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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 with Keith Carter, a fine art photographer and teacher, and has a conversation with Keith about his work, outlook on art and photography, and suggestion that photographers commit at least two years to a personal project.
The course continues with a pair of portrait shoots. Keith photographs Chris and describes his process and creative decisions along the way. Then the cameras are swapped and Chris creates a portrait of Keith.
Finally, Chris reviews the photography he took, and discusses the gear he used and the lessons he learned while visiting with and photographing Keith.
Keith Carter: Going back to our earlier conversation, well, what makes you look at a picture more than once, that kind of thing, in the early days of poetry, things were always orated because nobody could read. So it would be the priest or the tribal elder or what have you who would orate, and poems were read three times. The first, it was just like that. It went one place, here, and the second time you heard it, like a song, it goes here, and the third time you heard it, it kind of infuses your whole body.
I think that's the same with some photographs. I mean sometimes you look at it and it's wonderful. You look at it second time, oh my god, that's really wonderful, or the third time, that's devastating. Or it just don't work at all, like bad poems. Chris Orwig: I enjoyed hearing Keith talk a little bit about how he finds these comparisons between poetry, writing, and photography, and there is one thing in particular that struck a chord with me. He was talking about poetry.
He referred back to this idea that in the history of poetry, the poems were given three times. First, it was to communicate something to the head, second to the heart, and third to just infuse the entire body with that content. As I thought about that, it made me reflected upon how I view and appreciate photographs. So often in our modern age we are looking at images on a web site. Click, click, click we go through pictures, or maybe we are viewing a portfolio on an iPad, flip, flip, flip one picture to another, or in a magazine.
The beauty of magazines is that you see an image and it's a surprise and you flip the page to see what the next surprise is, and you keep flipping and flipping. Keith, on the other hand, he has a slower, more poetic approach. You can tell that he looks at his photographs with that perspective of looking at them almost three times: the head, the heart, and then the entirety of who he is. And that challenged me. It challenges me to think about how do I approach my own work, and how can I change my own work habits not just to slow down for slowness sake, but rather just to kind of savor those pictures.
It's like food, say a good meal. The food has been prepared and cooked and all your friends have showed up and you take that little first bite, and you savor it. You soak it up. Now, I think to get good at photography, to follow in the footsteps of someone like Keith, It requires that approach: the head, the heart, and the entirety of who we are.
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