Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Process and Intent
Many people have written asking me how I shot the studio portraits of the Katrina survivors.
First, my intent. I normally shoot fashion and portraiture for magazine and advertising clients. I'm often called upon to make celebrities look heroic. Celebrities aren't heroic. These survivors are. I wanted to make portraits of them that showed their pride, and dignity, and strength, even in such low circumstances. I wanted to show my respect, and love.
Second, my process. The portraits were shot at Charles B. Murphy Elementary School in Pearlington, Ms. The little town was totally wiped out by the storm, and it's people left without anything. The school was one of the only surviving structures in the town, and it's sweltering gymnasium was being used as a distribution point for clothing, food, water, and ice. Hot meals were given out, and medical attention for those that were injured (including my mom) could be gotten at a motor home parked outside.
We talked to survivors who walked in for help. We heard their stories, which took some of the weight off their shoulders. We asked if we could take their portraits. These are people, my people, who aren't used to having people care enough to take their picture. A few were too shy, or felt ashamed at the way they looked, with no sleep, no showers, no home. Most were happy to pose, and brought others.
I had brought a white backdrop to place behind the subjects, as I normally would with celebrities. But because of the hectic nature of the environment, with new supplies being brought in and moved, and people needing help, I decided to just use the gray cinderblock wall, to minimize my footprint and to be as mobile as possible. But I never intended to leave the cinderblocks in. It was important to me that these portraits looked crafted, cared for, and the institutional backdrop looked too much like mugshots. So, the extent of the retouching was removing the backdrop and replacing it with what I would have accomplished in-camera anyway, had the environment been more normal.
The faces were left unretouched, and beautiful.
Posted by clayton cubitt at 7:09 PM