Drago Sumonja, Sherman Oaks, CA 2019
BACKSTORY: Drago was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in January. I have photographed Drago many times for commercial purposes, but not like this. We have been very close friends for 25 years and this was not an easy photograph to make. I think it was easier for him as he has found a strength and perspective that can only come with fighting this disease. I, however, was shaky and quite emotional. I am not used to making “real” photographs. I work with fictional characters and personal branding for commercial purposes. The photographs I usually make are not complete, they are fluid. They are judged in and out of context. The photographs are made to “get something”; used as a stepping stone. They are not stand alone as art photography. If the photograph does not bring some sort of success then it is a failure…whether that has anything to do with the photograph itself is debatable.
PROCESS: I wanted to make a photograph of quiet courage. I knew I wanted soft light with some direction for contrast. I did not have a large soft box with me, so I did not want a small strobe light source to kill the quiet feeling of the shot. I also wanted an intimate feel so a 50mm lens felt right. I started without the plant in the foreground and then it started to creep in and felt like something was growing into the frame. It breaks up the chest and stomach area and draws the eye to the area of the pancreas. It adds visual and metaphorical interest for me. Drago’s look is calm, but defiant. I made versions of him looking at me, at the plant, and off camera right. The look slightly away works best. The look directly at me was too confrontational and we lost that moment of being alone. This feels right to me and it does not feel heavy handed. There is room here to view the photo as is or look deeper into it and find all the compositional clues.
I love Drago. His courage, determination, and humility inspire me to always go further. Friends for life.
SPECS: Camera: Nikon Z7, Lens: Leica R 50mm f/2, Light: Window light, Processing: Capture One Pro, Photoshop: None