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In the Narrative Portraiture series, photographer and teacher Chris Orwig explores the use of elements such as location and natural light to create images that tell stories about their subjects and produce a strong emotional connection. In this installment, Chris visits Rodney Smith, a photographer whose work is known for its graceful serenity and its wit. Rodney's career spans more than four decades and includes editorial, fashion, and advertising work, as well as several books.
The course begins with a wide-ranging conversation between Chris and Rodney, during which they discuss Rodney's work, his approach to photography and models, his love of film and of black and white, and the importance of creating photographs that both ask questions and tell stories. Next, Chris tours Rodney Smith's studio, including the darkroom, to get more familiar with Rodney before photographing him.
Chris then takes a series of portraits of Rodney. Along the way, he reviews his gear choices and the compositional decisions he makes, and discusses the importance of committing photographs to paper, particularly in today's digital age. Finally, Chris reviews the images and shares some insights from his conversation with Rodney.
All right, are you ready for your next assignment? Well, this assignment involves creating simply six pictures. These six pictures are going to be difficult to make, and here's why. What I want you to do is to create photographs that ask questions. You know, Rodney often talks about this whole idea that a photograph that doesn't ask questions isn't very interesting, or one that answers all the questions isn't worth looking at again. In other words, I want you to create those photographs that really draw in the viewer, make them wonder, make them think.
On top of it, I want them to be black-and-white photographs. So if you have a film camera available to you, shoot black-and-white film; if you don't, shoot with your digital camera--but do so always thinking about black and white. You know many times when I shoot with my digital camera, knowing that I am going to convert it to black and white, I overexpose just a bit, so I can have that really nice level of contrast. So again, think with black and white in mind. And then in addition to all of those variables, I want you to include a prop.
You know, often in Rodney's picture he has props, whether it's someone with an old vintage golf club and a golf ball or perhaps someone holding something intriguing. I want you to find a vintage prop, perhaps pick one up at an old thrift store, or look in your garage-- you'd be surprised at what you could find. You know, perhaps you could find a rusty shovel or something that could help you ask a question with a photograph. And then ask the person you're photographing to use the prop, perhaps hold the binoculars up to their eyes.
What will happen is, whenever you seek to create photographs that ask questions, is you will always have those that will just flop. You know the ones that I mean? Where you say, hey, I want to create a photograph that asks a question and then the subject where the person says, "hmm." You know, it's just too cliche. It's too easy, too trite. But get over it, get beyond it, work around that. See what you can do to create six photographs in black and white with a vintage prop that ask questions.
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