“We Survived !!” by Rey Mangouta (Or An Obvious Story)
I often raise the concept of telling a simple story as one way to connect with your audience. Most often, I am speaking in broad, figurative terms. Like a story of a flower trying to bloom: The literature community wouldn't really think much of that story. But it's a great way for me to illustrate our goal as photographers. Of course sometimes the story is so obvious that it smacks you in the face. An emotive portrait, like We Survived !!, a photograph by Rey Mangouta, is about as obvious as you can get with a story. But that's what makes this photo so great (among other things).
Let's strip away the finishing touches, the lighting and all of the technical aspects for a moment and simply talk about Rey's subject, this young man. He's very emotive, using his face and his full body to act out the scene before us. Leaning into the shot, purposefully pointing and shouting (we can't hear the voice, but we know)…we almost know the story without taking any of the context into place. This model is a great actor – and yes, you still need a good actor even with still shots. But after we introduce some context, we really fully understand the story. Actually, I am pretty sure we know the whole story: This young man and whomever else is on the ship is clearly ecstatic to see a sign of land. Clearly, this is the end of a significant journey. That simple story is so obvious and complete that you may develop a scar where it hits you up side the head.
Now if the photograph had a great actor and a setting so grand, I may still be here talking about this photograph. But the technical follow-through exhibited here only helps to make you believe the story. The lighting is incredible. With multiple light sources licking the subject from all sides – two of which are plainly visible in the shot – this is not a simple lighting scenario. I couldn't even begin to describe the lighting setup, suffice to say that Rey did incredibly well with it. The lighting is part of what makes us believe that this subject is actually part of the scene. The other part is the styling as a whole. The treatment of the shot is almost like an HDR photograph: The shadows and highlights are exaggerated in such a manner as to make the shot look almost cartoon-like. This makes the scene appear to be very surreal, as if we're able to see the story as it unfolds before our eyes. Compositionally, the shot is perfect. The photograph is balanced and our vantage point is perfect in understanding the relationship between the subject's pointing hand and the light house. There is certainly an incredible story here, and Rey has done everything in his power to make sure you get it. Well done.
Rey Mangouta is as much a graphic artist as he is a photographer. He specializes in emotive portraits that feature this surreal and elegant styling that is so smooth that you really wonder exactly how the effect is achieved. Of course he sometimes creates imagry that looks right out of a Lewis Carroll novel, like when he manipulates fruit so have mouths. But that's a playful thread that is carried through all of his portraits. Rey's work is truly inspiring, and I would suggest that you spend a good deal of time with his photostream right away.