Feb 11, 2014
01:15 PM
Arts & Entertainment

Portrait 365: A Connecticut Photographer Pushes Artistry to New Heights, Daily

Portrait 365: A Connecticut Photographer Pushes Artistry to New Heights, Daily

Erin Covey

A portrait from the Portrait 365 project, begun Jan. 1.

This is a story that shouldn’t have words, just images.

It’s the story of Erin Covey, a young woman who divides her time between an apartment in Waterbury and a family home upstate New York—a photojournalist working for the Republican American newspaper and a successful independent photographer specializing in weddings, engagements and portraits of folks like authors and musicians.

Lots of people shoot special events and headshots and do it well. Unless you’re a client, the details aren’t very interesting. It’s best to save the words to describe something else.

Covey is interesting, but not because of what she discloses in the minimalist “About” section on her website, saying she “hugs freely,” is a “desserts and espresso type of gal,” a nomad, and a bookworm who is pop culture deficient but addicted to Pandora, Pinterest and Skype.

She’s interesting because of a narrative that’s anchored by her eyes. Their color is striking, but the real magnetism comes from their glow, an almost-liquid buoyancy. They pull everything in, like gravity.

But that’s so not important either; it’s what they see, and what that vision demands, that gets to the heart of Covey’s interest quotient.

In a project that started with the arrival of 2014, Covey sees the need to push herself, stretch and grow as an artist—and to take on as subject matter not just news events and orchestrations of beauty but humanity in the raw.

What better material is there than real, unvarnished people and the proverbial maps of the world, their faces?

She’s not stealing souls, just liberating her artistic spirit, and part of that means sustaining an effort to publish a compelling new portrait online every day. She’s into the 40s and counting.

The initiative is called Portrait 365, “daily visual experiments by Erin Covey.” There will be a year’s worth of images, and then she’ll see where to go next.

“This is all about making myself better and pushing myself,” Covey says one morning over espresso-based drinks at a Starbucks in Watertown.

It’s a raw morning and the cold bites every time someone opens the door. Covey barely notices. This is contemporary café society; the situation is what it is, and whatever that status, it’s a rich vein of raw material to her—and it extends to even me.

(We had agreed to a trade: she meets for an interview, I get my photo taken. I try to beg off, get a reprieve; I haven’t slept (truth), look and feel wiped out (truth). No luck. With a cellphone in one hand, the other hand on a laptop, crumpled napkin and mostly empty paper coffee cup nearby, I have become one of those moment-in-time maps of the world; I’m the Parisian café dweller transported to the digital age. Her interest is almost forensic. She takes the picture. I hate it; she doesn’t. My soul is dented; hers is a bit more liberated artistically.)

Both in her work as a photojournalist and in photographing weddings, Covey says, “There’s just not a lot of opportunity to do something off the rails.” The people paying for the photos have expectations, and it’s her job to fulfill them—and she does it well, judging by her website, blog and Facebook page.

The women she shoots, Covey says, naturally “want to look pretty, young and thin,” not overtired, stressed and desperate not to stray too far from good coffee. She takes pride in delivering for clients, but there’s also another desire, the one driven by things like capturing a powerful unedited narrative, living in the realm of pure aesthetics, channeling honesty, and combining all of it to offer a unique perspective, a visual voice.

Covey isn’t leaving the bridal and portrait work behind; she’s just changing the rules for what she does on her own time, and in the process chasing the portal to an aesthetic breakthrough.

“Young old, size, race, it doesn’t matter to me,” Covey says of her subjects. The important part is “just finding someone who’s willing to play around a little bit.”

Part of the challenge is getting a great portrait in a sliver of time, not taking 20 minutes or longer in the studio. But these aren’t cellphone shots or throwaways. “I want to have good portraits every single day,” Covey stresses. “It’s about the lighting; it’s about technically nailing concepts I have in my head.”

And there’s one other defining quality. All the images on Portrait 365 are black-and-white.

“I just wanted a consistent look,” says Covey, but that’s not the whole picture. She agrees that the absence of color can serve to remove visual distractions and heighten the impact of what remains.

“I find it does hit home with a lot of people, my traditional clients,” Covey says, adding, “I would do everything in black-and-white if I could.”

She can’t, of course, but she can with Portrait 365 because all of the rules—except ones she choose to make—are off the table; artistic freedom in pursuit of an epiphany.

On her website under the “Style” section, Covey calls herself a minimalist and says, “I believe in the beauty of simplicity with a dash of creative flair.”

It’s a philosophy that’s contagious. Covey isn’t shy with the details of her bio—she’s from New Hartford, N.Y., outside of Utica, an hour from Syracuse, and majored in broadcast journalism at SUNY Brockport—but after looking at her daily portraits for a while, it feels more right to let her be the bookish nomad who loves espresso and isn’t afraid to hug, and to let the rest of the story be told not by words but visually.

To experience that, head to the Portrait 365 website. For more on Covey’s bridal, events and portrait work, see Erin Covey Creative. Also follow Covey on Facebook and on Twitter. And you can find her on Pinterest too.


Portrait 365: A Connecticut Photographer Pushes Artistry to New Heights, Daily

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