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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 two artists: David Cargill, a Beaumont sculptor who works with bronze and marble, and Charles Stagg, another Beaumont sculptor but in recycled and found materials. Chris takes their portraits and spends time discussing the composition and lighting in each session.
Chris also reviews the photos he took, and discusses the gear he used and the lessons he learned while visiting with and photographing these artists.
Well, that was fascinating meeting up with David Cargill and learning a little bit about who he is and the arts that he creates. Well, what I want to do now is review and share with you some of the photographs that I made. And rather than just showing you the absolute selects, just showing you a few photographs, I want to show you a wide range, in order to give you some insight into my own creative process. Well, one of things that you know that I enjoy doing is that I like capturing photographs that somehow reflect the person without that person in the frame.
This is one of those images, one of the first pictures that I took. This is one of the first sculptures that I noticed. What was fascinating to me about this was how they were all looking in different directions. I like how it's a dark. It's brooding. I like the tonality, the emotion. Now one of the things that I discovered with this piece, as well as with the rest of his work, is that David really embraces imperfection. Here is that theme showing up again, someone who isn't afraid of imperfection, who includes it in what they do.
I think this frame captures that a bit. Here is another photograph of another sculpture which caught my eye. I like how the focus is on the sculpture's eyes and face looking up, looking off into the sky. A lot of his work has that. There's a lot of gaze and glance and gesture in his work. So again, I want to try to capture that, as I'm going to create some portraits of him. So one of things that I know I need to do is create something which is honest, which is authentic. So I start taking pictures.
This is one of those first frames. Often the first pictures that you take are really just about trying to find your way. What is the path that you're going to take? How does this scene actually look through the lens? And this picture is trying to get familiar with that. And then I backed up and this backed-up perspective I think is a bit better. Here there are many elements. There are a lot of layers. There is a lot of story. He is featured in the scene, but he's not prominent, and I think he is a little bit comfortable with that.
You know one of things that I learned about David is that he is not interested in being up front and center. Rather, he kind of likes falling back. He likes his art speaking for itself. I also like that in the background we see his home, all of those windows. And if you look closely, you can see these floor-to-ceiling bookcases with all of these books. Those are art books which had a huge influence on Keith as a little guy. That was how Keith was really exposed to the world of art. I like the layers, also the plants, the trees, the house. There he is, in that frame.
And again, I am just trying to explore that. In the next frame I move a little bit more close. Here we are really tight. In this case the context isn't that important at all. It's about the subject. This image, it isn't tack sharp, and I'm okay with that. You know creating images that are in focus and sharp is great; it directs the eye. But sometimes when you lose that or let go of that you can create mood or expression. In other words, sometimes when you embrace imperfection something can happen.
Next, after this, we decided to walk back through the gardens, and this one piece caught my eyes. It was this camel with someone standing on top of it. In this case, I like how he's touching the camel. I really wanted to focus in on this whole idea of the artist's hands. He's looking out outside of the frame. I had mentioned that I want to create these photographs that were deep, that were a bit gravelly. This one I converted to black and white to create that mood, brightening the hands to really bring focus to that.
And I wanted to work in this environment to see what other type of pictures that could be made, in this case, stepping back showing that the whole scene. It's fun to see the entire piece with those lines, all of the leaves and trees. There's a lot going on. With this one I decided to crop it in tight. I think it makes it more graphic, more strong. After having taken this perspective which was pulled back, I also wanted to get really close. I was kind of moving back and forth.
In this image I am really close. The sculpture isn't even really that important. I'm right next to him and again, this is kind of a dark image. It's not happy and snappy, but it has mood. It has feeling. Well, after having created some photographs in this place, I wanted to walk away from that, and so here we walked in front of that piece. And this is one of my favorites from this first segment of the photo shoot. I think this photograph works, for a number of reasons.
One, he's looking straight at the camera. He is natural. His dog is by his side. In the foreground we see a bit of one piece of sculpture. We see him. Then we see another piece in the background, the apple being held just above his head. It's a simple and quiet photograph. There's a lot of story, maybe even a bit of mystery. Who is this guy and what is this picture all about? So with this photograph it wrapped up the first segment of the photo shoot, trying to capture images of David Cargill in his backyard.
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