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Matinee: 'Composing a Photograph with Laura Partain' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

6 June 2015

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the eighty-eighth in our series of Saturday matinees today: Composing a Photograph with Laura Partain.

Today's matinee was designed for the kids but we liked it so much we're going to contend it's for the whole family. And it's short enough for everyone to learn something from.

And after you watch the 1:14-minute clip from the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, you can visit its Frist Web page to learn how to make a sunlight print in the At Home Activity section.

The video begins with the wildly enthusiastic Joseph introducing portrait photographer Laura Partain, who is hiding behind her view camera.

"Whoa! What an amazing camera!" Joseph exclaims when she pops up from behind it.

"Whoa! What an amazing camera!"

She tells him it takes pictures on glass called ambrotypes, a direct positive version of the wet collodion process.

"Do you mind taking a picture of me?" Joseph wonders.

"Not at all," Partain smiles. "But first I have to set up the composition for your portrait."

All that in the first 20 seconds of the clip. But it introduces the theme. It isn't about the camera or the one-of-a-kind ambrotype. It isn't about the exotic technology.

It's about composition, "the arrangement of elements in an image," Joseph explains as Partain and an assistant set up the studio in fast motion.

A few seconds later, Partain presents Joseph with his portrait. "Whoa, that's so much different from other photographs," he observes.

Yes, she says, she uses special chemicals instead of computer chips and software but "like other photographers, I still have to consider my light, composition and subject."

Her view camera isn't the only gear Partain uses. In a February interview with Dale Mackey at the Daily Yonder, she says she started with a digital camera but the images grew less and less interesting to her. So she got a 35mm film camera and took a lot of film-related classes.

"I think for me, I started shooting film because I preferred the aesthetic," she says. "The colors, the tone, there's a feel to it that digital just can't have by default of what a digital camera is. It feels really timeless."

And when she's not peering through her view camera, she even indulges in a pink Holga now and then.

After her explanation, the light bulb goes off and Joseph realizes he doesn't have to make ambrotypes to get great shots, "I can still compose really cool photos using my camera."

Now you know, they say in unison, that "art is all around you."

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