In Hindu/ Vedic mythology, Gods would sometimes come down to earth, when there was a specific need for them to be here. More often than not, they came down as ‘Avtaars” (or, Avataar, if you prefer the Western spelling). An Avtaar was the Incarnation of the God in question, and generally represented one, or more, aspects, of the God.
The most famous Avtaars, are those of Vishnu – Ram and Krishna. Ram and Krishna, however, are completely different characters. The two Avtaars could not be more dissimilar in terms of character. Most modern Indians do not go beyond the fact that they are representations of God, and therefore most Gods in India (and, possibly internationally) are represented in a stripped down, sanitized version of what they were originally.
While I am not about to make a commentary on the rather superficial manner in which we tend to look at many concepts, it does indeed provide us with an interesting challenge when it comes to portrait photography.
The challenge is to be able to be able to capture the essence of a person’s character. The challenge is to be able to capture the essence of a person’s mood. There are indeed the technical issues that need to be managed. The dress, the lighting, the environment (studio vs outdoor vs work/home location) all have to be planned, and brought into the planning aspects of the shoot.
However, what comes before all that, are the conversations you have with the subject. Sometimes, one is enough. Sometimes, you need more than one. It is easy enough to be able to walk up to a person, and ask the question – what is it that you want to be photographed as? This usually does lead to a stunned silence.
So, what do we do in Incarnations?
For one, I photograph you, as you. When this is done, the conversations precede the shoot, and during these conversations, I try and understand you. We (the team and me!)try and understand what is it that makes you tick.
Another aspect of Incarnations, and this is somewhat more true to the Avtaar of Vishnu (Ram and Krishna, for instance), that we give you the opportunity to play out your favorite character. This may be that of a fairy princess, or a prostitute, or a thug, or a saint. Who knows?
In this, second case, the concept is developed in a more theatrical manner, and what I then do, is to help you inject something of you into the character that you would like to be portrayed as.
It first starts with the conversation, and establishing the trust. From there, you develop the concept, plan it, and execute it!