It was such a tremendous honor to receive the Best in Show award for my piece "Accents on a Pianist" at Focus '23. The exhibition is hosted by the Wilton Arts Council and currently on display at the Wilton Library until the end of the month. If you are nearby, be sure to pop in and check out the full exhibition.
While I've mostly been photographing families over the past year, this portrait holds alot of significance for me as an artist and was a study in expressive light. I'd been assisting my mentor Andrew French in his daylight studio in Union Square for a few months and instantly fell in love with portraiture in natural light. It certainly helps that his studio is literally magic: you can't take a bad shot in there and he is especially generous with all the invaluable knowledge he shares with students. I was drawn to how the prolific Irving Penn composed with light and was keen to learn more about how to control it and position my subject just right. I also helped at a few of the workshops Andrew organized at his studio and soaked in as much as I could in the process. While working with professional models has many advantages, I was always curious to see how I could apply those same principles for other types of portraits.
This piece feels to me like a culmination of all I'd taken in and practiced during that time, but it also allowed for more creative freedom and my own interpretation of those principles. My model here, the concert pianist Maryam Raya, probably didn't know what to expect the day she came over for some portraits. I still remember moving our big teal couch against the wall before she arrived, propping the backdrop as close as I could to the large windows in our Brooklyn apartment and playing around with my homemade V-flat to control just how much light came in to get the desired effect. It almost fell a few times, but thankfully no one was hurt in the process. The fabrics had recently been purchased at a long-standing fabric shop in Downtown Brooklyn and I'd bought a little too much that day.. so much so that I was able to drape it on the backdrop stand and still had enough to drape onto her.
What also helped this portrait come together in the way that it did is that Maryam also saw the vision and was instrumental (pun intended) in the process. I must have taken at least 20 or more shots of her in minute position changes just to see how it would look. Moving a hair strand here, turning her chin up a little there.. oops, the fabric is not sitting right, let's adjust.. etc. It took a few tries to get it just right and with all that, I still go back and forth between this shot and a few others that I'd especially liked from that day. At some point in the final decision process, it came down to the one that checked off the most boxes compositionally for me and the one that gave away just enough without giving away too much (if that makes any sense).
Knowing how much the final image meant to Maryam added that much more depth to the piece. As a dedicated artist who has spent years developing her exceptional skills at the piano, she later shared with me how it managed to capture subtle details in her form to express that without ever even needing to show her face or a piano. A smaller version of the framed print is currently by her piano at home too.
I'm still overjoyed with how well this piece did in the exhibition and it's an encouragement to continue to explore more personal projects like this one.
Thank you to the organizers, jury and volunteers at the Wilton Arts Council.