Fast food worker, Shanghai, China, 2004
Huge tubs of steamed breakfast buns are made ready for Shanghai commuters who grab a bite as they dash through People's Park. I call this an action portrait, because it stops life in its tracks, and reveals the character of the subject by preserving a moment in time. I simply stood among the customers gathering outside of this stall and shot picture after picture of this woman at work. This was the moment that said it all for me. She prepares food in large quantities and shows great capability and confidence in her ability to do so. We can see this by the size of that bamboo tub, and by her spontaneously casual attitude captured by the camera. The chaotic steamy environment in which she works underscores her positive attitude. There are more tubs to lift and carry, more buns to make and serve, and little room or time to relax. Yet looking at this portrait, I feel as if she might savor the challenge.
Man at leisure, Lhasa, Tibet, 2004
Tall straw hat, wispy goatee, long shirt, a seat on the doorstep of a neighborhood temple, and a relaxed attitude accumulate meaning in this portrait of a Tibetan gentleman. I made several images of this man, and his expression never changed. He looks as if he is about to ask a question but can’t find the words to do so. (And if he did, I doubt if I would understand them.) I anchored the composition with the large doorstep embellishment in the right foreground, which leads us back into the heart of the picture, where the man and another doorstep embellishment await at center. The image then moves us to the third and final doorstep embellishment in the left background. Each of them gets progressively smaller as they recede into and through the frame. The man becomes part of the architecture through a series of rhythmic vertical repetitions that pull us into and through this picture. Yet he is emphasized by the vivid primary blue color of his shirt, which is much stronger than the more delicate colors in the building that surrounds him.
Tai Chi Master, Xian, China, 2004
In this portrait of a Xian Tai Chi instructor, I've tried to capture a sense of confidence and serenity that comes along with such skills. She had just given a very basic Tai Chi lesson to our tour group on the patio of our hotel, and was quietly standing back in the shadows watching her new students practicing the moves she had just taught them. She was so intent on watching them that I doubt if she ever saw me make this picture. I exposed for her pink costume, making the reflected students and rocks in the bronzed window vanish into darkness. I placed her in the center of frame because it put the picture into balance and harmony, so important to an understanding of the art of Tai Chi. I saw in her expression and body language a cool and somewhat good-natured sense of appraisal -- very much the point I was trying to make with this portrait.