Introduction by author Stephen P. Kiernan
The medium of photography is fundamentally a form of invitation: Here, a photo says, look at this moment, captured from the blur that is life, and see what it provides. The initial focus of the photographer’s lens invites a secondary focus of the viewer’s attention: Here, consider this unique object, this moment selected from all infinity in order to render an idea by holding it still, by making an instant precise.
That precision is the central aesthetic of Todd Lockwood’s photography. From the traditional silver-gelatin negative, to the incisive digital renderings in large prints, these photographs make that invitation as specifically as is technologically possible today. The idea of large portraits is hardly an invention—Richard Avedon and Chuck Close come to mind—but this level of precision is both newly possible and entirely original.
The images are not merely about faces or light, although that is their content. If they were, the portraits would be no more than acts of vanity and the lighting no more than technique. Instead, something larger and deeper is at work in these images. The faces are captured with arresting clarity, from individual hairs and wrinkles and even veins in the eyes, to a comparable precision in the emotion and narrative the photo portrays. And the light’s role is of subtle servility, used not for glamour or effect but to clarify and declare.
A photograph becomes greater than a portrait if it reveals more than the subject intended—whether a mischievous man with a subtle poker face or an artist whose glasses provide the perfect mask for his identity, whether an impresario whose enthusiasm is wrinkled but intact or a couple whose unexpressed secrets are unwittingly revealed to the lens.
Any person who has felt insecure in a love relationship cannot help but shiver at this image, which makes an important larger point about these works: The specifics in these photos also provide resonant general experiences. That is, from the particular moments captured on film arise facets of the human condition that the viewer recognizes as universal: confidence, fear, overconfidence, delight. For the viewer, there is a breathtaking sense of sudden knowing, of recognizing the humanity of the stranger in the photograph. That is the art in these works. The technique is masterful, but it is exercised purely for the sake of expression.
Some of the collection includes earlier work, from 30 years ago, which adds several dimensions. The first is irony: the scuba diver on an urban street populated with grey bodies, a woman bright-eyed in her hospital bed. Another aspect is anthropological, whether it’s the oh-so-dated garb and attitudes of a young rock band, or a groover complete with boutonniere at a ‘70s formal.
The recent work sustains this theme of artifact, but these studies also show contemporary elements in common. Most of the subjects are of a certain age, such that they have seen some of the world, their faces appear to have lived, they have a history. At the same time, they have not reached the period of decay, of weakening powers.
George Orwell said. “Every man at 50 has the face he deserves.” Balanced between innocence and experience, somewhere between vigor and decline, the people in these photographs in many ways stand at the height of their powers. The same people, photographed 10 years ago or 10 years hence, would tell radically different stories. In the moments rendered here they may be wary but they are not defeated. They might be successful but they remain unfinished.
Todd Lockwood calls this collection, “One Degree of Separation,” because the portraits are primarily of people he knows. But their separation from the viewer may be even smaller. Seeing faces so closely, with such precision, is intensely intimate. Yet somehow, the subjects of these portraits do not seem to know that they are emotionally naked. And in the best works, those that provide the strongest universal experience, the viewer may feel less that he is observing a photograph and more that he is staring into a mirror.
— Stephen P. Kiernan is the author of the books: Last Rights, Authentic Patriotism, and The Curiosity.
Artist Commentary by Todd R. Lockwood
This collection came as a surprise to me. I gave up serious portrait photography in 1978 and had no intention of getting back into it. I’d hit a dead end. The ambiguity of photography left me wanting for more. I had bigger stories to tell than those one could express with pictures—or so I thought.
Thirty years and several careers later, something possessed me to try shooting a portrait again. In July 2007, I dusted off my Hasselblad camera—the one I bought in 1967—and tried shooting a studio portrait of my ten-year-old son, Cooper. His image captured me. It was more than just a picture of my son. It seemed to have something universally human about it. And it looked more like sculpture than photography. Was it just a fluke?
So I asked a few friends to sit for me. It was a no-obligation situation, no money involved. I just wanted to see if I could capture this universal quality in other people. The first few sessions were promising. Over the next year, I photographed fifty friends and acquaintances, looking for signs of universal humanity. Thus, the concept of the show, One Degree of Separation, was born.
The criteria for being photographed for this series has become clearer to me over time. At first, I looked at it as a who’s who of my life, a collection of people I know and admire, many of whom have had the courage to pursue their dreams. But later I realized I chose these people for a mission: I was hoping to discover an intangible quality in them, just as the image of Cooper revealed something beyond simply my son. Some people give off this quality more than others. Perhaps it’s a measure of how comfortable we are in our skin or how many challenges we’ve overcome. I wanted to see if I could bring these qualities out and make them visible.
I believe the best audience for this work will be one that does not recognize any of the people in it. For those viewers, these images are not confined by history or fame. Anonymity allows the portraits to be viewed in a more fundamental way. We see parts of ourselves in them. They make us take stock of our lives.
My portraits are not meant to make people look better or worse, but just to let their life stories ring loud and clear.
How I Work
With a goal of creating portraits as fine art, I generally do not accept commissions. I choose my subjects with an eye toward capturing universally emotive images. With this goal in mind, I’ve found it much more productive to work with people I know. There is instantly a sense of trust in the studio. The barriers come down, and an honest portrait can be made. I typically shoot 48-frames in a session, working quickly, watching the way the light plays on the face. I look for opportunity. It’s those little moments between poses where depth can be found.
A face is a document about a life. I try to translate that document into something aesthetically satisfying, without losing any of the important parts. I like my portraits to have both beauty and depth. These qualities needn’t be mutually exclusive.
I never allow my subjects to see proofs. The choice of ‘which image’ is part of my creative process. I’m looking for something that goes beyond representation. If there isn’t an image worthy of an exhibition, I may ask a sitter to come back again.
A great portrait is a collaboration between the artist and the subject. When someone sits for me, they’re usually familiar with the kind of portraits I do. They know I’m aiming to go beyond ordinary. For this to happen, there must be a sense of trust. My challenge is to create a transcendent portrait and at the same time create a portrait that’s true.