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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 two artists: David Cargill, a Beaumont sculptor who works with bronze and marble, and Charles Stagg, another Beaumont sculptor but in recycled and found materials. Chris takes their portraits and spends time discussing the composition and lighting in each session.
Chris also reviews the photos he took, and discusses the gear he used and the lessons he learned while visiting with and photographing these artists.
Chris Orwig: So I'd heard a lot about David from Keith and I was really excited to meet him. And instantly I was taken by his kind and thoughtful face. And it quickly became apparent that this is one of those guys that just has so many stories. It would be so fun to sit down with him for an afternoon and talk about art and life and really learn about who he is and about how he approaches life. It'd be wonderful to have a lot of time with him. But in this case, I didn't have a lot of time. I only had about an hour. So one of the things that I knew that I needed to do was to make the connection.
I needed to start to get to know him. So part of that was asking questions. I also knew that I needed to make some photographs. Well, can I take a picture of you here and maybe you can just hold onto that branch? I think that's a good spot. And I'm going to scoop back here a little ways. So in order to create those photographs, I wanted to create a rhythm or a flow that was natural and fluid. Rather than click, click, click, lots of photographs, it was more of like this. I'd ask a question and listen to his response. And I was asking him questions not just for my photographs, not just to make the connection, but really, I was curious.
I wanted to learn from him. And so as I ask questions, I then would step back and make a few frames. Maybe even just put your arms at your side or in your pocket--or one on the tree perhaps. Yeah and that other one just right there. That's great! Again, my intent here was to try to create a rhythm, because one of the things that I knew is that these photographs, these portraits, weren't going to happen quickly. Rather, I needed to give this time. I needed to give it some breathing room, especially with someone who has so much wisdom and who has created so much art over so many years.
I wanted to create a portrait of him that told that story. Rather than a cheap and quick photograph, I wanted something that had some breadth and some depth to it. So again, my approach was simple. It was straightforward. It was conversational. Let's walk over to the camel. I want to here about this one. David Cargill: Well, that's-- Chris Orwig: This is a pretty fine piece. David Cargill: Yeah, well, what I would say to people is you remember where it said Eve David Cargill: stood on a camel to pick the apple? Chris Orwig: Okay.
David Cargill: And have gotten answers like, "I didn't know that," or "I had forgotten that." Chris Orwig: And as we walked, I wanted to learn a little bit about these different pieces. I noticed one sculpture that really caught my eye. It was this camel. There was this character on top of it, holding an apple up above the camel's head, and I took a picture of it. One of the things I find that you almost always want to do when you're photographing people is take pictures of things other than the subject themselves. The reason you do that is to just show that you're visually interested in things, especially if it's someone's art.
And also, for a moment, they're out of the spotlight, so to speak. This is great. I like the camel's smile. So, this is all out of clay. David Cargill: Well, this is bronze. Chris Orwig: Right, but then you-- David Cargill: No, I didn't do it. Chris Orwig: How do you do this? David Cargill: I didn't do it that way. Chris Orwig: These toes are neat too. David Cargill: This piece is like this one and the shell over there and the fish, this piece.
Chris Orwig: Yeah. Okay. David Cargill: I never made a mould for them. David Cargill: I made a core, because I'd always, I did all of the casting myself. That head David Cargill: in there is the first thing I haven't cast myself. Chris Orwig: Okay. Chris Orwig: On top of thinking about connecting with David, I also was thinking about light and exposure and composition. One of the things that I noticed is that David was wearing these great overalls. Those were really fascinating. And then he had this bright white shirt on. You know one of the things that you have to do when someone wears white is decide what are you going to expose for? You're either going to expose for the skin or the shirt.
In other words, sometimes I needed to make the decision to have the image really bright so there'd be no detail in the shirt at all. Other times I lowered my exposure, so there is more density in the frame, so it's more deep and dark and possibly brooding. And so I was thinking about those choices, changing exposure and composition, and then we moved forward and took a few other pictures, and then really, it was a wrap. And you know one of the things that I like to do is to try to keep things authentic and natural.
When you're working with someone who isn't a model, you can't ask them to perform and all of a sudden say okay, here's the moment, take this picture, click, click, click. Rather, by keeping it low key, understated, and simply walking around with a nice natural flow, having good conversation along the way, it makes it a little less painful. And often that leads to creating images which might be a little bit more authentic. Now when you take this approach you have to be on the lookout. You have to be really observing, because as you talk and as you walk, you're looking for those small significant subtle moments, those moments in between.
And if you have your eye focused on those moments and if you can capture them, sometimes you'll be able to capture something really unique and special.
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