captain context

(From my Digital Photojournalism post on Illustration)

Over the weekend a Facebook friend coined a term for me, one that’s apropos considering how I’m driven by it.

When it comes to flushing out ideas or concepts on illustrative or editorial photography, there are dozens of approaches. Kobre sites John Newcombe’s The Book of Graphic Problem-Solving: How to Get Visual Ideas When You Need Them, where the photographer is encouraged to list characteristics about the subject or the story. Source, Delivery, Size, Weight, Winners or Losers.

That doesn’t work for me. And it doesn’t have to, we all have different approaches to brainstorming how we might symbolize meaning or create a metaphor to depict a visual punch.

Quick, what just came to your mind’s eye?

Do you see a red boxing glove right now?

That’s what I saw just as I was writing those words. Where did that come from? You got it: context.

As Captain Context might say, inspiration is found in the communicative affects of each context; physical, psychological, cultural, social and temporal. The more of these that can be drawn together to eek out a concept, the better.

In 2008 I directed the play Facing East by Carol Lynn Pearson. It’s a story rich in context, a tragedy, a story of loss about a Mormon couple who debate the influences that resulted in the suicide of their gay son.

I wanted to shoot the art for the playbill and the poster, knowing the characters and the story as intimately as I did, applying Captain Context’s pentium.

1. Physical – The play takes place in a cemetery, graveside. I didn’t want to depict this, though. I felt as if it may steal the thunder, so to speak, of the actual staging of play. So, I got to thinking, what other moments take place at a funeral? Pictures. It’s odd to me, but for some reason, especially in the cultural context of Mormon funerals, we take family pictures. The concept evolved then, photograph Ruth and Alex McCormick in their family portrait, less their family, their son, Andrew.

2. Psychological – As you can imagine, this is some pretty heavy stuff here as we watch the McCormicks wade through blame and accusation. Their expression, the psychological context, had to reflect this weight, as well as what their respective characters bring to the story. The way they’re illuminated brings this home, purposefully eliminating the catch-lights in their eyes.

3. Cultural – This is the play’s eight-hundred pound gorilla, and one that made every packed house uncomfortable: Mormonism and homosexuality. I couldn’t depict the latter for this image. After all, I wanted people to come see this show, Mormon people especially. This forced me to capitalize on the former. Bishop and Sister McCormick had to have the neighborhood appeal of your Utah neighbor. Obviously this was imperative to casting this show making it easy to photograph, but certain elements had to be considered within this context; hairstyle, costumes, artifacts such as the corsages, and texture within the textiles.

4. Social – They’re married. They are a married Mormon couple. Culturally, there is an implied patriarchy here, but Ruth’s character evolves to somewhat thwart Alex’s role as both a father and a bishop, hence their juxtaposition.

5. Temporal – This would’ve been taken before the internment, where the play unfolds and where Ruth and Alex and later Andrew’s companion, Marcus experience the transitions wrought from their disclosures and reminiscing, so their expression had to be tied to some time before the funeral but within the proximity of the day.

And this was the result.

The poster was laid out by an artist extending negative spaces of the background and Alex’s jacket for copy space. The line, “It doesn’t feel like darkness…” is another juxtaposition, not only with the psychological context of the image, but of the play and particularly of Andrew himself.

Ruth was played by Andrea Davenport

Alex was played by Garry Peter Morris

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