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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: The thing I would tell you is to rein it in. Don't look at the great big picture so much. Find one little genre that add sustenance to your life. Give that subject matter some kind of resonance. If nothing else, I try to be practical. What can you actually get done? You have two children, a wife, extended family, and responsibilities, and you have a full-time profession. What can you give up, or what can you rebalance and actually get done? That's an adult decision. That's a tough thing to do.
In my world, I give up things a lot, and I have a lot, and I don't feel like I have lost anything, but there are a lot of things that I haven't gone and done because I am a narcissistic guy trying to get some work done, and I can only get it done by not going to that, or by taking this two weeks and going and doing this or that. You have to be a little selfish in the arts with your time, not with your love, but with your time.
Chris Orwig: It's always interesting and enjoyable to talk with someone else who teaches photography, because one of the things that often happens at photographic school, or for students who are trying to learn how to become better photographers is they ask this question, well, where do I begin? And so often, what introductory or beginning photography students do is they photograph everything. And I like this question that Keith brought up. He said, ask yourself what do you find interesting? Now, it seems like a simple, straightforward question, but it's actually pretty profound, because really to get good at photography, you have to focus in on something. You can't be a generalist.
Keith unashamedly, unabashedly embraces where he lives. He says, "I am interested in the vernacular, folklore, religion, food, music," and he photographs those things, and then he said something that was perhaps even more profound. He said, "In order to accomplish this, in order to pursue my interests, in order to answer that question, 'what am I interested in,' and how do I capture that, I have to do something." Here is what he said: "I have to give up a lot." That's an interesting statement, because what we wanted here is that we can kind of do it all and you can go for everything.
But to get good at art, you have to carve out those hours in your day. You have to give it those certain amounts of time and pursue that and pursue it wholeheartedly. A lot of times if we are generalists, if we pursue everything, what we're good at everything, but not great at anything. But to become great, it's all about having that focus and that discipline to pursue what you are most interested in.
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