“The Painter” – The Story Behind the Image

Posted August 6th 2016

One of the things I love about a still image is the way that it can tell a story, but still leave room for the viewer’s imagination. Like with a good novel, everyone will interpret and extrapolate the story in their own way.

However, it is sometimes interesting to be told some background information about the image. This may enrich the viewer’s interpretation of the picture. Or it may simply provide an interesting or amusing anecdote about how the picture came about.

In this posting, I take a look at the story behind “The Painter”.

A while ago, I was challenged to shoot a series of portraits of everyday people. “The Painter” was my favourite. My unsuspecting model was Frank, who was redecorating the kitchen at the time. He arrived promptly one morning, ready to put down dustsheets and open paint pots, only to be greeted by me and my camera. Frank, a very modest man, was a little taken aback but agreed to pose for a few shots before starting work.

When you take someone’s picture for the first time, you never know what you are going to get. Often people pose unnaturally or freeze. But Frank was surprisingly relaxed and took directions well.

There was a brief conflict of artistic interests, when he realised that the shot would feature a wall that he had only given a thin coat of paint and still looked slightly patchy. I thought this would add mood and texture to the image, but it didn’t sit well with his professional pride!

I wanted to create an artistic image that showed the person more than the painter – not an action shot showing Frank at work, but a portrait of a craftsman in deep thought during a break. The props, tattoos, and paint-covered clothes provide the composition and set the context, but his face tells the story.

The shoot was all over in 15 minutes. I put the camera and lights away, and Frank got out his paint and brushes and became a decorator again.

The story didn’t quite end there, though. I liked the picture enough to enter it into a photography competition run by the Cambridge News and it was highly placed. The picture was featured in the newspaper, and I enjoyed a champagne reception with the other award winners!

Frank is a quality decorator and still does work for me. But he always combs his hair before he knocks on the door. Just in case.

If you like this article or have any comments, please leave a note for me using the form near the bottom of this page.

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