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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.
There is always a natural rhythm and flow to a photo shoot. There is that initial point where you are making the connection, and then there is that intense bond which forms as you are working to create photographs in different locations, and trying to keep the flow going from one spot to another. And eventually you call the wrap. You end on a high note. And at that point, the cameras were turned off, and Keith and I were still standing there in that area in front of the blue door with the white hand print, and Keith and I were talking about life, about poetry, about photography, about who knows what.
At one point, we were talking a little bit about something Keith had gone through. Keith had cancer in his eye. As he was sharing that with me, at one point he put his glasses up on top of his head and I asked him which eye was it, and he pointed to his eye. And I had my camera and shooting from the hip, so to speak, I captured this frame. And he was sharing with me about that process and about the cancer, he said, "If I go blind in this eye, I always have the other one.
You won't see me complaining." Keith is one of those people who just doesn't give up. He has this tenacity, this perspective, which is really strong. It's profound. And in a sense this image is lucky or fortuitous. I think it says a lot. I like how his glasses are in focus and also his eyes, and also how his eyes are just almost completely cropped off of the frame. I am happy to say that his eye now is doing great.
It's responded to the treatment incredibly well and he is doing fine, yet I think this picture, it harkens back to that time. You know as photographers our eyes are obviously so important. It's how we see and organize and view the world. Well, after we talked a bit about that, the conversation that turned light, and we kept talking and we made our way around back to the back patio. I still had my camera of course, because I happened to have it with me for the shoot. Keith has his mandolin, and we sat down, and we were just talking.
He was jamming, making music. It was fun, and I was setting the camera on the table, experimenting, focusing on the background here rather than Keith, and then inverting that, focusing on Keith so the background is out of focus. The sun was setting, and it was just one of those kind of wonderful moments, and I kept shooting, trying to capture a few frames. And you know so often some of the best portraits, they are just candid. They are natural. They happen along the way. And I think that's a truth with these pictures. I like that there is this natural and fun expression.
This whole experience, it reminds me of this idea that one of the reasons why we create pictures of people is to learn from them. It's to connect with them, and sometimes it's even to create these unique friendships. Because by spending time with someone with camera in hand, we get to know them in a unique way, and oftentimes what I find is that that changes who I am and ultimately how I see the world.
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