Revelation Of The Hidden; The Photography Of Greg Gorman

For the last 30 years, Greg Gorman has spent his working life capturing great portrait images. To many, the very essence of his work centers around and draws strength from the celebration of fame, fortune, and position. It is true that his most recognizable images are the faces of the famous, but dig a little deeper and you will find that his imagery goes beyond the mere representation of celebrity.

Billy Bob Thornton

All Photos © 2007, Greg Gorman, All Rights Reserved

For him, the process of portrait shooting, in its purest form, is based on the notion of simplification. This approach sees Gorman meticulously filtering life's visual distractions from the frame so that the true essence of the sitter has the chance to shine through. "I simplify what's included in the frame," Gorman says. "I minimize backgrounds and simplify clothes so that I can concentrate on drawing out the essence of the person I am photographing." It is a style that has served him well and one that he has honed to perfection over years of creating memorable images.

But filtering is only part of the story. It sets the stage for the more difficult aspect of the task, that of actually capturing the essence of the sitter. Gorman's modesty leads you to believe that if you remove all visual distractions, then great images will surely follow, but this statement falls short in acknowledging one very important component of the process--the rapport that is essential between photographer and sitter. Any shooter charged with the task of creating an engaging portrait knows that it is here that the true skill is needed, and, by example, it is the place where the core of Gorman's humbly expressed talent lies.

Philip Johnson

The relationship between image-maker and sitter is one of those areas of photography that is difficult to define. It is not just a task of making the sitter comfortable with the studio environment and the photographic process--although for many images this is a good starting place--it is more concerned with quickly establishing trust and an unstated consent to capture not just the surface, but also that which is not seen, or easily revealed. The best portrait images are visual demonstrations of the success of this interaction.

By stripping out of the frame all the nonessential elements, Gorman provides the visual space needed for the audience to maintain focus on his portraits without distraction. Against this muted canvas the skill with which he designs his often simple, but highly descriptive, lighting is amplified, and the audience is able to gain access to subtle visual nuances born of his interaction with the sitter. These insights provide access to the essence of oft-seen faces. His skill is to contrast and reveal.

Chris Rock
Halle Berry

The Greg Gorman Workflow
For Gorman, the workflow starts the moment he is commissioned for the project. Planning is key as he steps his way through the various aspects of the shoot in advance, considering lighting, environment, and, of course, the subject. Being organized means that he can make the most of his time spent with the subject. Robb Carr, a long-time friend and retoucher, says that Gorman's real gift reveals itself in this part of the process, "Greg, through his own personal magnetism, is able to elicit the subject's best `face.' Capturing and cloaking it in his inimitable photographic language is almost an afterthought."

He shoots multiple photos during the session, passing memory cards to an assistant who then downloads the images ready for preliminary editing. Using primarily high-end Canon gear, both raw and JPEG files are captured and downloaded. After selecting the best images, often in consultation with the sitter and/or art director, Gorman makes quick, broad, editing changes to the JPEG files that will indicate the artistic thrust and direction for Carr to take when retouching the raws. The relationship between photographer and retoucher is a close one. Carr says, "Our long association affords us a verbal shorthand where Greg need only convey a few adjectives from which I can draw a mental pathway to the retouching process."

Al Pacino

Gorman is a photographer who believes that despite the fact that he initiates the photographic process, and retains auteur-like control over the entire performance, the work is the result of a team effort. Of course, the capture component is key, but Gorman is magnanimous about the importance of the involvement of others, such as Carr. It is obvious that the passion for the production of great images is shared equally between the two friends and it is one of the elements that fuels this highly productive relationship. Whenever possible, Carr is present at the shooting session to assess the subject's three-dimensional physicality and to gather a sense of their energy.