There’s a lot of preparation that goes into documenting a moment like this, both mental and technical. Much of the mental preparation involved figuring out how to craft this special moment so it would be real, but at the same time make it photographically appealing.
I knew I wanted to stage the 5 of us around a dinner table so In the initial stages I started researching movies, particularly films with dinner scenes. I analysed the position of the cameras, the angles and the framing of the people present, so I could set up my own cameras in the best, most truthfully revealing, positions.
I started keeping a journal, one that I would use to develop the entire project. In it I started conceptualizing and researching different lighting approaches I could use for the moment.
The idea of using flashes was discarded immediately given their overpowering and distracting effect, and that left me with two options. The first option was continuous lighting using lamps, which I tested inside a studio before I left for Ecuador. And the second was natural window lighting.
I was content with the initial continuos lighting results as in black in white they had a film noir vibe to them. But I questioned wether high contrast black and white would add unnecessary drama to the pictures.
After the the studio tests there was one major problem with using artificial light. Tungsten light creates a tremendous amount of heat. Not only were my eyes squinting from the glare, I felt very much in the spotlight. It would be difficult to capture a natural reaction under such conditions, so my only real option was to use natural light. Luckily, I knew the perfect place. The family living room in my parents’ house had big windows, plus its familiarity would make us all feel more at ease.
I carefully calculated everything from the heights of the tripods to the measurements of the table. Once I arrived to Ecuador I did countless tests using myself and friends as the subjects. I had them gesture with their hands and move around freely to test how much freedom the subjects could exhibit without going out of shot. I set up the camera to do tests and I caputured movement and interaction around the table.
I also tested various lengths of time intervals in seconds between shots. I tried every fifteen seconds, every ten seconds and every five seconds. It quickly became clear that anything longer than five seconds was too long because many things could happen in that amount of time and the cameras might miss it at the longer intervals.
I meticously kept the timing logs in my journal, as well as sketches of the table and the position of the cameras.
In Ecuador, I busied myself experimenting with camera angles and distances. I worked out who would be sitting where and which camera angles would best capture their reactions. I went to the local carpenter to have the table made to the exact measurements used in the previous tests.
After painstakingly measuring all the distances required so that multiple cameras wouldn’t be in view of each other, I concluded I could use a maximum of three cameras to capture the moment itself.
Three days before the day, the living room was arranged with the table placed in the ideal position according to the distance from the cameras and the direction the light would come through the windows. Since the part of the living room, which has no wall would be the background of the main camera, I had some friends help me arrange a large sheet to work as the back wall.
The Morning of. Last lighting and camera tests.
Just minutes before
Alongside the planning for the table shots I also searched for photographers who had conducted similar, intensely personal projects, though not necessarily regarding coming out. It was important to me to see their perspectives, their experiences and what they had accomplished. It helped knowing that others had gone before me, and that many of them had been hugely successful and had produced amazing works of art by turning the camera onto themselves.
It was during that research that I stumbled upon the term ‘phototherapy’, which was used by several photographers from the 1970s and 80s. It simply means an exploration of oneself through the medium of photography. It’s about allowing the camera to be the explorer, to let the lens be the observer, and in the process uncover clear truths about yourself that might otherwise be muddied by denial and rationalisation.
Photographers have been using their photography as a form of therapy for a long time, and I’ve always wanted to do this myself since I first began. So as a form of preparation, a few months before I came out to my parents, I decided to venture into some phototherapy of my own. I printed large amounts of pictures of my parents and filled my room with them. The purpose was to have their constant gaze over me to gauge how this affected my behavior and help me prepare.
At first, the presence of their faces made me incredibly uncomfortable, but after a while it was surprising how easily I became accustomed to them. It even started to give me strength and a sense of purpose. I kept their pictures in my room for around two months and they became part of my everyday life. The exercise proved very useful.
Phototherapy in the studio
Before taking pictures of my family, I wanted to become accustomed to being photographed myself. I was used to being behind the camera all the time, but I thought if I was going to subject my family to constant photographing, it was a process I should endure myself too.
I worked on several different series of portraits for a number of months, with pictures taken in a variety of circumstances.