Mr. Lincoln – An American Portrait of Robert Brown

Mr. Lincoln. Plain WA, Fall 2012

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.

For Photographers. How it was made…

Technical Notes: Linhof Technica IV, 150mm Fujinon @ f11, 1/125, Delta 100 4×5 Film, Induro Tripod
Std Development, Epson V700 Wet Scan, Lightroom 4, Photoshop, Seim Effects tools.

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.


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