DPP Home Profiles Chris Crisman: Master Of The Person In Their Place

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Chris Crisman: Master Of The Person In Their Place

In his environmental portraits, Chris Crisman creates highly polished images that show the humanism that drives the Philadelphia-based photographer


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Crisman: After finishing school, I had about six weeks of flailing about and working at restaurants. Then I got a full-time assistant/studio manager/retoucher job with a photographer in Philadelphia. Some nights I also did retouching for a wedding photographer. Eventually, I built up enough of a personal body of work that I could go after my own assignments.

DPP: What's the photographic scene like in Philadelphia? Why there as your base?

Crisman: I haven't been convinced to move yet. I went to school here. When I graduated, I was super-broke and couldn't move. We have a little more creative freedom here than I think we would have in New York. I'd probably do more editorial and celebrity-type stuff if I lived there, but mentally, I like a little more space. The work I get comes in from everywhere, and I'm 15 minutes from the airport. The biggest job this year came out of an agency in Austin.

DPP: Both your assignment and personal work often have an illustrative look to it. How do you achieve that?

Crisman: It depends on the project. When we're talking about my environmental portraiture, it's often about heroic characters and archetypes. To support that, I shoot a certain way— the hero in the foreground carrying strong weight against a background that's still very important to the picture. I'm very precise in how I light people, how I like skin tones to look. When I get into the retouching side of things, it's almost case-specific. I don't think I'm an incredible documentary photographer, so I don't feel the need to have freedom with the camera. I like to make a decision about the place that I'm shooting and the edges of the frame and shoot from a tripod. What this allows me to do is to interact with the subject.

For a portrait, we might do five different shots in a day. They're going to be five different frames, but amongst those groups there's not going to be a lot of variation. Using the tripod, I shoot the space without the subject, plating it essentially, making a full range of exposures. Then we bring in the subject, and during that process, we might make a minor move. If we do, I ask the subject to step out of frame for a moment and we quickly replate it.

DPP: Which image would serve as a good example of this approach?

Crisman: The picture of the gunsmith from the Titusville project. There's a lot of nostalgia for the golden age of the town in that shot. For that image, I did some shots with some of the ambient lights on, then off—a lot of different ways to get to the final feel. I wanted the viewer to be able to see all the details. In post, multiple plates were put together. I wanted only the gun and the bullets to pop, so we used pieces of those things to pull it all together. Once I get to the point that I like a certain frame, I want to keep it flexible for the postproduction phase where I'm working with my digital artist Taisya Kuzmenko to pull everything together. I haven't retouched my own work since 2009, due to the volume of what we do.


 

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