If there’s one thing I’ve learned in over 15 years, it’s that it’s what you put on the wall that counts. That’s my entire focus when I make portrait.
I had a great session some weeks back for Brooks, Leslie, their son Michael and their dog Bo. We went to the waterfront park in Moses Lake and took advantage of the late Fall color. We all had a few favorites, but in the end this great portrait won out. We mastered it into a 40 inch heirloom canvas for their home and here’s the result.
There’s nothing like a great family portrait to make the centerpiece of your room. That’s what I focused on here. Lots of pictures are easy. But a great portrait that will become a family heirloom is something special. I’ll give you a close up view below.
My wife with slender features and long flowing hair is like a Renaissance beauty. Simple grace is suited to a silver image. I made just two frames on 4×5 film, working on controlling the light and the almost Mona Lisa style of pose set in the kids room. I just love the long hair here and the context that the surrounding elements offers.
I made this Mothers day weekend. And a great mother Sondra is. She wrangles our three kids every day like nobodies business and gets things done. This exemplifies why I love environmental portraits. It’s classic in pose and light, but implements a real scene and the items that reflect what a mother deals with every day. Did I mention Sondra cooks too and makes a great model for my projects? I hope you enjoy… Gav
Brent is an artist who manages a gallery in in Soap Lake near my studio. He does a lot of abstract work these days, but has a rich history in many art genres. Many years ago he started in architecture and has practiced many styles over the years, including a recent collection of colorful but simple large wall portraits that are quite compelling.
Brent is a very minimal sort of guy who’s apartment is filled with modernist decor. I wanted to make an American Portrait of Brent on 4×5 film that was both minimal and showcased the work and space he occupied. We even used his favorite chair in planning this image. We lit it simply, while showing a body of his work in the background.
It was a fun portrait. While not expected, Brent gave me a gift in return. Brent is a bit of the mind that everything is art. While I have some disagreement with him there, it does inspire him to use interesting things in his work that I would never consider. He makes projects out of just about anything and he gave me this piece he made with old cameras sturdily mounted to a black base meant for hanging on the wall. It made a neat addition to our studio and is quite a collection to look at. It’s planned well too. The cameras are all old point and shoot units, which should prevent me from wanting to pull them off to use them. More importantly that yellow one off to the right gives a perfect nod to tone and composition that really fits me. It’s really cool.
Wall portraits are what we focus on here. So last week Seim Portraits had a booth showcasing them at the Grant Country Fair. Nathan and I traded shifts and kept it manned the entire time. We got to meet a lot of new people and many new potential clients. This was NOTHING like the casual interest people have when you setup at a wedding fair – People were blown away like I have not seen in many years.
We’re not used to seeing images presented in this manner and the responses refreshing. Many were amazed and did not seem aware that such portraits were being made. About a quarter of them thought we were painters because of our use of light, tone and traditional canvas. They saw the difference. That’s been our goal. Once someone see’s our products in person, they appreciate them far more. I can’t tell you how many people asked about how we got the light and depth we showed. Even though it was mainly classic use of light, tone and presentation like we talk about in EXposed. People are not used to seeing it anymore.
I made this quick video before we closed up on Saturday. Excuse for the poor video quality, this is what I could get on short notice. I did clean up the audio a bit.
Hope this gives you a few ideas. Thanks to all who stopped by. I’m also adding my video on Wall Furnishing below. It’s a better produced video where I talk about about the concepts ideas behind what I do.
Mr. Lincoln. Plain WA, Fall 2012 – 4×5 black and white film.
No, I do not have a time machine… yet!
At times I make a portrait simply because – I take my time and I try to learn something while showcasing someone interesting. I’m looking for one good image. That’s what really makes a portrait. The one image. If I can manage if I’m happy and if I can do it with my view camera, it’s even better.
I was at s civil war re enactment in Plain WA. Not for photography, but as a square dance teacher (yes you heard right) for a evening party. Being somewhat of a VIP I was able to camp there overnight and had full access to the event the next day.
These types of events bring with them a broad range of people with cameras, all of whom focus mostly on the battles. Who can blame them. But the battle, while interesting, did not have the realism I was looking for when viewed through the ground glass. I was not looking for another tourist photo. So I went for a portrait. Lincoln, enacted by Robert Brown, it was exactly what I needed. Lincoln was not perfect, there are many views and many concerns with his adherence to the Constitution. But Mr Brown not only looked the part, he acted it and it was impressive.
Not surprisingly Lincoln was popular as the event goers pulled him aside for snapshots. I scouted the camp in places I he would arrive, considering the line and tone of the surroundings. The noon sun was not the most ideal, but I had a visualization brewing. I borrowed a chair form a nearby tent and set it up, waiting for him. When he arrived, I walked up and asked for a photograph. I knew I did not have much time and this film was slow to work with as it is. The camera was already waiting. I would have time for one, maybe two frames. I set him in the chair and had about minute in which I made adjustments. I was rushed but I had a visualization and was determined to maintain it.
The result was as I hoped. While the light is intense, film gave to plenty of range to work with and and Lincoln came out an every bit the American in his portrait that I expected him to be. I did not try to make him smile or do anything silly. Just a firm strong pose in simple scene.
A few things worth noting – I had little time and poor light. I wanted to convey the feel of the camp in a portrait. Tents helped in a few ways. One, they offered line. Yes they’re are bright, but they offer a unique wall that tells something about the encampment. I also chose them because I had no time for strobes or extra tools. Planning ahead gave me these. The tents acted as a reflector kicking light back into the shadow side of his face and giving dimension. There’s nearly always something to help you light a subject. You just have to plan around it.
In post I worked to manage the tone. I used Zones and had not clipped the tents and used a balance of right tone with burning and dodging to keep the focus where it needed to be. Film is great for this because there is a great deal of information in the negative that allows flexibility.
In most cases I would not plan a portrait at this time of day. But in this case the use of available light and surroundings lends a sense of authenticity while still giving me a powerful portrait of Robert Brown.
I had the opportunity to do a fun portrait this week. Heather is competing for Spokane Rodeo Queen and we just did her portrait for the photogenics category of the event. We were going for a traditional setup, as judges in these expect classic posing and simple light. I still managed to sneak in a little ratio to sculpt her face and to have a little fun with the pose, which Heather did beautifully on. I’ve just made up the prints and they came our great. This was fun for me because it’s a bit outside of the approach I normally take. I did Heather’s senior portraits years ago and we printed a sweeping environmental portrait. But the need for specific look made me focus on the light and the details in order to produce this simple but inviting classic portrait.
Little caption is needed in this as I feel it tells it own story. These are my three babies, Cyrus, Ana and Asher. It was not posed. Instead, I set up and waited for it. All I needed was this one frame, their attention was caught perfectly in real expression. It’s not a portrait about smiles and rubber duckies, but about life. In this case, life in the tub. This concept was inspired a bit by the people like Norman Rockwell and Arnold Newman. Image makers who we never afraid to show a life sort of feel that needed no explanation. I worked specifically to convey this feel and I’m happy with the result.
In a way this was a good thing. It made me realize that the blind censorship approach Facebook takes, can not only revoke our right to express completely moral art, but free speech itself. For any reason Facebook can punish you for what they decide to be wrong. As if you’re a child. Even as an active advertising on Facebook I have no contact person, no rep and no way to address this issue with them. Not a good place to be.
I have never been for the idea of giving up your blog or website and using Facebook. I don’t trust them at all. This gave me a sharp reminder. Not that I need to censor myself. But that I need now rely on a company like this to share my work. This image promoted me to start The Light Letter, an email list. I want to share my ideas and images with those interested, without worrying about absurd restrictions. It raises a real question that I think everyone should consider. How reliant have we become on online entities like Facebook who hold almost no accountability for their actions and in many ways control what we can say and show to the world. Something to think about.
Great wall portraits of families are a passion of mine and when it’s a big group I take on the challenge like it’s my own family. The Shurtzs were a beautiful family spanning three generations and we carefully planned to account for all twenty six of them, including mention lots of young ones. We decided to work in the forest near Leavenworth, Washington to convey the area in which they live and mix tradition with causal. Our finished result came out beautifully and it now hangs in their home as a fifty five inch canvas.
Nathan and I arrived early, setting up strobes and making a plan for the pose. I had already done some rough sketches but with the Spring thaw the place on the river bank that we had planned was underwater. This meant a quick re-arrangement to our secondary location. It was a lot of work, but worth it.
After the main group we did a few smaller groupings with Mr & Mrs Shurtz, gathering them with the kids for two great poses. We hung a thirty six inch heirloom canvas of the image on the rocks. For that exposure we had used a large format sensor approach to give it depth and detail.
Ashers Crib – Gavin Seim’s American Portraits, 2012 Film Collection
This is one of the first of my new series of portraits. The American Portraits film collection is something I’ve been dreaming up for awhile now. Inspired by painters like Sargent and Waterhouse, photographers like Ansel Adams and Arnold Newman, the AP Collection are portraits that say it all in a single frame. Photographed mostly on large format film, developed and scanned for processing, the AP collection brings the classic beauty and simplicity of film.
I think a great portrait is about showing an individual, their character and telling their story in a stunning way. While I know variety has it’s place and still offer everyday sessions, but I find that endless poses and setups can be a distraction. The goal of the AP collection is to properly plan and execute the one pose that will carry through the process for one amazing portrait.
Asher is almost a year now and I this this represents his personality so well. It tells a story in itself, so I won’t reiterate it with words. Just look and take the story from the image the way it was intended to be. Enjoy… Gav
Robert is a friend and pastor from a small village in Uganda, who was here this winter with his family visiting the States. His host family arranged for me to come to their home and do a portrait for them. I went out before the session, scouting the grounds and coming up with some ideas. When the evening for portraits came, everything went well.
Robert, his wife Rabina, and their Kids Samuel and Annie live in a village in Uganda called Mauslita, where they have a thriving church. The project has even built a school nearby, and is helping other communities around the region grow in really positive ways. It’s so cool to hear them tell of things getting better, from a country that a few years ago was in complete turmoil.
I found their beautiful dark skin to be a wonderful challenge as the way it interacts with the background and light makes things play out differently. Tonal values and backgrounds need precise attention to detail. But we had a beautiful background to work with and while it was a bit chilly outside, I felt the finished result was very warm and personal. Robert and his great family will be taking twenty four inch wall prints back home to Uganda.
Copyrighted: Gavin slaves very hard to produce this work. Please respect that and his copyrights, so he can continue making stuff. All images and content copyright (c) Gavin Seim. Do not copy or redistribute without permission. Linking to pages is allowed and appreciated. For more info see the legal page. To purchase wall prints or license images please contact us.