"How the heck am I going to portrait Lad?" I kept asking myself. The question had been nagging me and the day before our session, I was no closer to an answer than when I got the assignment several weeks earlier. The director of special projects for REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation), Lad had earned the Reaching Out Award, one of scuba diving's highest awards, for his work in teaching people how to combat the lionfish in the Caribbean (the lionfish is an invasive species predator wreaking environmental havoc on Caribbean coral reefs). It turns out the lionfish, while difficult to handle due to its very painful stinging spines, can be food if you know how to take it safely (I've had it -- it's actually quite good). REEF's instruction teaches divers to do this, allowing them to take lionfish to help the environment and have a fresh fish meal at the same time. The portrait would be part of recognizing Lad for this important initiative.
Hopefully you agree the finished image tells the story, but as I said, I was beating my head against a wall trying to come up with an idea. As it happened, though, the day before I was photographing Leslie Leaney's portrait for his Reaching Out Award (there are two annually). Founder of the Historical Diving Society (hence the award), Leslie is a warm, charming man with a quick sense of humor. We were on the way to make his portrait and I mentioned we were doing Lad's the next day.
"Ha, you should shoot him holding a lionfish with chopsticks," Leslie teased. He meant it as a joke, but it stopped me in my tracks.
"Hey, that could work!" I said. I shared the suggestion with Dawn Azua, the award ceremony director. She thought it workable and in the middle of everything else, came up with chopsticks and a model lionfish overnight.
As you can see, it did. At the award ceremony, Lad thanked Leslie for the idea (I'd shared the story with him when we shot) and complimented the work, so apparently he liked it.
The lesson is that sometimes someone gets an idea that on the surface, you wouldn't take seriously -- unless you stop to look at it. So, don't dismiss silly, wacky or crazy proposals until you've weighed their merit with a serious eye.
BTW, thanks Leslie, for the idea, and thanks, Lad, for not being afraid to run with it.