There are some of the portraits I have done that I continuously get asked about, and this is one of them, the Hans Blix portrait.
The story was that former Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs and UN Weapens Inspector, Hans Blix and President Bill Clinton visited the Faroe Islands to do a paid address to an exclusive group of politicians and business men of Faroe Islands.
A British television producer from Sky News and I were the only press who had booked a room in the same hotel as President Clinton and Hans Blix. The rest of the press was on the other side of the security-perimeter around the hotel.
Hence it was easy to make an appointment with Hans Blix about a portrait session and a televised interview for Sky News. The video interview was set up in the hotel lobby, and while that was going on, I went looking inside the hotel for a spot for a portrait.
Doing video interview with Dr. Hans Blix for Sky News downstairs in the lobby.
On the fist floor of the hotel was the restaurant were assistants, security-people and bomb dogs and a few acidential tourists having breakfast. At the very end of the restaurant, I found a good location with a black door as background and light falling soft from the panorama window that went throughout the space.
I checked the chair, Hans Blix would be sitting comfortable in a Danish designed Wegner Y-Chair facing a long room with black walls and a black ceiling, and with the one panorama-window to his left, soft morning light streaming in from the foggy landscape outside.
In doing a portarit, the light is the first thing to look for
When doing a portrait - and any photo for that matter - the most important thing is the light. To find a place to palce the face of the person so that the light falls beautifully on the face. Quality of light is not the amount of light but the size of the light source. In this case a big panorama window with very soft and gentle morning light streaming in was perfect for the mood I was looking for, and equals a very large light source. Not strong light, but beautiful soft light from a large surface. I could also have done a setup with the film lights we had used for the interview, and in that case I would set it up to emulate natural light, but this was easier: It was already there.
A five minutes portrait
When the interview was over, I asked Dr. Hans Blix to come with me upstairs and sit down with his book he ahd just published about his time as UN Weapons Inspector. I simply asked him to sit upright in the chair, place his hands casually on the book. I checked that the glasses, shirt and all was sitting all right, then I asked him to look straight into the camera, thanks! Then look out the vindow, thanks!
I did a few shots with the Leica R9 on slide film, then a few digital files with the Leica Digilux 2, and I used a monopod to stabilize the camera as the light was so weak that I was down at 1/30th of a second shutter time.
Right behind me sat a table of four Danish policemen and enjoyed the show. That was it, it took 5 minutes, including for Hans Blix to give me a signed copy of his book.
The picture I choosed was the digital JPG file from the Leica Digilux 2, which is a 5MP files size.
Former weapons inspector Dr. Hans Blix with his book, "Disarming Iraq" about weapons of mass destruction. Faroe Islands, September 2007. Leica Digilux 2, 100 ISO, 1/30 sec, f/2.8, 28mm, manual.
Light is what creates a sense of sharpness
What is the oxymoron of this is that it is a 5MP camera (with an excellent lens) and the image looks as if it was a very high resolution setup because of the details and sharpnes. That is the take-away from this photograph: It's the light that create sharpness, not electronics. Which is why light quality and lenses to capture light rays are more important than megapixels, nano-coating, image-stabilizing and all that jazz.
I did a video about how light creates sharpness:
How does Swedish integrety look?
As for the portrait itself, I did have an idea about the personality and the emotion/attitude I thought would be right. Hans Blix was the United Nations weapons inspector who continiously, for years reported, "There are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq" upon which he was ousted by the American President Bush and the British Prime Minister Blair and the world press helped promote the idea that he had been uable to discover the weapons of mass destruction that Bush and Blair wanted the world to believe whas there.
And now, here I meet him some years after it had become known that he in fact was right; the American President Bush and the British Prime Minister Blair (and a few others) were wrong. How does an experienced politician like Hans Blix (who has been Foreign Minister of Sweden amongst other posts) look like after his career has been destroyed and history has turned him into the one person who stood tall and was right all the way?
I can't tell a person to put on a face of looking back at a life's experience, but I can preview the image and arrange the light and posture so that it might communicate the vision I had. More on that in my book, "The Portrait Book – How to make people look beautiful" that prominently features this photo on the frontpage.
"With an image one can express something that words can't" the Danish painter Michael Ancher (1849-1927) once said.
Books by Hans Blix
November 2023, Hans Blix published the book "A Farewell to Wars". The book I photographed him with is called "Disarming Iraq" on the weapons of mass destruction inspections for UN in Iraq prior to the war.
Photographing Bll Clinton
Photographing President Bill Clinton was the main objective of my trip to the Faroe Islands and is another story, which you can find it here.
By Thorsten Overgaard, November 23, 2011
Most recent update, January 19, 2024 Danish version
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish-American multiple award-winning photographer, known for his writings about photography and Leica cameras. He travels to more than 25 countries a year, photographing and teaching workshops to photographers. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via email.
You can follow Thorsten Overgaard at his television channel magicoflight.tv.