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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.
Keith Carter: It's impossible, virtually impossible to make a qualitative judgment as to whether or not this body of work you're absorbed in is going to be successful or not while you're in the middle of it. It's impossible. All you can do is talk yourself out of it. Oh! I don't have enough time. Oh! It's been done before. Oh! My friends don't like this. Oh! I'm not doing a good job, don't have the money. This is too much time.
All you do is talk yourself out of it. It's like you've got this little black angel on your shoulder whispering that stuff into your ear all the time. I don't want to hear it. I just don't want to hear it. You've got to finish it, and then you can make a judgment as to whether or not it's successful. But let me tell you something. You notice how am I pointing my finger at you? Chris Orwig: Yeah. Keith: If you do 50 photographs on this assignment in 2 years, you're an aristocrat. You did it.
You did what most people will never do, and you did it for the best of all reasons. How can that be time it will spent? Chris: So I have a confession to make. In talking with Keith, one of my goals and one of my interests is to ask questions which will be helpful for you. But I'm also asking questions that are self-focused, that are interesting to me. And I asked Keith one question which was about what to do when you hit that plateau, that lull, that dry spot, when stuff just isn't working out for you, and I asked that question because that happens to me.
There are times when the creative spark just isn't there, and so I asked him, well, what do you do? What do you do in those situations? How do you get out of that spot? And his response was really interesting. What I wrote down was he said, "Quit whining." In other words, just get over it, get on, push through that. So often when we hit those lulls or those flat spots, it's easy to come up with a litany of excuses why we shouldn't keep going or to feel sorry for ourself or to think okay, if only this or that.
But I love that perspective. Keith responds as any good mentor or coach would: quit whining and go for it. He said, negative self-talk or excuses, they won't do anything for you. Go out and make pictures, and if you do this and if you accomplish this, he had this word, he said, you'll become an aristocrat. I think what he meant by that is you will be noble. You will be set apart. In other words, I think what he was trying to say is so many people throw in the towel.
That's easy. That's the easy road. If you want to be great, take that other path which is going to be difficult but worth it.
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