CELEBRITIES, INDUSTRY LEADERS, AND POLITICIANS HAVE ALL EXPERIENCED THE TALENTS OF THIS MODERN-DAY PORTRAIT ARTIST, WHO BLENDS ADVANCED PHOTOGRAPHIC TECHNIQUES WITH OLD MASTERS’ TRADITIONS TO CREATE TIMELESS WORKS OF ART
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY ALEX BARRETO
Portraiture is one of the oldest and most prolific genres in art history. For thousands of years, portrait artists have used a panoply of media and styles to capture the nuance of human expression and personality, from the bronze and marble statues of ancient Greece to the iconic oil paintings of the Renaissance. Every U.S. president is immortalized on the walls of the White House, and though modern society has shifted to embrace a culture of digital photography and camera phones, there’s a reason families still invest in formal portraits to commemorate a milestone, life event, or simply a moment in time.
“A beautiful portrait always requires more than one look,” explained portrait artist Steven Kramer, a seasoned photographer with more than 30 years of experience behind the camera and the founder of Kramer Portraits. “A portrait artist’s goal my goal is to capture who the person is, and that goes so much deeper than the surface. It happens through the portrait artist’s ability to relate to the client and understand who they are.”
Today Kramer Portraits serves the Northeastern U.S. with locations in Red Bank, Hillsborough, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Greenwich, Connecticut. Though his brick-and-mortar presence is planted in the Northeast, Kramer’s clientele is national, with clients regularly flying in from all over the country, from the West Coast down to the tip of Florida. United States presidents, including Ronald Reagan and both George H.W. and George W. Bush, sports icons like Yankees great Paul O’Neill, and musicians like Patti LaBelle have all sat for a Kramer original. The portrait artist has been published in numerous magazines and is lauded throughout the photographic and artistic communities.
“My entire business is built on credibility,” noted Kramer, who holds a Master of Photography degree from the Professional Photographers of America, a designation held by less than 1% of industry professionals. “That’s how we were able to create a national reputation. What we do is so much more than a service; we build a rapport with our clients and create timeless pieces of art for their homes.”
Kramer’s photography career began when he was in high school, nabbing a position as a photographer’s assistant at weddings. He then attended Loyola University to study accounting, still photographing weddings on the weekends for extra cash. After only one year in the accounting field, his love of art and people led him back to the more creative endeavor of creating portraits. In 2000, the first Kramer studio opened in Red Bank.
During the early days wedding photography was a healthy portion of Kramer’s budding business, but he also carved out another niche in the area of family portraits. He was inspired by the celebrated portrait painters of the past, artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was credited with elevating portraiture to the status of fine art in the late 18th century, and John Singer Sargent. By applying their principles to modern technology, Kramer created his signature style that would one day become instantly recognizable. By 2010, his business had shifted to focus solely on portraits.
Every Kramer portrait is hand-finished with painted brush strokes to meld the richness of an oil painting with the realism of a photograph. The goal is formality without stiffness, elegance with warmth.
“The way our portraits are presented is they are done on canvas with beautiful hand artistry, then placed in beautiful frames, and priced like original art,” explained the photographer. “It’s like buying high-end art for their home, and it just happens to be of their family. And when that family portrait is hanging on the wall, it’s like a virtual hug for the kids. It sends a subliminal message to the children that says, ‘You’re important and you’re part of this team called family.’ We have repeat clients that come to us every four to six years. It’s a special project.”
The entire process, from consultation to finished art work, takes up to four months. Each session begins with a 30-minute phone call, in which the portrait artist gets to develop rapport with each client before a single photograph is ever taken.
“We talk about complexion, eye color, hair color, what colors they enjoy wearing that they feel are flattering, and more. We’re gathering all of this info, and based on what you’re sharing with us, we are formulating a plan. We go deeper than, ‘What’s your favorite outfit?’ We are consultants; we don’t take a dictator approach.”
Each portrait session begins in the studio. “Our goal is to capture the family members’ distinct personalities and their relationships with each other. People are assembled in a relaxed yet elegant way, and we pay close attention to color harmony, lighting, and composition to create an image that is timeless. If a stranger looked at the portrait, we want them to think, ‘Wow, this is beautiful and I don’t even know these people.’”
A hallmark of Kramer Portraits has, from the beginning, been its support of local and national charities. The studios are involved with several organizations, including the American Cancer Society and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, donating portrait sessions to their fundraising events and galas.
“As a small business, we are really pleased to raise over a quarter of a million dollars annually for different charities,” noted Kramer, adding he’s honored to give back to the community.
Greenwich / Hillsborough / New York / Philadelphia / Red Bank / Washington, D.C.