Sometimes a mirror isn't enough. Sometimes we want to see ourselves through the eyes of others.
It's not hard these day. Cameras churn out color snapshots in a few seconds, and it seems that every relative periodically insists that we freeze and say "cheese." Every year millions of portraits are made for ID. cards and school yearbooks and driver's licenses.
But even all that doesn't satisfy many Americans. Like the relatively anonymous people who posed for Rembrandt or the more famous subjects whose daguerreotypes line the walls of the National Portrait Gallery, these people want to pro to take a look at them. Maybe they can't afford Karsh or Avedon, whose own portrait has blitzed the media lately, but at least they can afford a portrait that doesn't involve squinting in to the sun or "cheese."
Here are seven stories of people who wanted something extra: Soulful, but Self-Conscious
When Rita and James Sarrano hired Warolin of Georgetown for their wedding photos, studio owner Ed Fritz told them about his 'pre-wedding love story" package, and they decided to bite. Fritz takes his couples into romantic spots around town.
He took the Sarranos to Potomac Park for two or three hours and posed them looking into the Tidal Basin and the gardens - and into each other's eyes. "My fiance was more self-conscious then I," says Rita Sarrano, and Fritz reports this is typical; the women make most of the arrangements for these pictures. But Sarrano adds this about her husband: "Once he got into the feel of it he almost hammed it up."
The Darranos were pleased with most of the results, but "there were a couple that were awful," says Rita Sarrano. Fritz turned fancy for a couple of shots, including one in which he superimposed an image of one head over the other. "I thought that looked like a graveyard," says Sarrano, "and in another one I looked drunk."
But the Sarranos were so pleased with a shot in which the Tidal Basin breezes blew through their hair that they enlarged it and mounted it in their living room.
Currently the service comes free with wedding jobs, but eventually Fritz will charge $35 for it plus costs for each print. He would also charge the same sum for a couple with no marriage plans who still wanted some memorably romantic photos of themselves, but so far no one has asked.
"It will be a nice way to remember our courtship days," says Rita Sarrano, and Fritz says he has always wished he had a similar photographic record of the days when he was wooing his ex-wife. They are now divorced. "I Was There"
The people at Paparazzi Self-Portraits produce portraits, portraits of portraits, and portraits of portraits of portraits.
Bettie Ringma took a photo of Mare Miller shaking hands with George McGovern in the senator's office here on March 22, 1976. Then Curt Hoppe spent two months painting an acrylic likeness of the photo. Then Paul Tschinkel videotaped a session in which McGovern autographed the painting. The whole package - photo, painting and videotape - will be shown at a New York gallery on Jan. 10.
The Ringma-Miller-Hoope trio have produced similar portraits of each other meeting the Ramones, Screw publisher Al Goldstein, Air and Space Museum director Michael Collins, Omar Bizzare and other celebrities, including several senators. One striking photo of Miller shows him posing with a wino who's stretched out asleep on a Bowery sidewalk.
They want commissions from "flamboyant, wealthy people," says Miller, who waould like a picture of themselves meeting someone famous. Wealth may be the most important criterion for potential subjects; the photo-painting-videotape package will probably be rpiced between $6,000 and $10,000.
Paparazzi Self-Portraits tries to "integrate people into charateristics of their times," says Miller. "Personalities have such a short life span that they will continue to personify a specific period of time years later, and the subjects of these portraits can say I Was There.
"There's a surface absurdity that makes it amusing," acknowledges Miller, "but on the other hand there's a deep logic to it."
Of the senator who were approached by the trio, Jacob understood what we were trying to do," says Miller. Abraham Ribicoff refused to cooperate. Ted Kennedy wasn't asked; he was sanpped on the run. "I assume at one point we'll be sued," says Miller. Vivacious Eyes
Twice a year, John Gomez takes over the portraitist's chair in the Advisary Court at Tysons Corner Center, and as the Pedestrian traffic flows around him and stops to watch, he does pastel portraits of shoppers.
Sue Weese of Alexandria came upon him there one day, watched him for five minutes, mulled it over for an hour a half, then returned and asked Gomez his fee. It was $75 then (no it's $85).Weese made an appointment to return a couple of days later to take a turn on the hot seat.
Portraits made in malls are produced under more theatrical circumstances than most other portraits. An audience gathers behind the artist and darts its attention back and forth between the subject and the emerging work. At one point during Weese's sitting, Gomez stopped and asked some parents to control their young ones, who were noissily pulling on the chain surrounding his "studio."
As the session went on, Weese saw nudges and heard favorable comments from the audience. It relaxed her, she reports, but "the good vihes" also made her "very excited" about what the result would look like.
She wasn't disappointed. She was especially pleased that Gomez "captured a vivacious look I often have in my eyes." She mounted the portriat in her bedroom, though it's temporarily housed in the living room during some redecorating. Generally, Weese thinks "it's a hit ostentatious to have your portrait in the living room."
Gomez, 42, has been doing professional portriats since he was 15. He has kept track of only about 5 percent of his work. Looking Dignified
Joseph Daniel Clipper says gynecolegist Dr. Donald Sewell is a "jovial" fellow, "easy to work with." But in Clipper's photographic portrait of Sewell, the doctor doesn't look jovial.
"He's in a serious business," explains Clipper, one of the Washington black elite's favorite portraitists. "You don't find a lot of my portraits of seasoned professional people with broad smiles." They prefer to look serious and dignified, and Clipper obliges.
Clipper prepared Sewell's portrait and an accompanying family portrait over the course of two sittings and eight months, says Sewell. The sittings took about four hours each, but neither photographer nor subject was pleased with the result of the first, so they started over. the whole session cost Sewell around $3,5000, he recalls, but he thinks the quality of the photos is worth the money.
So much for the idea that people commission photos rather than paintings of themselves because of teh price.
If this given the impression that the whole process is extremely sober and painstaking, Clipper demurs. "You have so much fun doing my job that it's hard to believe it's a job," he says. "I try to synchoronize my peronality to the subject's. Sometimes I will create a large smile and watch it fade away (shooting pictures as it goes). It's like a hurdle - you go up, pause, come back down, and when everything clicks, you know it." Crinkly Cheeks
When Brigid Hynes-Cherin first saw the portrait of herself she had commissioned from Joe White, "I thought, 'Ooh, I don't think I look like that,'" she recalls. It took from nine months to a year for her to become reconciled to it. Moving it from "a very prominent wall" to a side wall helped.
Hynes Cherin, a lawyer at the Department of Transportation, says she had always thought it would be exciting to commission a portrait of herself. Her brother is a friend of White, one of Washington's most respected portraitists, and when Hynes-Cherin won a cash award on the job she decided to invest $500 - "a real bargain" - in a picture of herself by White.
White photographed her with the Calder mobile at the Hirshhorn museum and then used angles from the Calder to occupy half of the painting. "I was into the outdoors and the sun on people then," explains White. And he felt the Calder was representative of the look of the architecture in the area where his subject works.
While Hynes-Cherin doesn't think the picture is very flattering, she was surprised by the strength she projects in it. "I don't see myself with as much strength, especially in the eyes," she says. She sounds ambivalent about "the crinkles in the cheeks," attributing them to her smile.
White is glad she was smiling and says he "gets the best side I can get for people. Why should you antagomize the art ovserver?" He says he could have blackmailed some of his subjects with the photos he took of them.
He's not primarily concerned with the reaction of his subjects, however. "I want to create my own works of art, and you can do that as well with people as you can with checker-boards." Nude in New York
It began more or less as a joke, says Renwick Gallery director Lloyd Herman. He had admired his friend Lewell Nesbitt's series of male nudes and voluteered to pose for one.He would but the finished product, he offered.
Okay, said Nesbitt, and several weeks later herman found himself naked in a New York studio as a female photographer took pictures from whcih Nesbitt would do the painting.
Nesbitt delivered a painting, 20 inches square, of Herman in the altogether, standing near a stepladder. The face was not easily identifiable, but other crucial details were quite explicit. And the posture was a given-way, says Herman, when it came to identifying the subject.
For a while Herman kept the picture in his dining room, but now it has been removed to his bedroom. For a while Herman shaved the heard that had been growing when he posed, but now it's back.
Herman paid "no more than $500 or $600 for the painting, says Nesbitt, because of their friendships, and because this happened 10 years ago. Now that Nesbitt is more established, a similar picture would cost $2,000 or $2,500.
If it began as a joke, Herman is not quite convulsed with laughter over the result. The painting "is not one of the prizes" of its series, he says.
Nesbitt did some drawings from some of the photos of the nude Herman that weren't used for the painting. Herman walked into a party at a friend's home one day and discovered one of the drawings hanging on the wall. "I was kind of embarrassed," he says.
The Photo Booth
It takes three minutes for the Fun Fair photo machine at G. C. Murphy's variety store downtowns to turn out a strip of three black-and-white snap-shots. Not bad, but not particularly impressive, either, in these days of one-minute color photos.
Vincent Ballard, 11, was tired of waiting for the three minutes to elapse, so he began a countdown: "One, two, three." And plop, just where "four" should have been, the photos of Vincent and his sister Rochelle, 12, and their mother Joan Ballard slid down the chute and into the light of day.
The Ballards entered the Fun Fair booth while waiting for a bus. Mrs. Ballard had taken the day off to take the kids to the doctor for physicals. They wanted "something to remember the little outing with," said Mrs. Ballard, and the photo machine happened to be in front of them.
The three of them squeezed behind the curtain and smiled. They didn't aim for different poses; it was hard to predict when the camera was going to flash. But it was also hard to hold still while sitting on a lap, so the finished product revealed three different positions anyway.
Gee, the photos were awfully murky, observed the Ballards. But, they added, what do you except for 50 cents?