Ted Wachter and Jan Collins

How do you say “I’m grateful” visually? In my case, you cheat a little.

Ted Wachter wanted a portrait that said he was very grateful to his wife, Jan Collins.

As usual, I began by creating a Pinterest board. I searched for images using the keyword “grateful.” Then I went to a Thesaurus and found synonyms such as beholden, indebted, pleased, thankful, appreciative and agreeable. I searched Pinterest for images and boards matching these words. Then I searched in Google Images, but that was not helpful. I was becoming frustrated.

But then I saw an image of Picasso holding an umbrella.

The comments said, “Robert Capa’s famous photograph of Picasso and Francoise cavorting on the beach. What a great shot. Francoise is radiant, and I love that Picasso is holding the umbrella for her.” I decided to incorporate an umbrella. Jan would “help” her husband by holding an umbrella over his head, and Ted would be grateful for this kindness. Like Robert Capa, I photographed on a sunny—rather than rainy—day.

The meaning of the photograph then changed a little. In addition to Ted being grateful, maybe Jan could also be grateful for kind action by Ted.

During my Pinterest search, I also found a photo of someone pouring coffee, so I suggested photographing Ted as he poured coffee for his wife. Ted would “help” his wife by pouring coffee, and Jan would be grateful. Ted, however, said that Jan doesn’t drink coffee. We substituted wine for coffee. I asked Ted to bring a bottle of wine, and he brought one of his favorite wines. Unfortunately, perhaps, the label says “Menage à Trois.” Using a bottle with a less sexually suggestive label may have been more appropriate.

After taking the photo with a portable strobe, I worried that the intended message—gratitude—was not as clear as it should be. So I decided to “spell out” the message. I replaced the umbrella stays with the sentence, “I am grateful for everything you’ve done.” I used all capital letters so the heights of the letters would be consistent, and the words would have the same shape as an umbrella stay.

With this portrait, therefore, I used a combination of words and visual symbols to convey a message. Ted said, “My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the creative and collaborative experience of working with Keith on our portrait, which we love!”

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