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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.
Before we review and evaluate the photographs, I always find it's helpful to step back just a little bit, because there are so many thoughts that really lead up to trying to create those images. And before I went to New York, I pulled out my journal. This is often where I begin. I begin with words, and I start to write down things that I thought about that related to Rodney. So I write his name in the middle of a page, and then I just write words that come to mind. Here are a few: illuminate, approachable, order, whimsical, intriguing, elegant, reveal, cadence, symmetry. And again, my intent here is just to build almost a picture, to articulate what I think, how I feel, because when I go to create a portrait, I want it to be my portrait, not someone else's--not what someone else thinks, but what I think.
And so again, I begin to write that down in my journal. Well, next what I do is sketch a little bit, and this is my form of storyboarding, and here you can view a few of my sketches. I'd never been to Rodney's space, his home, or studio. I didn't know what to anticipate, but I had to come up with a few pictures that might be worthwhile to try to create. The first one was all about doors and windows and illuminated light, either light coming in or moving out, positioning Rodney in some way where he's relating to doors or windows.
Another photograph that I thought would be fun was Rodney in his study. Now I had all these ideas. I had imagined that his space was so interesting. I wanted to capture him in his space. The next frame was about the eyes, the nuance of expression. And then the last one here was perhaps a fun idea of trying to have Rodney somehow hidden within the frame. Now while I didn't capture all of these pictures, they at least got me going in a direction.
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