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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 Charlie, pleasure to be here. Thanks for having us. Charlie Stagg: Sure. You bet. Chris Orwig: This is a really fascinating place and home that you've created, and it would be fun to take a look, if we could walk around. Charlie Stagg: Sure, it's kind of what it's here for. I am just experimenting, experimenting with the materials and how the stuff falls, and I keep building back and see how it fills. Now it's been going on now for about thirty years and I am still here, amazingly.
Through a fire and through two hurricanes that hit pretty hard on me. Chris Orwig: Wow! So some of first and early impressions were of the lines and shapes and forms of the structure, and then it was of getting to know Charles a little bit and hearing some of his stories about how this place was built. And then I started to notice the light. Well, here it was, the middle of the day. The light was really harsh. We had a lot of bright light, a lot of shadows, shadows that had interesting lines. And then we walked into this one room and it was a surreal.
I mean it was like glowing green because this entire wall was made out of these green and then a few blue or white bottles and I was just, I just couldn't believe it. I was taken back by it. And what about these right here, these little pieces? Charlie Stagg: These are pieces that I've started making in about 87 or 88. Chris Orwig: Okay. Charlie Stagg: And they have been dubbed DNA by other people and so I just kind of leave it alone.
I don't really title them. What they are is they are-- Chris Orwig: And there are little pieces of wood that you. Charlie Stagg: Yeah that's pine, all pine with a single strand of wire running from top to Charlie Stagg: bottom on each corner. Chris Orwig: Fascinating. Charlie Stagg: And on some of them I will put the sequence like this, and some are like this, and Charlie Stagg: some of them I do both. Chris Orwig: Okay. Interesting Charlie Stagg: Like when I get one up to right about here, it looks like this and then from back Charlie Stagg: here on, it was like this. Chris Orwig: Got it. Chris Orwig: You know, in all of my photography I use natural and available light, and typically natural and available light is pretty similar.
Well, here it was like nothing I had ever seen before. And for me, that was exciting. I wanted to create some photographs in that environment. I wanted to have that green glow. And so I asked Charles to stand next to the wall and we took a few photos there, and then also just stand away from the wall to get some pictures with that green glow, this interesting soft color and tone. Chris Orwig: The color of the light here is--it's really fascinating. Charlie Stagg: Yeah, I wonder how--you see it.
Chris Orwig: Yeah, it's green. I mean it's--with a few hints of blue, and maybe if you can do one more picture of you right next to the wall over here. Charlie Stagg: Looking this way? Chris Orwig: Yeah, looking towards the doorway. Yeah, just like that I think is good. Yeah maybe looking towards me a little bit. Yeah.
Yeah, let's keep walking around. This is wonderful. So Charlie, here we are, in the courtyard, and it's fun to see the walls kind of up close made out of beer bottles and concrete. Tell us a little bit about this space. Charlie Stagg: Hey I don't know what to say about it, other than it's just like everything else, kind of experimental. I started putting the bottles right directly on the ground and putting them up. Charlie Stagg: I didn't put a foundation. Chris Orwig: So there are bottles all the way down.
Charlie Stagg: Yeah, they are all the way to the ground. And then later when it started cracking I'd tried to recover by putting, you know, I don't know what you call it. There is probably an architectural name for that, around the openings. It was too late by then. I even put buttresses on the outside. Chris Orwig: It seems you are really interested in shape and form. Charlie Stagg: Well, my main shapes that I deal with are very natural shapes, coming from prehistoric architecture, and it's just gothic shape, which is like two stones falling together.
And that seems to me to be--as long as you can put up with it, it seems to me, the ideal shape for an opening. Chris Orwig: And then after we created some photographs I knew that I wanted to start making some other pictures. We had had a good amount of time talking, and I had him wearing a mic because I want to capture bit of those stories on the audio file. But yet I needed him to take off the mic so I could create some more authentic pictures, just Charles there in his white T-shirt. So we took off the mic and we started to walk around. In this structure, it really was like a maze.
It wasn't that big, but it felt like you could get lost in it. Now we were around the outside of a wall where we weren't seeing that illuminated light that you get in the inside; rather, it was the natural light with this interesting just texture and background. All the while I'm asking him questions. I am getting to know him. I'm trying to figure out who he is and what this place is like. And that was incredibly fun. It was inspiring to get a chance to talk with him and to try to make some pictures in that environment. Charlie Stagg: That is it for me and it's in that building there.
Chris Orwig: And let's come over here and keep talking. If you wouldn't mind sitting in that chair there, I think that would be fun. Charlie Stagg: Oh with my kitty? Chris Orwig: Yeah. Charlie Stagg: This is Sheila. Chris Orwig: She wants to sit in your lap if she is a friendly one. Charlie Stagg: No, she just do not sit on my laps, she does it every now and then, she'll jump up on my lap and then she gets down pretty quick. She don't like to be really around. Chris Orwig: Next was, we walked through these different doorways. And I liked the idea of using those doorways because they were all completely different; one would be pointed, another one round.
I liked the concept of Charles there inside of a doorway looking out or looking to the ground. At one point I asked him to look to one particular direction and he wasn't really sure, so I said "Look up at those tree branches right there." And that's one of the things that I find is helpful. Rather than asking someone to turn their head this way or the shoulders that way, you can give him instructions which say "look at that tree" or that flower or that rock or that brick or that ladder or whatever it is. And that way it kind of gives them something to do. Rather than an empty gaze of just looking somewhere and being uncertain, they are looking at something, observing it.
And so I was trying to give him some directions and instructions that way, all the while asking him questions, again, keeping that conversation going and trying to capture those images in between the flow of conversation. Trying to capture those pauses in between the words. I am going to have you stand right in front of this one. Happiness is-- Charlie Stagg: Never having to any measure anything. Chris Orwig: Yeah, but what else? What else you would say? Charlie Stagg: I was starting to get into that a little bit. Chris Orwig: As Charles and I continued to talk and to walk through this structure and I was making these photographs, it made me think back to something that Keith had said to me years earlier.
He said, "Chris, never underestimate the creative inspiration that you can get from spending time with people who are eccentric, eclectic, people who think differently, people who approach life from just a different perspective." And here I was completely out of my element, and I was embracing it. And you know, at one point Charles said something that was really fascinating to me. He said, "Irregularity is a major part of my life," and he went on to say that happiness is never having to measure anything. You know, I teach at a photography school, and at the school we pride ourselves on the technique.
We make perfect pixels, and here was Charles in a sense giving me this message, reminding me that sometimes you have to let go of that. You have to embrace irregularity, because sometimes by doing that you can create pictures that are maybe a little bit more peculiar, maybe even more human. Because sometimes things can be just too perfect. And so as we walked and talked, I was trying to capture images that weren't necessarily about my story but were rather about Charles, this man who has really dedicated a lot of his life to embracing irregularity, in other words to creating things that are just a little bit different.
And I wanted to capture that. I wanted to tell his story. Chris Orwig: Charles. Charlie Stagg: Deal with my mouth. Chris Orwig: I really, really appreciate it. You are an actor. Thank you, brother. I mean that was so fun to get to talking here about your space and-- So after exploring the structure and space and after talking with Charles and making photographs in a number of different situations, I knew it was time to call it a wrap.
And when you are making photographs eventually you know. You know as a photographer, you kind of want to keep on going and going and shooting and shooting. But it was time to call the wrap. And you always want to end on a high note and with Charles that was easy because this photo shoot was so enjoyable. He is such an interesting person. So I called the wrap, and there were handshakes and smiles, and we were done. We had completed that part of the photo shoot.
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