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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: 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, oh 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? Chris Orwig: Keith is one of those rare individuals who is humble, down to earth, understated, yet full of so much wisdom.
At the end of our conversation, he brought up Emerson, and he talked about this idea of Emerson having his image been made and I wrote down, and I wrote down part of that quote in my journal. Emerson wrote, "Did you look with all vigor at the lens?" And then Keith reflected, that is great photography. That's great portraiture; it's a way of thinking. It doesn't have to be a face. It has to be treated with respect, with vigor, with awe. So often in portraiture, the goal is niceness. It's flattery.
It's trying to capture beauty on the surface. I like how Keith completely turns out on its head. How do we capture those images to have some sense, some power, some might, some awe, some vigor? How can we bring that back to portraiture?
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