Photographing Imagination

The idea came to me when I was having lunch with my son one day at a local restaurant. There was a young boy running and playing between the tables. He had taken what I could only assume was one of his father’s shirts and tied it around his neck like a cape. As he “flew” between the tables I remembered my own childhood of running around my home with a towel tied around my neck playing superhero. I can remember  I was insistent that the “cape” had to match the color of my heroes; red for Superman, blue for Batman. The small flashback provided by the young boy put me on a train of thought of how different children play today than when I was young.

At the time I was the boy’s age there was only three or four channels on television, cartoons only played on Saturday morning, and there were no video games. I grew up mostly in rural areas and often times had to play alone which meant I had to rely on my own imagination to pass the time. Today even very young children are permanently attached to some form of a smart device. Now instead of the television being the babysitter it is the smartphone or tablet. I’ve often wondered as I see kids swiping their fingers across the screens if the art of imagination is becoming lost to future generations or will it take on a new form? Will it become something different where it goes from imagination strait to some form of digital imagery? Whatever may come it is for sure the days of my youth are long gone.

As my son and I finished our lunch and left I had the thought of photographing those memories from my childhood. If for no other reason just to recapture the fondness I have for my youth. In addition for some time I have wanted to photograph portraits with children. this would be something I normally do not get to do and now I had an idea for a theme. I started the process by placing a casting call on my Facebook page for a boy between the ages of 5 and 6. I had several entries but it was Colt’s that stood out to me.

I had met his mother and father many months earlier by happenchance at a local gas station. We had started talking and I learned that his father had lost his arm in the war in Afghanistan. When his mother, Ashley, sent me his picture for the casting call I learned that Colt had been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and that he loved photography. With those facts in place I knew I had found my subject for the shoot. The next part was finding a location. I wanted an interior location that had a cluttered and haphazard look. I placed another posting on Facebook and after a few weeks found a location in northern Florida was found. These two times are not the first time social media has aided in putting together a shoot. It has been my experience that people get excited about being involved in projects on any level.

The location was a home built in the early part of the 20th century. It had great character and even greater owners. Ruth Bass and her husband were kind enough to allow us access to their home. I chose three interior areas and one exterior. The Basses were collectors and creative people themselves. I chose a room with over 5,000 albums, a studio room with a large collection of toy cars and a drafting table, and a sewing room with stacks of fabrics and containers full of patterns. I chose these rooms because I knew those would have been the areas I would have played in as a child. All the colors, objects, and knickknacks would have served to feed my overactive imagination.

We had brought a selection of toys and comics as props for the use during the shoot and I told Cole that all I needed him to do was play. For the first set I shot that day there was a large window in front of the wood drafting table. Sunlight was coming through the window so I decided to use that as my main light and let my strobes fill in from there. The sunlight was harsh so I placed a frosted shower curtain over the window. I picked this curtain up for $5 and keep it in a backpack along with some other fabrics in the back of my car. You never know when you’re going to need to diffuse some light coming through a window. One of my strobes was bounced off the ceiling to provide an overall fill light and the other highlighted the shelves of cars in the background. I just asked Colt to stand at the desk to play and allowed the sunlight to act as a key light. The desk threw warm light back into his face providing the fill for the shadows.  My goal was to create a warm “happy place” that would reflect the idea of playing and using your own imagination to entertain yourself.

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In between setups Colt would go and watch television. He said waiting for me was boring (sounds like my wife). I told him that was photography, an hour or so of boring for a few minutes of pow and flash. So while Colt kicked back with the TV we set up in the record room. I should have taken a picture of the entire room but if you can imagine a rectangle shaped room with shelves that run floor to ceiling on every wall and down the center filled to capacity with old record albums, you have an idea of what this room is like. There were thousands of records in this room ranging from country to rock. I set up some lights to the side to create a similar lighting as I had use earlier. I wanted the emphases to be on Colt but I also wanted the scene to play a role in the story. I gave Colt a very old GI Joe to use in the shot and just asked him to play around the shelves.

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By this point in the day it was getting close to mid morning and the temperature was rising quickly. We set up two lights outside under the shade of trees. The key light was placed slightly behind and above Colt to give the impression of sunlight and to cast the shadow side of his fast towards the camera. This creates a more dramatic portrait I just slowed my shutter speed enough to allow the ambient to fill in the shadows. A second light was placed off to camera left to act as a kicker. I gave Colt a cowboy hat along with a bow and arrow. I told him there was no reason a cowboy couldn’t shoot bows and arrows if he wanted so we went with it.

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By this point in the day Colt was losing his excitement over the process so it I needed to finish up and let him go home. We set up for him to read some comics in the sewing room. This also became the most complicated lighting setup. I had have two lights come in from two separate windows out of frame. A third light aimed at the ceiling hidden behind the fabric in the back of the room and my key boomed over and in front of Colt. We pinned a towel around his neck and gave him a flashlight. The goal here was not to suggest the flashlight was lighting the room, but to show something I did and have seen in children even today and that is any excuse to play with a flashlight is a good one.

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When it was all over I was happy. I had managed to capture some photos I could be happy with and had got to meet some new people along the way. I have to say thank you to Colt and his mother Ashley for being patient and spending a good part of their day with me. A special thank you to the Bass family for allowing us to use their home and disrupt their morning, and a huge thank you to Paula and my other Facebook fans for helping me look for locations. It is a great feeling when people freely share of themselves to make something happen.