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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: Well, the best thing for me with the models is to have some time with them, which obviously you don't. As the days go on, if it's a two-day shoot or a three-day shoot, that's particularly great. The first few hours maybe they don't understand what I want, but they quickly get it. They actually quickly get it. I mean, my first comment to them would be, don't model. I am not interested in you as being a model. I am interested in you as just being a person, being yourself.
So don't do any of that stuff. I don't like it. Chris Orwig: In other places in this series, we have talked about this whole idea of how do we work with someone that we are photographing? How do we connect with that person, put them at ease, and maybe even capture a bit of the essence of who they are? I like how Rodney talked about this topic. He said it's ideal if you have a lot of time, and that's true, isn't it? With most relationships, they just take time. But in reality we don't have much time.
We have to act quickly. So Rodney starts off by saying, "Don't model." Now those are pretty profound words. They cut right to the chase. In a way, he's kind of verbalizing something that I felt internally that I just didn't know how to articulate. It's getting to this whole idea that we don't want to photograph someone if they're impersonating themselves, or if they are trying too hard, or if they are inauthentic. So he says, "Don't model. Don't do any of that stuff.
That's not what I want. What I want is you." And they get it. One of the things that you want to do, as you start to hear this conversation, is if there is anything that connects with you, or resonates with you, like those words, write them down in a journal or in some notes. So I wrote down those words in my journal, "don't model, don't model, "and then a lot of times you want to take that thought further. Well, how else does this connect to who I am, to the art I create, to other thoughts that I have about this topic?
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