BILL AND NEPHEW
Blue Ridge Country
During the late seventies, I was exhibiting in the D.C. area when an African-American couple spent an extended length of time studying my images of mountain people. Finally, they asked me why I didn’t have any character studies of blacks. About all I could say was that the opportunity had never presented itself, which was true. But during the following year I filled that gap in my collection. I believe it must have been destined to happen. My travels down the byways led me to these individuals quite by chance.
One of my favorites is of Bill Whitlock and his nephew Thomas. The dog got tossed in at the last moment because he was out to get me from the start. He was chained to the corner of his doghouse, and every time he lunged at me the house would move about a foot closer. I was rapidly running out of space.
Before I was eaten alive, I asked Thomas to take the snarling dog and wedge it between himself and his uncle in the doorway. The dog actually helped to hinge this image together. However, if you look closely you can see his teeth exposed; this was not a very friendly animal.
I always prefer to document people in their natural environment. Most are more comfortable in their own surroundings, so that choice allows for more relaxed communications. But, at the same time, the background must be taken into account when you are envisioning the finished image in your mind. I try to select a background that supports the portrait rather than one that might detract from it.
Whenever possible, I like to make direct eye contact with my subjects. It is not my style to have them purposely stare off at some imaginary spot in the sky with a blank expression on their faces. It is my personal opinion that direct contact usually makes for a more powerful image. Shields Carter is a good example of the philosophy. He displays the pure dignity of richness of character that I love to capture on film. Regardless of the angle or facial expression, he photographs well.
Carter is shown in the next post.
Incidentally, I always allow a half to a full stop extra exposure time when working with darker skin tones. Those tones absorb more light so I make this adjustment to avoid underexposure. It becomes automatic with experience.