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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.
For me as a photographer, this is the fun part. This is where we get to take a look at some of the pictures that were made, as I was seeking to try to capture a telling portrait of Keith. And rather than just showing you a few of the selects, what I want to do is show you a wide range of photographs, in order to give you a little bit of insight into the process and to some of my thoughts and ideas as I was seeking to try to create a portrait which captured Keith. Now, this is one of the first pictures that I made, and I'm one of those people who likes to have a camera on my shoulder.
I like to have it out of the bag, because so often the best portraits aren't the ones where you ask someone to look at the camera and it becomes serious; rather, sometimes they're those candid shots, and this was one of those candid moments. We had just met up. We were talking and laughing. I liked the closeness of Keith and his wife, Pat. I like that he's holding a coffee cup. It's just a captured moment. Whenever creating portraits of people, I always want to have some pictures which are candid. But then of course I want to move past that and create something which is perhaps a bit different or perhaps a bit more.
Well, we sat down and had our conversation, which was fascinating, and then after that Keith made some pictures of me, and then he handed me his camera. It was so interesting to look through the lens and try to create some pictures of Keith. This was one picture that I made. And with this one, I don't really like it, and I don't like it because I think I was too close, and the expression, well, it's too much of a smile. So often as a portrait photographer I want to get close.
You may have heard this saying that if your pictures aren't good, you're not close enough. We try to get closer and closer, make that connection. Well, in this case, I crossed that invisible line. I was too close and the expression, it's not quite natural enough for me. But this next image I really like. Here it's a bit more pulled back, a little bit more relaxed. It's not so straight on. Let's compare the two. Here is that picture again. It's okay, not great; this one it connects with me a bit more.
I like the way the border is working, and it's fascinating. Well, after shooting with Keith's camera, it was time for me to pick up my own. In the same exact spot, I made these pictures. And one of the things that I wanted to capture was Keith's vision. Really his artwork is what it is because of his eye, because of the way he sees the world, and so I wanted to create some pictures which captured that using natural light. I love the texture in the background.
And I think it's fun to put pictures side by side. Sometimes when I'm shooting I shoot two different pictures with that in mind. Also, it's fascinating to see what they look like standing by themselves. Like this picture here alone, it's a completely different mood. When the photographs are side by side, your eye goes to one and then the other, and it goes back and forth. It ping-pongs between the two photographs, and together it communicates something. When a photograph stands on its own, it becomes a bit more quiet.
Here's another photograph from that diptych, those two together, standing by itself. I like that he's on the right side of the frame, texture on the left. It's a quiet picture. It's about his eyes, and those wire-rim glasses, about who Keith is as a person, as an artist. Here's another photograph in a similar setting. Again, a bit more up-close, a bit brighter on the face. Getting really close. Well, from there I wanted to move to another location, outside.
I asked Keith to sit down on a bench, and these photographs really are the result of having a conversation. I didn't say, Keith, turn your head, look that way and smile; rather, we were talking. We were having a good time. And my job as a photographer was try to capture those moments in between. And sometimes I find that by talking to someone, it gets their mind off of having their picture made. You enjoy that moment and hopefully capture photographs like this. Here they are together, side by side as a diptych, and then when they stand by themselves, again, it's a different mood.
It's a different quality, a different tone. Even this one, now he's looking to nowhere, looking out of the frame. So often as a people photographer, you're probably told you want your subject to look you in the eyes, to look at the camera, and that's true. That gives you a certain connection, but I find breaking that rule can be interesting. By looking out of the frame it suggests something different. It creates a different mood, a different type of curiosity, and even sometimes a connection.
Well, after having created these pictures, I also wanted to do something that perhaps broke the rules even further. A portrait is supposed to be of the face, of the person, of who they are. Well, there are different ways to tell that story, like with this picture, showing just his hands, cropping out all of the other details completely, composing to create a frame which captures these hands. One of the reasons why the hands were so important to me was because I'd taken that visual tour of his home and studio, and almost every item that I saw had some sign that it was created by hand, that it was handmade.
You could see the touch of the artist's hand on all of those items throughout his house. And I think that's true with Keith's work as well. Somehow you can see that it wasn't just literally handmade, but it was also figuratively handmade. He cared about the details. And so I wanted to capture those hands, those hands which have really influenced his work. Well, after having captured these photographs, I knew it was time to move on. I captured that first candid image, a couple of pictures with his camera, and then I created some of those photographs of Keith, which were up-close, focusing on his eyes, on who he is, and then this last picture of his hands.
Well, I needed to move on, but I wasn't exactly sure what to do, but in my mind I knew that, okay, this first segment of the shoot, that's a wrap. Now what comes next? And in your mind, as you're photographing someone, you almost have to think of it that way. You say, okay, here's one segment and another. Let's go and try something different. And that's what I did in the next segment of shooting, which we'll look at in the next movie.
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