. They're looking for a kind of simplicity and a presence, as opposed to something more contrived or staged.

"One of the things I've learned working with Mary [director of the Rocamora School in Los Angeles] is that she is unique: she works on a peer level. She offers the ability to have this process unfold for each student without being 'taught' - there's a unique levelness of being; you don't have the sense of sitting at the feet of a guru: you're on an even level with her. 

"As much as I can, I bring that approach into anything else I do. You know, the ego's temptation is to become an authority on something. I think one of the patterns a lot of us carry is, 'Yes, I do this, and I'm making money at it, but I probably don't know what I'm doing'. That may be the other end of the spectrum from 'I'm the authority.'

"I think there's a necessity to bring out what's there in someone [who is posing for a photo] without taking an authority position. It's guidance from love. My portrait work with clients is totally collaborative, and it gives the other person a way to come out and play, a sense of power that they have some control with this thing. 

"And it's not brain surgery we're doing here [laughs], we're talking photography. It really is satisfying work, and whenever it isn't, it's because I've slipped out of that groove of just being here and moving with love.

"Actors come in here and have a whole lot of mental chatter that probably goes back to the time their mothers said something like 'Well, you know, you've got a space between your teeth; so you probably shouldn't smile showing your teeth. If only you'd worn your braces.' 

"When the process really works is when they are able to take their mind away from the self and put it on to what they're sending, what they're giving. I know when I've sat in front of a camera, there's that awful thing of 'I wonder how I'm doing? I'm probably not doing so well.'

"The thing I try to pull from clients is absolute presence: 'Just be here.' I have a friend, Darryl Hickman, who was a child star and is an acting teacher, and he's always shouting at his students 'Just show up, people!' And he's right. 

"I had a recent shoot with a new client, a woman who came with a 'security blanket': a pal of hers who was along as a hand-holder. They were both delightful, but the subject looked like a bunny rabbit caught in the headlights: she was absolutely terrified. 

"I had never met this other girl, her friend, but something happened that was really exciting: the other girl and I sort of picked up the subject and put a kind of base under her, like an invisible support of love around her, and you could feel her just relax into that, and begin to play a little, and then get excited.

"We all knew something terrific had happened, and the pictures reflected it. She ordered six, and in four of them she was able to do it, and in the couple where she wasn't really present, you could see the eyes start to mistrust a little bit, the fear coming in. It's the self that's getting in the way - the ego: decisions about what we are and what we aren't. She said the pictures were the best she'd ever had."
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related book: **Annabel Williams.  Professional Portraiture

*related page:*photography

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*[page 1]*****photography:*page 2***photography: page 3

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