Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Week with Chris Buck, Part II

In the course of the week Chris shared many thoughts with us.  Here are just a few.  When in doubt light from the behind.  Embrace physical awkwardness.  Details can't distract from the idea.   Passion for the subject matter is the single most important thing in any endeavor.  Do the safe stuff first.  Keep on asking for your shot.  You can pull it out of them!!!   To ask for permission is to seek denial.  Don't ask, lead.  Never make your issues your client's issues.  Finally my favorite, "You have to raise your expectations to get the possible."

Day 4

Our location for the fourth day was a New Mexico State Penitentiary that had been shut down for almost 20 years.  It was the second time I've shot at this location, the first was during a Keith Carter workshop eleven years ago.  It's really a fantastic location.  The prison scenes from the film  All the Pretty Horses were filmed there, and the faux façade created by the film crew remain connected to the original structure.  There is great light, texture, and a ton of energy in the place-much of it morbid.  Before the prison was shut down there was a massive riot, and some 38 people were killed.  There is also a gas chamber in the prison, although now they no longer let workshops photograph it.  Eventually the entire prison will probably be off limits to workshops and photography.  They have rules there, and photographers, by nature, are always breaking the rules.
Chris had us doing photographs that represented our fears and anxieties, stuff that got in the ways of us making photographs and our careers.  This assignment was a no brainer for me.  The prison was an obvious metaphor.  It was my best day of shooting.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Week with Chris Buck, Part 1.

The first week of July I returned to Santa Fe to participate in Chris Buck's workshop The Surprising Portrait.  It was an incredible experience.  I love the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, and if I could afford it I'd attend 2 or 3 a year.  There exists lots of 2 and 3 day workshops, but I don't endorse them.  The 2 and 3 day workshop end when I feel I'm just starting to cook.  On the 4th day of a week workshop is when personal, creative, and emotional barriers are broken.

In addition to being a very successful and talented photographer, Chris Buck is an intellect.  I submit a partial reason for his success is he puts that intellect into his work.   But that's not the complete story: Chris throws his entire being into making memorable images.  And that's what he drilled into us.  Before my previous portrait sessions I had assumed that I put in a considerable amount of effort into preparation.  I learned the painful lesson that all these years I had been underprepared.  

Day 1

Right off the bat I appreciated the fact that Chris didn't spend an entire day looking at our old images.  He showed 2 images of each participant, had us give a brief synopsis about ourselves and work then moved on.  Chris was not interested in where we had been or where we were he was much more enthusiastic on taking us where we needed to be.  And it was one hell of a ride.  I believe I can speak for everyone in the workshop that by the end of the week we were twice the photographers we were when we first assembled.  As well as altering my perspective on how to approach an assignment I learned a few different ways to light, which I can't wait to experiment with and master.

Our first assignment was to make a portrait of Chris Buck.  His intention for doing this was to see how we prepared, interacted with the subject, and handled adversity.  He wanted to see how we worked.  It was a bit disconcerting to see him takes notes as we made our photographs.  This was our only day in the studio, and on one of the bays there was this hideous red sweep that I would not choose to photograph upon in a million years.  However, I was in Santa Fe to challenge myself, so that's where I made my portrait of Chris Buck.

The following day Chris critiqued our portraits of him, but he was more interested in telling us what he had learned about us photographing him.  He gave compliments and critique, but all in all we learned some good tips on how to approach a subject and take control of our set.

Day 2

For the remainder of the workshop each day he gave us assignments at different locations.  Day 2 at we photographed at a Masonite Temple in downtown Santa Fe.  There was many places and beautifully lit room to photograph within the temple and plenty of themes for us to draw upon.  We had an 1/2 hour with each model and here are some my images from that day.

At the Masonic Temple there was also a small theatre.  During our time there, there was pianist rehearsing for a performance, and he wished not to be disturbed.  So I took Jaime, the male model, and Sophie one the class assistants to the wings.  During my years of studying ballet, a few times I had the opportunity to watch a performance from the wings.  I much prefer to watch a performance there than in sitting in the seats.  It's where you find the dancers preparing themselves for their return to stage or where they're catching their breadth from having just been on stage.  It's where their stage facade is dropped and all the drama happens.

Day 3

The following day was the 4th of July, and Chris who is Canadian has a lot of thoughts on what America is about.  He wanted us to create three narratives that represented something particular to America.  The location for the day was a western movie set, located about 20 miles south of Santa Fe called Eames Ranch.  it was a cool location although is some ways it competed with our narratives.  My first shot was of a blond model named Blake.  My idea was to create narrative of a young woman raised with low self-esteem who had always kept company with the wrong men finds God, and becomes a Christian.  What Blake or anyone else didn't have was a necklace with a cross.  That little detail as well as not having an old bible I feel would have greatly supplemented the images.

My second photograph was with Andrea, an African American model.  With him I tried to create a narrative about a man hardened by the history of his race and his life, yet he 100% embraces being an American.  And although he understood life in America is not what he would hope for his race and himself, he remains proud of his country and what he does for living.  In this case he was a blacksmith.

My third choice was to create a narrative using the caretaker of Eaves Ranch.  Thomas is crusty fellow who doesn't mind sharing his opinion.  I thought he would be the perfect character to create my idea for a counter narrative.  I see so many of his demographic that hate President Obama.  When I first saw a photograph of him I thought of Tea Party folks.  So I thought it would be interesting to have him wear my Obama t-shirt, that reads Made in America.  It's a t-shirt that on the back has picture of the president's birth certificate, an obvious dig at the Birthers.  I wasn't sure if he'd agree to my idea, but he is an Obama supporter.  Unfortunately, the shot doesn't carry my idea.  About a week later, I realized this photograph would have worked much better if he was holding an American flag.

While I was photographing Thomas a nasty storm came upon us.  First there was a furious wind that ripped off one of the façades of a faux western store.  Next care lightning, where one bolt actually hit one of the buildings, followed finally my a torrential down pour.  In the midst of it all I got this photograph of one of the workshop assistants, Sophia, who was busy moving gear to safety through the muddy streets of Eaves Ranch.