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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.
After having made this photograph, I wanted to create some others. One of things that I want to capture was a bit of Charles' emotions; he was so expressive. So as we continued to walk and talk, I was looking for those in-between moments like this one. In this case he was laughing and smiling. Again it's just a great expression. And also as we walked around, I noticed these fantastic doorways and openings. I wanted to work with those, and so I created a few images with Charles standing on the inside looking out.
Each doorway was a different shape. Like this one here, this is intriguing. There are so many layers. I like how these on the inside looking out. It's his just point of transition. You know this whole structure, it really was transitional. It was almost ever changing. I like putting him at that threshold and if you look closely, you'll see a lot of texture, bottles, even those faces on the wall that I had showed you earlier. This was intriguing to me. There were layers. And again, I kept shooting in scenarios like this.
Here's another picture of him on the inside looking out, now with this kind of bright smiling expression. And there were other openings as well, like in this picture. This was a little door that he would open and he would scoop up some food for his goats and he would throw it through that opening. And I said, "Hey Charles, do you mind sticking your head through that?" and he did, and it's just kind of a curious and interesting frame. And you know what we did is we just kept on walking and talking. I tried to keep that flow moving.
And as we walked and talked, there were other moments like this one. I think this is a little bit of a more quiet moment. He's looking off somewhere else. He's not laughing. He's not looking towards me. I think this photograph it almost raises a question: Where is he looking and why? And we worked with different openings, like this here, and also different parts of the structure. Here he is a little bit more pulled back. I moved away. It's almost like he's on the inside, deep inside, peering out.
That's an interesting perspective. It tells a different part of that story. And you know that structure had these different angles. Some of the door openings you could see right through. Others you couldn't quite see; you are always peering around the corner. I wanted to get a bit of that, because that was part of the emotion of the place. Here is another frame where we are just standing in an opening, and this is a bit more about expression. It's almost like you could silently look at these pictures for a few seconds.
They make you think and wonder. In a sense I think these pictures are perhaps a little bit sad. After these photographs, we kept going, and there were other moments of expression, this one a bit more jovial, or this one looking down, perhaps confused. Again he was so expressive, and what was great about his expressions is they were all completely natural. It wasn't like he was trying to hide. You know so often when you point a camera at someone, they perform. Well that definitely wasn't the case with Charles; he wasn't a performer. His emotions, they were so raw, authentic, and alive.
And I was creating these pictures, I was thinking about something that I once heard about great literature. It was a quote and the quote went like this. It said that all great literature makes you feel conflicting emotions at the same time. In other words, it's layered. It's nuanced. It's deep. And so my job as a photographer isn't just to capture happy smiling pictures of Charles. That wouldn't be honest. Rather, my job is to capture the whole array of emotions. Because by doing that I can tell a more accurate story about who this person is.
And you know of the things that I discovered about Charles is that he was really fun to talk with, and there is this mixture of emotions in him. Sometimes he was direct and straightforward and some other times he was really indirect. So what that meant for me was creating pictures like this one here. In this case you don't even really know that it's him, yet I like this one. It's perhaps a bit more ethereal. There he is, in the front of frame, out of focus, and we have these ladders kind of leading to nowhere. This one perhaps is a bit more suggestive.
I'm also thinking a little bit about Keith Carter's work, where it's really symbolic, and in a sense I think I'm tapping into that with this frame. Well, after creating these photographs, I want to talk a little bit about some of the pictures that I made with my film camera as well. The first picture that I made was this one here. We've have seen a similar version of this image with the digital camera. This one is now in black and white. For me this photograph is so vulnerable. The colors of the bottles become irrelevant, and it's a little bit more about his expression, him standing in front of this wall.
We took some other pictures here as well. He is now looking off to one side, and here's one where he's smiling. Such a bright and vibrant countenance, those smiling eyes. And in this one spot I like the texture of those bottles of that wall, so I just was working with it. This was near the end of the photo shoot. And so created a number of different photographs here. Here's one where he's looking out of the frame, perhaps a bit more pensive, and then another picture where he's smiling. You can tell we are talking, and I am giving him direction.
Here's another picture. This one is a bit more sad and thoughtful, and then this final frame here, which has some intensity to it. It's almost like he's looking at that camera with, with strength, with vigor and intensity. And again, all of these photographs I think are just illustrating different ideas. And one of the reasons why I wanted to show you these different types of pictures was to show you how I was trying to work within this situation in order to tell a story that matches who Charles actually is.
I wanted to tell a story about him and this place.
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