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Monday, April 28, 2008

Randal Ford - Rockwell Revisited

Iconic American artist Norman Rockwell serves as inspiration for a new series of images by Austin-based photographer Randal Ford

“As far as a value that has translated through the times, this one really hits the mark,” says Ford. “Rockwell painted his own version decades ago, but today, as obsessed as everyone is with celebrity, everyone's views of beauty are so distorted, especially young girls who just don't think they're good enough. This issue is definitely still alive today, and Rockwell did such a good job at telling the story. That's what drew me to his image.”

In his efforts to get the talent to live up to Rockwellian expressionism, Ford was careful not to overdirect—even though Rockwell himself was famed for being a tad over the top.

“I wanted to strike a fine line of being cool, but not too cliché. It would have been easy to make these look as cheesy as hell,” says Ford. “I wanted the models to tell the story, but in a subtle way. I just explained what was going on in the story to get them into the role—minor motivation on my part.”

One aspect of Rockwell's work that translates through Ford's photography is a determinedly two-dimensional feel—something Ford attempts to generate in much of his own work.

Ford's latest work also leans on Rockwell. Asked to shoot images of third-graders for Texas Monthly, Ford traveled across Texas to different schools on a project about the future of the state.

“It was an upbeat article, very lighthearted, so I wanted to create real moments with these kids,” reveals Ford. “I was trying to do it all in a fresh way that shows the fun of being a kid.”

Images of kids in class, standing on chairs and eating in the cafeteria evoke warm feelings, reminiscent of our own childhood. “They were all situations where I let kids be kids,” says Ford. “Things like standing on chairs and sitting on the top of a high bookcase evoked responses because it felt like they were breaking the rules.”

Recent work of a bovine nature is another one of Ford's favorite projects. Hired by Pentagram and famed art director D.J. Stout, Ford shot new images for a redesign of Dairy Today. “We took lights and gear to the actual dairy barn and set up a studio,” says Ford. “Dairy cows are super docile. We had to do everything we possibly could to get some kind of expression. It's a fresh look with the saturated colors.”

Even with seemingly banal projects, Ford rises to the occasion. “For me, photography is about glorifying the ordinary, giving classical ideas and values a modern aesthetic,” says Ford. “That's what inspires me and what my personal work and my best profes-sional work have in common.”

As for equipment, Ford maintains both 35mm and medium-format gear. His weapons of choice are the Canon EOS 5D with a multitude of Canon lenses and the Mamiya 645AFD II.

“I try to maintain natural focal lengths that don't distort people too much,” says Ford. “In 35mm, I shoot between 50mm and 85mm; in the 645 range, I go from 55mm to an 80mm.”

Ford also strobes with softboxes for the majority of his work because he finds it maintains the most control possible. His use of the Phase One P 30+ digital back is also a blessing.

“It costs as much as my car,” admits Ford, “but the P 30 gives me amazing clarity. The crispness and accuracy of the colors and the tonal range are just exceptional. Obviously, I manipulate my images a lot, so it's great to have a big file size to play with, especially when you're degrading an image and pulling out details in the shadows and highlights, dodging and burning and playing with colors.”

To see more of Randal Ford's photography, visit www.randalford.com.

Ford's Equipment
Mamiya 645AFD II
Phase One P 30+ digital back
Canon EOS 5D
Canon lenses


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