“Ponytails and Asphalt Artists” by Aaron Waterman (Or The Story of Context)
Candid portraits are always fun for the photographer, but for the viewer they are often far more revealing of personality than a traditional posed shot. It is for this reason that candids are by far the preferred portraiture by photographers and viewers alike. The trick, however, is that you need to feel emotion when looking upon a well done candid portrait. That’s easy when the face is plainly visible – you can learn a lot from a person’s facial expressions. But what about when the face is turned away? Well, then we’re going to need a little context. In this photo, Ponytails and Asphalt Artists by Aaron Waterman, a fair amount of context is provided. As such, there is no question as to the pride exuded by our asphalt artists.
The composition is fairly simple: The main subjects are heavy to the lower left with the context balancing the rest of the frame to the right and to the top. Aaron was working with a modest sized depth of field, and so most of the asphalt art is slightly blurred to illustrate depth, but not so much that you can’t figure out what it is. I really like the use of light, the strong light source from back left, and the shadows that it casts upon the pavement. I feel that it helps to make the warmer colors pop out of the pavement and it highlights the chalk on the bottom of the oldest girl’s shoes. It clues us in on the amount of dedication the girls have had on their work.
The asphalt art is the real context, of course. This is the foundation of our little story here with these two little girls. Without this context, their body language wouldn’t make much sense to the viewer. There is still some room for interpretation. I, for example, think that this is a moment where the girls are stopping admiring their work and the oldest is planning out her next stroke of the chalk. (Is that a chalk paint brush? My kids would be so jealous…almost as jealous as I am of Aaron’s Leica M9, but I digress). Just imagine this shot if the asphalt were blank. You’d be hard pressed to argue that the shot held as much meaning or that it told much of a story at all. The context, since the faces aren’t visible, is essential to understanding the photo. And I would say that it was a story well told, thanks to Aaron’s framing and attention to detail.
While Aaron’s photostream does not always exhibit portraits of any kind, he really seems to have nailed the concept of context. From reflections to framing the surroundings well, Aaron can tell a simple story with each and every one of his photographs, regardless of the subject. Aaron’s work offers a lot to be inspired by. And you would do well to follow him and his journey through the photography world.