It was at a Professional Photographs of America (PPA) convention when I saw Phillip Stewart Charis for the first time. He was giving his program on Elegant Portraiture. I heard so much about him from other photographers who I admired and were already at the top of their field. Photographers like David Peters & Monty Zuker admired Charis. And if these photographers admired him then I knew he was someone I would have to see.
I read everything I could find about him and his style of portraiture. I even wrote to him once to ask him about his lighting style and he graciously responded. This was by snail mail, long before there was email. He told me in great detail how he lit his subjects and the kind of lighting equipment he used. He even confirmed what I had heard and read about and that was his use of an 8×10 view camera with a 5×7 reducing back.
His lighting was simple. His main light was umbrella lighting with his fill light bounced off the back wall. He told me he wanted the variables to be the subject and not the equipment. He concentrated on the subject and getting the expression he was looking for. That was the reason his portraits were a thing of beauty. They were more like paintings rather than look at the camera and smile.
Charis portraits may be seen in some of the most distinguished collections and private homes throughout the world. His clients travel to his studio from all over the world. Some of his more celebrated subjects include Chuck Henry, Nancy Reagan, Michael Landon, Steve Allen, Red Skelton, Joan Collins, Candace Bergen, Lynn Redgrave, and the families of Henry Mancini, Richard Dreyfuss and Lou Ferrigno. His influences are master painters like Raphael, Rembrandt, Reynolds, Sargent and other old masters of the painted portrait. His portraits are close to life size and mounted on canvas.
We arrived at the program and were able to sit at the front. Thanks to complimentary passes I received from Joe Procia of the Backgrounders, who painted some of my backgrounds I was using. Also sitting in the front was Monty and some other photographers who were pretty high up on the PPA totem pole.
Up on stage were several large portraits on easels, all were covered. They were to be unveiled at the end of the program. His program was sensational and he clearly demonstrated his simplicity in lighting. His portraits were simple yet had an air of dignity to each one. The key was found in the expression of his subjects and the almost life size photographs seemed as though they could walk off the canvases.
When it came time to unveil the portraits I became very excited and had tears in my eyes as I saw the canvases for the first time. Seeing his portraits in magazines and ads does not even come close to the real thing.
He was given a five-minute standing ovation as he stood to speak at the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) annual convention, Imaging USA 2006, in Austin, Texas. He now uses digital technology along with his photographic expertise to create the same depth and tonality he has in the past.