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The Expanding Photosession Print-ready version

by Norman Seeff
The Bay Area Phonograph Record Magazine
January 1978
Original article: PDF

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This is the first in a regular series of articles describing the methods and experience of the Norman Seeff photosession.


[Talking to Joni Mitchell, at the beginning of a photosession] Norman: What do you want to do?

Joni: Just turn the camera on me, and let's go.[she giggles]

NS: What do you want, black and white or color?

JM: Black and White.

NS: [Amused] You're the first person who said black and white when I thought it should be color and the first person who said, "film" [the session] when I thought we shouldn't...

JM: [Laughing] Oh no...this one, I want to see myself!

We are playing music and she just takes off in front of the camera and begins to do her thing - rapping, dancing, singing...She has a sense of purpose, a centeredness and a total absorbtion with the moment.

What starts happening is that people in the audience (there is a large crowd at the session) come out and dance with her. When a partner picks her up and swings her around, she just goes right back into her thing; non-resisting, going with the flow and always with a sense of real enjoyment and purpose.

Joni has this beautiful paradoxical combination of keeping the goal in mind, while being completely into the experience of the present.

Although I have worked with her a number of times, not every session has been easy and neither does it mean that a good session will follow. It is the nature of the experiencially-based, creative act that one cannot depend on what has gone before. It is a very present-centered act and every session is a process of being totally new to what happens. The idea is to let things flow - so we don't hold onto successes or failures. Every time, is the first time...


I'm very clear about my Goals when I do a session: I want to capture the essence of my subject, as I see and feel it; and I want to have the experience with that person fully, openly, spontaneously.

There is a Tantric-Yoga word, Varagya, meaning "non-concern-with-result," which sums up an important aspect of the way we work. What it means in a practical sense, is to be less concerned with the results of one's activity and more concerned with the process itself.

I have found that when I am fully in touch with what is going on in the now, the results take care of themselves anyway. So, I care less about the photograph and more about the experience of getting it. The photosession itself becomes the artform. This way of working and relating to life is experiential and I call what we do Experiential Communication, Experiential Photography and Experiential Filmaking.

Goal-directed behavior gives me that irritating feeling of always striving after something I never attain. Experience-directed behavior feels more earthy and grounded in the now.

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