Chris Leaman is the staff photographer for Washingtonian Magazine, and recently was able to shoot Congress’s freshman class for the magazine. The results are amazing and somewhat hilarious, as many of these freshmen are political newbies and not particularly guarded (or for that matter, groomed).
We chatted with Chris about his process and background:
So the assignment was pretty straightforward – we knew a bunch of the incoming congressmen were going to be attending a conference at Harvard’s Kennedy School on Nov 30th and Dec 1st, and we hoped to shoot as many single portraits of them as possible. For inspiration, I loosely looked to Avedon’s Portraits of Power and Nadav Kandar’s Obama’s People. The plan was pretty loose – set up in one location and grab folks to shoot as they had coffee breaks between sessions. The members were all told on Nov 30th that we’d be there shooting the next day, but otherwise we had no idea what to expect (didn’t know if people would be into having their photo shot or not – we half expected to come away with nothing).
What we got was pretty amazing. Since the conference was fairly casual we got a good variety of looks from each of the subjects (not just blue suits and red ties). And as a result of the whole tea-party situation, many of the congressmen had no previous political experience, and thus were not guarded or at all concerned about their appearance. Most of the folks we shot had never had a proper portrait made of them. The result, at least in my completely biased opinion, was that we were able to get some pretty candid, honest moments out of folks who will, if their careers continue, become increasingly difficult to access in that manner.
As for technical stuff, I wanted a pretty even light that would work on a number of different types of clothing and skin color. I ended up using just one light – a Profoto head/7A into that huge Elinchrome octabank. I had the light coming straight on at the subject, basically a little above eye level. I shot the whole thing on a Canon 5DII, using the 50mm 1.2 and the 24-70 2.8. That’s basically it – I’m into super simple set ups.
As for me, I’ve been on staff here at Washingtonian for 2+ years now. This job was a total career change for me – before here, I was working at the State Department doing really boring/confusing/classified things. However, my father is a photographer, so I grew up shooting and surrounded by photography and kept it up through college. 3 or 4 years ago I got my first digital camera and learned how to make a digital photograph. My wife is a writer at Washingtonian and clued me on to their photography internship, so I quit the State Department and have been here ever since. And since, I’ve felt like the luckiest person in the world. Being on staff is great, because you have a constant stream of work and all types of different work – its been a great way for me to learn how to be a photographer. One minute I’m shooting food for the website, the next I’m stumbling my way through a fashion story, and then I’m in Boston shooting congressmen. It really has been a great way for me to gain experience in super fast forward.
Here are some favorites:
See more from the shoot, here.
See more from Chris Leaman.
See more of the Washingtonian.