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In the Narrative Portraiture series, photographer and teacher Chris Orwig explores the use of elements such as location and natural light to create images that tell stories about their subjects and produce a strong emotional connection. In this installment, Chris visits Rodney Smith, a photographer whose work is known for its graceful serenity and its wit. Rodney's career spans more than four decades and includes editorial, fashion, and advertising work, as well as several books.
The course begins with a wide-ranging conversation between Chris and Rodney, during which they discuss Rodney's work, his approach to photography and models, his love of film and of black and white, and the importance of creating photographs that both ask questions and tell stories. Next, Chris tours Rodney Smith's studio, including the darkroom, to get more familiar with Rodney before photographing him.
Chris then takes a series of portraits of Rodney. Along the way, he reviews his gear choices and the compositional decisions he makes, and discusses the importance of committing photographs to paper, particularly in today's digital age. Finally, Chris reviews the images and shares some insights from his conversation with Rodney.
Rodney Smith: I think the fundamental issue of why the pictures have an attempt at being serene or attempting to find these kind of quiet moments, is because inside me, not that things feel chaotic, but things need this resolution. Chris Orwig: Okay, so, how is it that one can create serene and silent pictures? What's the secret? Well, I like the response. It's something to do with what's on the inside, deep down inside.
In many ways, I have found that photography is a reflection, a reflection of who we are. In a sense, it's autobiographical. And I like how Carlos Jurado reflects upon art in general. He says, "Art allows us to expand the dimensions of everyday life," and I think that's true with photography. It allows us to pay attention to who we are internally and to express that, to dig a little bit deeper and create images from that place. Sometimes I've found that we have certain ideas, thoughts, emotions, and we can use photography to express those.
It's almost a vehicle to express something that we couldn't communicate by any other means. So here is my question for you: What is it that you're neglecting internally? Or perhaps let me frame that a different way. What is it that you're not paying attention to internally that you could tap in to? What type of counterbalance do you need? And I think by beginning to ask those questions, and by really paying attention to some of the answers, it can help you create different types of pictures.
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