“The most successful pilot is the one who turns his airplane’s limitations into its strengths.”–British Royal Air Force training manual, circa 1941
We all have an amazing gift and a massive flaw. It’s nature’s way of balancing us. In an interesting twist of fate, the flaw–shortness, baldness, fatness, mental slowness–often surfaces early in life, when we’re the least able to deal with it, while the gift usually remains locked away. It’s possible that someone with the narrative talent of Hemmingway cleans toilets in a train station, or the owner of a voice that would make Pavarotti cry repairs drill bits on a North Sea oil platform.
Life is seldom fair.
But it’s not implausible to think that when a person is able to come to terms with their flaw, they can use it as a tool to unlock their gift. Ridiculously short people make the best jockeys, ridiculously tall people are offered NBA contracts the minute they drop out of college, ridiculously stupid people seem to have the television industry in an unbreakable stranglehold. These types of people have used their flaws to their advantage.
Portland, Oregon photographer Jon Humphries’ flaw came in the form of shyness. But I don’t mean the occasional bashful moment, I’m talking about the real deal–the type of shyness that causes you to miss the great openings life rarely offers. The type of shyness that prevents him from taking part in the nauseating-yet-helpful photographer-subject banter that supposedly breaks down the wall of unfamiliarity, which may cause his subject to feel less comfortable and thus less open to being themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if he’s some peon without opinions or desires. Quite the contrary. Those who know him well know his views on skateboarding, art, and life are strong and heartfelt. I know from experience that when he catches you making an unthought-out statement, it isn’t always easy to explain your way out of it. But those who’ve never connected with Jon might think him disinterested. Aloof even.
And while his shyness has denied him access to many important figures of the skateboarding world–the Colin McKays, the Kareem Campbells, the Guy Marianos–it has become one of the reasons his photography is the type that makes people turn the pages more slowly. Not only has his passive nature attracted the likes of Matt Beach and Mark Gonzales–fellow quiet skaters–but because he is able to be less of himself, his subjects can become more of themselves.
In photography, that’s a building block toward greatness.
A sample of Jon’s gift is displayed on the following sixteen pages. His black-and-white skate and portrait photography isn’t your standard gift; it’s the kind that affects people profoundly. His eye for light and shadow, and his use of experimental angles and motion have made him a popular photographer among not only magazine editors and his peers, but the majority of pro skateboarders.
Most of whom he’s never met.