It has been two years since I photographed my friend Hilaire for the first time. This was after months of failed attempts. For whatever reason he felt that he wasn’t worthy of being photographed by me. Luckily, he eventually agreed to do the shoot. These photo’s would become The Strength of Man shoot.
There are many ways to define Hilaire. He is proud of his Haitian heritage, a knowledge seeker and travels quite frequently. Hilaire is a man that always challenges you to be your best. Initially we bonded because of our love for MMA and Martial Arts. This would build to a fruitful friendship.
Our friendship is what made this series of photo’s possible. On the way to the studio we discussed the idea of being authentic and honest. Hilaire felt that he was a man of strength and he wanted to show that. He wanted to show that he was a “Haitian King”. Also, we discussed the idea of vulnerability and what it meant. With that he told me things he endured in his everyday life and what he felt. Due to the nature of our friendship I choose to keep that aspect of our conversation private.
Knowing how he wanted to be perceived, I felt a certain responsibility to bring that to life, especially since it took months to convince him. Also, him being vulnerable and trusting wasn’t something to be taken for granted.
The beginning of the shoot was rough. He was self conscious about his appearance. I took photos, such as the one below, that highlighted his strong features. Ultimately my goal was to make him see himself in the same light that he wanted to be viewed in. Eventually it worked and he began to showcase the confidence that I knew he had all along.
This lead to many of my favorite photos. The lighting, composition and poses were striking out on all cylinders. I remember showing him photos throughout the sessions and he didn’t believe that they were coming out as great as they did. That of course was the ultimate compliment to me as an artist, but I wanted him to believe it as well.
Two hours had passed and we were close to wrapping the shoot. I showed him each photo and there was one (below) that he took a huge liking to. He told me “I see strength. I am a Haitian King and I am proud.” I looked at the photo and I ultimately agreed. With that shot I felt we successfully conveyed what we set out to do.
On the way home he joked “Man, you’ve seen me naked. Not many have seen me with a shirt off.” I remember that he was happy he did the shoot and was proud of the photos. He was going to show his family the photos, despite initially thinking they’d dislike them. A couple of weeks later he told me that they also liked them and were proud of the shots.
Looking back on the 2 year anniversary of these photos, they mean a lot. Some of these photos have been published and featured in showcases. I don’t believe either of us were expecting that of this shoot. I simply wanted to take some amazing photos and tell a great story. I believe that it might have been somewhat therapeutic for Hilaire. Regardless, I’m proud that he felt comfortable enough to open up to me. I don’t take his trust as a friend for granted.