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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.
So, why take pictures? Well, it's a worthwhile question to ask yourself. What is it that really motivates you? I like how Rodney reflects upon this. He says it's the artifact, that final print, the tactile object that you can hold in your hand. And a print is indeed powerful. I like how the World War II photographer Eugene Smith reflects on this. He says, "The negative, well, that's like the false start, the jottings, the sketching. The print, that's a completed photograph." And there is something to be said for that.
It's almost like a picture has come full circle once you create that print, once you commit it to paper. In our current context, in the digital world, we create and capture a lot of photographs, but it's pretty rare that we spend time making prints. In the sense, we've lost some of that art, some of the value of making prints. And even more than that, Rodney digs into this whole idea of creating black-and- white prints like these. And he doesn't just like black and white; he has some deeper ideas on why it connects with who he is, why it helps him capture and further his vision.
He says it's like architecture or like bone structure. He's introspective. Black and white helps him get beneath the surface of things. So my question for you is this: When the last time that you created a print? And even more so, when was the last time that you created a black-and-white print, one of those prints where you're really paying attention to the subtleties, the different gradations, the different tones, where you're trying to get beneath the surface of things, where you're trying to be introspective and perhaps be a bit more honest and dig a little bit more deeply? Now, a lot of times as photographers, we capture, we capture; we neglect that final print.
If that's you, I encourage you to transition, to change, to perhaps create some prints, maybe even today, because I think by doing that, it can affect your overall vision and your overall enjoyment of photography.
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