Photographer Christophe Gardner's Photo Tips

May. 21, 2012
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Three of the most elderly men living in a tiny village in France sit on a brick wall built from centuries past. Where students from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts call home for a week under the guidance of internationally known poet Marilyn Kallet. Christophe Gardner poses them for these photography students, the subjects in portraits the students are asked to photograph and then he will immediately critique. While the students mill around the surprised trio trying to capture their rugged but charming faces, the three friends banter in French, and then in quick repartee shout with good natured impatience: “It's like we're in a zoo. Why don't you throw peanuts?”

Christophe Gardner laughs, responding to the humor and then begins to talk about how he moved to this tiny village in France nine years ago. A village with no ATM machines and where merchants do business without any credit cards. A village he came to know by way of a woman, divorce and an incredibly inexpensive house to call home. Christophe's house sits above his tiny studio on 7 rue d'holorge in Auvillar, holds a desk, a chair and exhibits his primarily black and white photos from his solo exhibitions throughout the region

While Christophe (as he prefers being called) boasts no formal education, his mother worked as a French journalist that married an American professor who founded American schools across EuropeBarcelona, Madrid and Nice. His diverse childhood allowed Christophe to mingle experiences from numerous cultures that included the United States, and the artist holds dual citizenship. Which becomes important to Christophe at age 12 when he “stole” or borrowed a camera from his mother. A Canon XE was a gift to his art at age 16, and from that point onward photography inspired his passion. Another interesting facet to his career developed during his 20's when his camera was stolen and as Christophe says, “I didn't touch a camera for 10 years.”

The years in between youth and artist were spent working as a chef extraordinarie in cities named Montreal and Paris. Only when Christophe approached his mid 30's did he return to photography, his first love, and in 2006 began exhibiting his work. When he moved his art into digital technology without sacrificing his personal vision. Christophe's passion is portraits, as he puts it, “What you are is what you see in the eyes.”

“Emotion makes the picture, the eyes the windows of the soul. And there's no way to photoshop what's deep down inside,” continues Christophe. He believes that the feeling in a photo will be everything, the only thing left on the paper. Impressed by photographers such as Edouard Boubat, Willy Ronis, and the masterful Henri Cartier Bresson, Christophe found time to instruct and impress on several VCCA students what might be helpful for any novice photographer:

   1. When shooting the subject, remember the proportions of thirds: Keep the subject in 2/3 of the photograph\. For landscapes choose the most interesting 2/3, sky or ground for the photo. While clouds can make interesting photos, too much blue sky will be less interesting.

   2. Angle your camera viewpoint for the best shot. Move above the subject, or below the subject to    achieve a better photo. Move, kneel, climb, do whatever you need to do to get a great picture. Rather  than zoom, try to move closer to your subject if possible.

3. Use a flash on bright afternoons to lessen the shadows, especially when photographing portraits, it                   removes the shadows from their faces.

    4. Portraits are best taken from the shoulder up, or when displaying the upper 1/3 of the body. Either

        try to  keep the hands in the picture, or remove them completely.

5. Use the viewfinder of the camera to compose the picture instead of the screen. The viewfinder reads               an image similar to a painting, and then compose your picture as if similar to a painting. Take more                time composing the picture than cropping the image in photoshop computer programs afterwards.                    More time composing the photo before shooting the picture will give better overall photos.

Christophe's photo tips rely on the same principles he uses in his cooking: keep it fresh and simple. Fresh angles, simple subjects and a clear vision for the difference between need and pleasure. A distinct pleasure permeates Christophe's work without any contrived images, more about what people feel about photography, food, paintings and love, the happiness in life, as he repeats, “Isn't it all about emotion?”

One of the artist's favorite photographs sums up his creative philosophy. The double portrait image was  taken in his hometown, on the very same brick wall where the three men were posed for his students. A  mature couple, almost as mature as the three friends, bend toward each other in a sensuous kiss, a misty  landscape of the Garonne River Valley in the background, pure and simple emotion. Christophe's title: Le Bises (The Kiss).

Christophe Gardener's work can be viewed on www.photofrancefr. His photography workshop for students was incorporated into a program by the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), an organization that maintains an artist's community in Auvillar, France, and offers programs of varied length for all artistic disciplines. For more information on workshops, residencies and other programs contact the VCCA at: www.vcca.com                                      

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