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vdonovan
02-10-2010, 07:07 PM
I've worked on three documentary projects involving dozens and dozens of portraits. It is EXTREMELY rewarding.

In my experience, few people like to have their portrait taken so a lot of the challenge of portrait projects is to make folks feel comfortable. I am not a naturally warm or outgoing person but my people skills developed incredibly. When I started, I really dreaded going up to people to ask to take their picture. Now I dive right into it with genuine pleasure. So if you feel intimidated by working with people, just be brave and dive in. Smile, shake hands, act like you are enjoying yourself. Take your time and don't be in a hurry with each person. By forcing myself not to hurry, I also minimized my technical mistakes, which I tend to commit when I get nervous.

Don't spend all your time behind the camera. On one project I walked around for two days introducing myself to people and talking to them before the actual portrait sessions. I carried a camera but did not take any pictures. That way people knew me as "the camera guy" but I could engage them personally. It made the actual shoot much more fun and relaxed.

Good luck! In my opinion any chance to shoot people and tell their story is valuable.

Mike Wilde
02-11-2010, 09:42 AM
If you ever get a chance, legitimately, to document the plant itself as well, do it, and then pair it with the portraits.

Consider seeing if you can get permission to take photos at the gate a few weeks before the place closes. Look in the little bars that usually are around such a place, as well.

Then go back a year later and shoot them again; over half of the bars will likey be closed up.

I lucked into such a project many years ago.

My dad managed manufactiring production a place that made gear for mining and pulp and paper and sewer treatment facilities. At one time over 600 employees. He would go in on Saturdays when the factory was shut down to work on reports, and I would be allowed to photgraph the facility.

Sadly I was only into 35mm gear at the time, and a larger format would have expressed some images much better. Once I as allowed in to the foundry while they were pouring, and came away with great images of that outing.

That was now 25years ago. The plant is a smaller opertion. It is managed by a childhood friend. I should probably try to get back there again.

tkamiya
02-11-2010, 09:50 AM
Without knowing your situation, this is a short in dark but....

I think you have a worthwhile cause to start the project. But I'm not sure about the choice of equipment. With so many subjects and the scale, the cost of just purchasing the film will be enormous. On top of it, all the chemicals and time involved can be overwhelming. To me, it sounds as if medium format or even 35mm would be sufficient or even preferable for bulk of the shots. You could use LF when needed, but using it for all shots may be unnecessary.

It would be sad to start something like this and not being able to finish it because of financial or time constraints, or because technical aspect of the project became overwhelming.

Just my thoughts....

SuzanneR
02-11-2010, 09:51 AM
I would suggest you write down what you want story you want to tell (you are not making photographs, you are telling a story in pictures) and you might even want to think about how to illustrate the story you want to tell. You might even make a shot list of things that will be necessary to tell the story you want to tell.

Be specific. Be thorough. Be relentless. It will be work and you will love it.

With all due respect, I think figuring out the story, then going about illustrating it leads to boring pictures. I like most of the advice given in Joe's post, but getting to specific too early may keep you from finding other avenues to pursue. There is something to be said for working intuitively, and finding the stories as you go.

mikeg
02-11-2010, 09:58 AM
I'll add my Just do it" to the chorus. Just think how you'd feel in 10 years time if you never even started.

Do some research into projects of this type, portraits etc so you can see what over people have done and in what style.

As you said, start off with your close family and friends, then print these up and review the images, if you don't like them then as it's family I'm sure they won't mind sitting again as you refine your style. Also, it gives you something to show to other people as you widen your net of subjects. Showing people what you've done will help them to understand what you are doing and perhaps open a few more doors.

Best of luck it sounds a great project. I'm sure you'll do it justice.

Mike

Vaughn
02-11-2010, 10:03 AM
What a great opportunity to help others tell their stories, to do something meaning full, and to learn an incredible amount.

Vaughn

Jerevan
02-11-2010, 11:15 AM
I think you're onto something good: start out small, and let grow from there. Use a camera that you are familiar with and a simple setup if you are going to have lights or flash stuff. One lens, one film you like. What's interesting is the people sitting in front of you, not the equipment inventory. :)

Go for it. It'll be rewarding.

PeterAM
02-11-2010, 12:00 PM
I'll second the comments about shooting more than portraits. Although the portraits and interview information will be important in themselves, you should shoot in/around the plant environment (before and after) also. This way you will have a complete body of work relative to this bit of history and can use it in multiple approaches. Once it's gone, you can't go back. Someone suggested using 35mm for everything other than the portraits; this is a good idea, as it will be much easier to handle. While I think that using LF for the portraits is a great idea, I would use whatever equipment works best for the rest of the project, so that it gets done (even, heaven forbid, digital).

Good luck with this. It's an important thing to do and, who knows, you might get a book out of it.

Stephanie Brim
02-11-2010, 03:21 PM
I thought about it last night and here is what I'm thinking:

4x5 is going to be limited to formal portraiture. I have the Speed Graphic, but I do not have an appropriate lens, really, for the type of candid handheld photography that I really want to do. If I can find one I'll start using it for outside shots. If I can't, I'll just use something else.

6x6 is going to be my main format for this. I'm going to use a Mamiya C3 and 3 lenses: a 55mm, an 80mm, and a 180mm. I actually like the idea of square format for this project. The 80mm is probably going to be my most used lens. Printing to 8x8 would be nice.

35mm is going to be my backup for when I just can't get enough light. I'm thinking of seeing if Adam, the husband, would let me pick up a lens I've been coveting for quite some time: the 50mm f/1.2 AIS. If I'm going to use it as a low-light camera, my as well go as low as possible.

My main reason? These are strong, hard-working people. They deserve far better than to be out of work for any amount of time. The ones, like my dad, who have been there for so long, deserve so much more. I do believe that they will at least get a good severance package when the plant does finally close, but even that I'm not sure of. I want to portray the people as they are now...unsure of the future, but for the most part still able to enjoy their lives. I think I most want to tell the stories of the older workers and the workers with families; those who are a few years from retirement and those who have little mouths to feed.

I think, ultimately, I want to help these people. I don't know how yet. I know how incredibly lucky we are that Adam found a job so quickly after he'd been laid off; it was only a little over three months. Being pregnant at the time, though, and pretty heavy with child when he found his new job, I felt very...apprehensive. I know what these people are going through and I really want to do something about this. Maybe put together a book and have all the profits go to help if people need it.

It's still just a concept. I think that this entire town has a story because of this. Maybe I should broaden my scope a bit and actually take as many photos and get as many stories as I can, and then choose the best way to compile it when I'm finished.

Eric Rose
02-11-2010, 03:47 PM
Maybe Michael Moore can give you some hints ;)

Stephanie Brim
02-11-2010, 04:15 PM
Maybe Michael Moore can give you some hints ;)

:D *headdesk*

Maybe I should've added a disclaimer.

JBrunner
02-11-2010, 04:19 PM
Start. A project like this finds it's own way, it's own voice. Make no promises, cherish no outcome. Just start doing it. In a year you will understand what you are doing now.

BrianShaw
02-13-2010, 12:25 PM
I've been thinking. This usually gets me in trouble, but I'll go on.

...

Large project. Huge scale. Scared as hell to start down the road to do this. Need some encouragement, I suppose. The fact that I'm thinking of using 4x5" film isn't helping my nervousness.

Start small. Thinking too big too early will likely lead to failure. If it turns out to be big... so be it.

jnanian
02-13-2010, 05:25 PM
bring a tape recorder ( and tape ) ...

clayne
02-13-2010, 07:58 PM
Do it... those are important stories to tell... do it!!

Absolutely, DO this. This, in my opinion, is one of the most valuable uses of a camera.


I've worked on three documentary projects involving dozens and dozens of portraits. It is EXTREMELY rewarding.

In my experience, few people like to have their portrait taken so a lot of the challenge of portrait projects is to make folks feel comfortable. I am not a naturally warm or outgoing person but my people skills developed incredibly. When I started, I really dreaded going up to people to ask to take their picture. Now I dive right into it with genuine pleasure. So if you feel intimidated by working with people, just be brave and dive in. Smile, shake hands, act like you are enjoying yourself. Take your time and don't be in a hurry with each person. By forcing myself not to hurry, I also minimized my technical mistakes, which I tend to commit when I get nervous.

Don't spend all your time behind the camera. On one project I walked around for two days introducing myself to people and talking to them before the actual portrait sessions. I carried a camera but did not take any pictures. That way people knew me as "the camera guy" but I could engage them personally. It made the actual shoot much more fun and relaxed.

Good luck! In my opinion any chance to shoot people and tell their story is valuable.

^ This is excellent advice right here. There may be times you won't even be able to take photos, and there may even be other times you shouldn't take a shot.

Most importantly, listen to their stories and thoughts. Truly listen to what they're saying and how they feel about things and the future. If you have the moment, or if they ask, explain to them why you are actually doing this - that you're approaching it from a place of compassion and not trying to take advantage of people. Your connection with the subjects or how they feel around you is a huge factor.

Bring a voice recorder as well. This will be invaluable.

rthomas
02-13-2010, 08:44 PM
It is smashed and unusable, so I need a new hose to use it. The unit itself seems just as strong as ever, though.

My parents had an Electrolux vacuum from about 1972 to about 2002. Built like a tank. I hate to dredge up another cliche but they don't build them like this anymore; what consumer product these days lasts 30 years?

This project sounds amazing and I wish I was part of something like this (I'm keeping my eyes open). Don't worry about skill level or equipment much, just tell the story.

clayne
02-13-2010, 09:00 PM
My parents had an Electrolux vacuum from about 1972 to about 2002. Built like a tank. I hate to dredge up another cliche but they don't build them like this anymore; what consumer product these days lasts 30 years?

None - and that's part of the scam :-(. A story like this indirectly touches on the subject as well.

Laurent
02-15-2010, 07:04 AM
I thought about it last night and here is what I'm thinking:

4x5 is going to be limited to formal portraiture. I have the Speed Graphic, but I do not have an appropriate lens, really, for the type of candid handheld photography that I really want to do. If I can find one I'll start using it for outside shots. If I can't, I'll just use something else.

6x6 is going to be my main format for this. I'm going to use a Mamiya C3 and 3 lenses: a 55mm, an 80mm, and a 180mm. I actually like the idea of square format for this project. The 80mm is probably going to be my most used lens. Printing to 8x8 would be nice.

35mm is going to be my backup for when I just can't get enough light. I'm thinking of seeing if Adam, the husband, would let me pick up a lens I've been coveting for quite some time: the 50mm f/1.2 AIS. If I'm going to use it as a low-light camera, my as well go as low as possible.

My main reason? These are strong, hard-working people. They deserve far better than to be out of work for any amount of time. The ones, like my dad, who have been there for so long, deserve so much more. I do believe that they will at least get a good severance package when the plant does finally close, but even that I'm not sure of. I want to portray the people as they are now...unsure of the future, but for the most part still able to enjoy their lives. I think I most want to tell the stories of the older workers and the workers with families; those who are a few years from retirement and those who have little mouths to feed.

I think, ultimately, I want to help these people. I don't know how yet. I know how incredibly lucky we are that Adam found a job so quickly after he'd been laid off; it was only a little over three months. Being pregnant at the time, though, and pretty heavy with child when he found his new job, I felt very...apprehensive. I know what these people are going through and I really want to do something about this. Maybe put together a book and have all the profits go to help if people need it.

It's still just a concept. I think that this entire town has a story because of this. Maybe I should broaden my scope a bit and actually take as many photos and get as many stories as I can, and then choose the best way to compile it when I'm finished.

I'm not the only one to say it, but DO IT ! Even if only to avoid feeling sorry if you don't and have regrets when it's to late. A better reason, I feel, is that it seems a good way to help people there, when they realize that other people care about them.

I think I'd go with the same choices for gear as what you expose. 6x6 would be very suited for such a project (IMO, best compromise between portability and quality, and even the slower lenses may not be a killer (don't tell this to Adam if you really want to justify the 50/1.2 :D )

njkphoto
02-18-2010, 10:48 PM
You should do it. But why do you want to use 4x5. I mean I love the idea and the quality of the 4x5 but why don't you combine both? Document their daily activities together with a portrait done with the 4x5. If it was me I would to this with Tri-X. but that's just me. You mentioned at one point that you want to show the people as happy. If you are to document this to show how it effected their lives you should capture them on their natural state. If you will be doing just the portraits 4x5 I think you should do them at their home, and not a studio. Nothing against a studio setting but you want to document this and a studio setting does not document a situation. I also think you should go talk with the people first so they will get to know you and feel comfortable with.

Good luck.

2F/2F
02-18-2010, 11:09 PM
If it was me I would to this with Tri-X.

I don't get how this follows. The use of Tri-X is totally independent of film format.