Image © Mike Morgan
“Robert Charrow, General Counsel of the Department of Health and Human Services”
First Place – Editorial
ASMP: What was your inspiration for taking this photo/video?
Mike Morgan: On March 19th of 2020 we were entering a lockdown phase around the mid-Atlantic states, but I still had a full slate of shoots scheduled and continued to work. I wasn’t nervous at the time; people weren’t wearing masks yet and social distancing and copious amounts of Purell were the recommended precautions. I drove into deserted DC that day for Stanford Lawyer Magazine to photograph Robert Charrow, general counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services. The building was practically empty, but Mr. Charrow was still working around the clock in his massive office and I would have a very small amount of time with him. I jumped into creative mode and came up with five options I could pre-light for a 15-minute shoot window. I started at his desk so he could keep working until I took the first shot, swiveling the lights around toward the windows for the second setup, and then took him to the building lobby for two more setups where again I only had to swivel my lights 180 degrees to completely change the scene. We ended with this portrait seated on a bench by the window, looking out on an empty Independence Avenue, past the National Botanical Garden to the US Capitol. Under these eerie and unusual circumstances in the city at the time, I wanted to create a particularly thoughtful and contemplative portrait and asked him simply to sit and look past me toward the empty lobby. Afterward, I grabbed a lunch to go and ate it on a park bench at the US Capitol. The only other two people I saw were a father and son with ball and glove, playing catch on the vast lawn. Even though I’d never seen people playing ball on the Capitol grounds, it was somehow a slice of normalcy in this otherwise strange scene.
ASMP: What type of setting do you prefer?
MM: My preference is to work on location, finding banal or overlooked spaces, and adding drama to the scene with my lighting. This can be office buildings, peoples’ homes, or anywhere really. Not every job calls for this approach, but it’s what I’m naturally drawn to when left to my own devices.
ASMP: Is there anything unique about your style or approach?
MM: I can’t fully take credit for the style I’ve developed as I’ve taken so many ideas and inspiration from a number of sources over the years, but I do think I’ve managed to find my own unique signature. I think of my work as iconic portraiture: images that place the subject as the hero of the story, but showing their environment in a way that alludes to their internal dialogue.
ASMP: What type of lighting did you use for this image?
MM: For my key light I used a small Chimera softbox with a Profoto 7b inside. For my fill, I used a Photek Softlighter with a Profoto B1. Both lights on Matthews c-stands.
ASMP: How long have you been shooting this type of photography?
MM: I’ve been doing editorial portraiture for about 25 years. My style has evolved over the years, but I really found my current look about 7 years ago and have been developing it ever since.
ASMP: What other photographers’ or artists’ work inspires you?
MM: I’ve always been a fan of and influenced greatly by masters of the past like Yousuf Karsh and Arnold Newman, but also by several contemporary photographers: Albert Watson, Stephen Voss, and Jonas Fredwall Karlsson come immediately to mind.
ASMP: When did you join ASMP and what do you find most valuable about your membership?
MM: I first joined ASMP in 1999 and immediately found in it a sense of community and camaraderie. So often as a freelancer you have the sense that you are operating alone and in darkness, a vacuum of information if you will; ASMP was the light I was missing at that time in my career and joining the organization illuminated me to lifelong friends and colleagues, and the knowledge necessary to guide my business through good times and bad. Especially in the years prior to the robustness of information found through the internet, ASMP was my lifeline.
ASMP: What is the more important relationship you’ve formed through your ASMP membership?
MM: It’s difficult to quantify specific relationships, but ASMP really introduced me to a community of local and national photographers who have been inspirational. The knowledge these colleagues generously passed down to me I have made an effort to pay forward so that it will continue to be felt and helpful to our community.
ASMP: What kind of gear do you use?
MM: My main camera is a Nikon D850, using Nikon prime lenses. For lighting, I’ve used Profoto exclusively for a long time now; it takes a beating, it’s always consistent, and it just plain works. Modifiers are a mix of Chimera, Profoto, and a smattering of other brands. I have a lot of grip and power packs from my days owning a studio, but I’ve become increasingly reliant on battery-powered lighting and a (relatively) smaller travel kit for location work.
ASMP: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started your career as a photographer?
MM: That above all else I’m running a business; without sound business practices in place, you won’t be able to practice your art for very long.
ASMP: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your work? Go ahead, surprise us with something unique and unusual.
MM: While I’m based in Washington DC and work all around the mid-Atlantic, I’ve slowly moved myself away from the city center and now live on the Chesapeake Bay on Kent Island. In the past couple of years I’ve worked toward a Master Naturalist certification from the State of Maryland, and volunteer in my spare time at a local arboretum and nature center.