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In the Narrative Portraiture series, photographer and teacher Chris Orwig explores how to use location and natural light to create images that tell stories about their subjects and produce a strong emotional connection.
In this installment, Chris travels to Texas to visit with Keith Carter, a fine art photographer and teacher, and has a conversation with Keith about his work, outlook on art and photography, and suggestion that photographers commit at least two years to a personal project.
The course continues with a pair of portrait shoots. Keith photographs Chris and describes his process and creative decisions along the way. Then the cameras are swapped and Chris creates a portrait of Keith.
Finally, Chris reviews the photography he took, and discusses the gear he used and the lessons he learned while visiting with and photographing Keith.
Chris Orwig: There is this great anecdote of how Herman Leonard was working for Yousuf Karsh. And eventually, Herman Leonard was getting good, and Yousuf realized that it was time for him to kind of push him out of the nest so to speak. So his parting words to him were "Herman, go out and tell the truth, but do so in beauty." And so the question is, here we've had a chance to sit down, talk with you, learn from you, and now we're on our way. What's message or words or profound thought would you pass on? Keith Carter: You're asking me on the spot for a profound thought.
Chris: I am. I am calling it out, because you are so profound. Let's see what you've got Keith. Keith: Well, I would borrow from my street poet friend Rock Your Ass Off, and then I would probably pick a wonderful thing that Emerson once said after having his own daguerreotype made, because it embodies a lot of what I love about the medium of photography.
And I would say, write this down, and read it, and think about it, and that is, after having his own daguerreotype, think about it. It's at a time when nobody has been photographed. There is not even the word photography yet. They are practitioners. That's what they call themselves. The exposures are long. It's a warping chore to make, and you're dealing with mercury fumes and respiratory problems, and it's still magic. The world has never seen an image like that.
Emerson has his own daguerreotype made and he wrote, "Were you ever daguerreotyped, old mortal man, and did you look with all vigor at the lens of the camera to give the picture the full benefit of your expanded and flashing eye, of your expanded and flashing eye?" That's great photography! That's great portraiture I think.
I think that's beautiful, I do. I think that's what the great portraits do, and I think that's what great photographs do. And as we've already established, I think of just about everything, at least in my genre, as a portrait. It's just a way of thinking. It doesn't have to be a face, but it has to be treated with a certain respect. Chris: Well, for being on the spot, those are some pretty profound words. Chris: So thank you Keith! Keith: You are welcome.
Chris: Very fun to sit down and talk. Thanks very much. Keith: You are welcome. Good to see you!
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