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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.
The amount of time that we had with David was pretty limited, so I knew that I needed to keep things moving. After having captured some photographs in his backyard and made this picture, I was ready to move on. At that point, we went into his workshop, his studio space, and I was taken aback by it. This picture I think captures it all. All of these different cans and wires and materials, a nice natural, soft light. He is obviously a man who's incredibly creative and likes working with materials.
So what I wanted to do in this space is to capture some images of him kind of in the midst of his workshop, making things. I also have this agenda of trying to get Keith to help me out, to make some photographs, to be my photography mentor or coach. So here are some of the pictures that I made. This first one is a candid moment as we are talking, and he's smiling. I like this picture, because a lot of the other photographs are really serious. This one captures a bit more of his warmth. Then we walked over to some of his pieces.
I had him sit down kind of in the midst of all of this texture, all of this stuff. And there he is, sitting in the middle of it all. Next, I explored how to work with the film camera. In this case, I'm trying to capture images of him actually working on a project. And one of things that you will discover here is you can almost see my thoughts. Here I am trying to capture an image like this and then something different. This is when Keith was helping me. He is standing in between the pieces, or perhaps up close working on a piece, or maybe a little bit back with his hand on top. perhaps a bit more posed.
And again, I'm just working through different ideas. I think that's one of things it's so fun about photography is trying to testing out different ways of seeing and thinking. Here is one where he is standing side by side next to these different pieces. Then it leads us to this photograph, which is my favorite from this set. I think this is my favorite because I like how David is kind of standing there, almost blending and just peering over, out of focus. I have mentioned before that he is an understated guy.
He's really humble and down to earth. He doesn't want to be front and center stage. I like this one because it talks a little bit more about his art. I think all artists share that same desire. It's that desire that our work does the speaking for us. I think this image captures a bit of that, and it took some tinkering working from one perspective to another. And with that, we called the wrap. The photo shoot was over. We were done. Yet there still were some more photographs that I wanted to make.
We were done with the photo shoot, but I said, hey, David, can we make a few more frames and he said, yeah, sure, of course. So we walked outside. This was one of the first pictures that I made. It was just he and I, and I enjoy this picture, again, because I like the sculpture. I like the way they're looking. One of the characters is looking towards him. He's looking up at the sky. This image is dark. It's out of focus. It's grainy. As I was working on these photographs, I was listening to Johnny Cash. I wanted something that had that deep tone like Johnny Cash's voice.
I wanted that depth, and I wanted to capture a bit of that side, really fully embracing imperfection, creating something with deep, dark blacks. This was one of those frames that I liked. Here's another one. This time this arm reaching out towards David. In a sense they're holding hands. He's in the frame looking out towards us in who knows what type of an area. You see a few columns kind of leading towards him, a lot of trees, interesting. Interesting perspective.
Then this one, interesting with his hand's on these kids. It's almost like those are his kids. This is a piece he has brought to life. I'm always so interested in the artist's hand, and in this next frame I took that even further, cropping him out of the picture so that I'm focused on his hand, or cropping his face out at least. This one, this one does something for me, because the focus really is on his hand and you can almost picture those fingers moving that material around in order to create this particular piece.
Again, I'm going for something authentic, something with a bit of grit to it. Here's a guy who works with stone and steel, and he works with his hands. I want something to have that type of a feeling. Here's another frame of David in front of that sculpture that I liked so much. I like the separation. There he is, in front of it, but it wasn't quite right. The next version of this photograph I think I got it right. This is my favorite photo from this set. I cropped off the frame to keep it really simple, focused in on the sculpture in the background so that he is completely out of focus, yet you recognize him.
To me, this one says a lot. It's about his art, but it also includes him. It's a perfect interplay of the artist and his subject. These last few pictures remind me of the importance of making those photographs that match your own vision and voice, making those photographs which means something to you. You have to remember, there is always a greater chance that if you make pictures which matter to you, that they will matter to others as well.
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