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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.
Chris Orwig: A lot of times when I have a chance to sit down and talk with someone like Keith, immediately afterwards I try to spend some time with my journal, just writing down some thoughts, and ideas and reflections upon what was said; otherwise, I find I lose that information completely. So here I thought it would be interesting to take a few minutes and open up the journal and share with you some of the topics and ideas that struck me or struck a chord with me. First off, when we were chatting, one of the things that I noticed was that Keith is, he is an artist in the truest sense of the word.
Where most people see things in terms of limits, that it's confined, it's limited, here is our focus, artists go ahead and look outside of that. That was definitely true as he talked about portraiture. Rather than seeing portraiture as a picture of a person, he said it's more about your intense attention to the subject. It's something different. It's what you bring to that context that makes it a portrait. Then he talked about shooting with black-and-white film. I am not so interested in choosing between color digital or black and white, but what I am interested in is this whole idea that he shoots black and white because of the element of surprise.
So often in our current modern digital context, we try to create perfect pictures, and if they aren't perfect, we fix them in post-production after the fact. But that's not Keith's goal. Keith is looking for that element of surprise. In other words, it's almost like he is looking for that lucky shot where you don't have control of something that happens. Something showed up that was elemental. It's not just time and light, but it's a sense of memory or something even more. I love that. That was really interesting to me. How do you create those pictures? Well, he said, "Sometimes when I find something that looks good, that right moment, I will photograph twenty-four, forty-eight frames.
That's a lot of pictures, especially when shooting with film. You are winding the camera, taking the shot, winding the camera, taking the shot, again and again. Now, this isn't like digital capture. It's not over-shooting, where you just push the shutter and hold it and hope for the best. Rather, this is like a study. It's like searching. It's digging. It's looking for that one image out of all of those that has some subtle new nuance, story, or something that sets it apart. Again, that's what good artists do, right? They define things in a completely different way, and they approach their craft with that intensity, with that hopefulness, that hopefulness that something special will be there that they didn't notice.
As I reflect upon these first initial thoughts, it makes me ask myself, so, how does this affect who I am and how I approach my craft?
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