Sunday Focus: Gary S. Chapman
“I am sensing the need/desire to be more than just a photographer. I think we can all use our photography and social media to really make a difference in small and big ways with the people God puts in our paths.” ~ Gary S. Chapman
In a time when there is so much going on in the world, I happy to bring a little focus to the JSP blog today. I know we are all watching the news but just for a few minutes, let’s focus on an amazing photographer from Atlanta, Georgia’s own…Gary S. Chapman.Gary is yet another photographer that I’ve been happy to find out about through the power of the Internet. Where and when I first discovered Gary and his fantastic photos I’m not quite sure. But since then, I’ve a frequent visitor to his website and his blog. And lately, I’ve been tracking down his videos on Vimeo. His photos capture a compassion and a warmth to sometime hard-edged locations. And as I’m drawn more and more to the type of NGO-related photography that Gary, I find his work compelling, moving and inspirational. I was happy he was able to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few Q’s for me.
JSP Q: So, film or digital?
A:I switched to all digital in 2000. The only thing I miss about film is watching prints come to life in the darkroom. I don’t miss Tri-x grain, smelly chemicals and out-of-date film that goes green. Nor do I miss fretting about 10 or more trips through the x-ray machine at the airport.
JSP Q: Canon, Nikon or Other?
A: This could be a very long answer. I could just say both, but I think I need to explain. During my 32 years of shooting I have switched between Nikon and Canon several times. Once I switched because the newspapers gave me all Nikons. Another time I switched because Canon had higher resolution digital bodies. A few months ago I bought some Nikon bodies because I preferred their low-light focusing ability. At the moment, I still use the Canons for higher resolution stock shoots.
As a side note, switching systems has been good for me creatively. I find the change forces me to think more as I am working. The only problem with switching back and forth is that I keep grinding the back of lenses as I put them on the camera incorrectly since Nikon and Canon do things opposite of each other.
On another side note, I used to love shooting the square format (Hasselblad). Portraits just used to fit better in that great squareness.
You did not ask, but I am beginning to be more enamored with fast prime lenses once again.
JSP Q: Camera eye?
A: I normally shoot with my right eye, but often have both open at the same time. I really have to crank that diopter up though. That is really the only thing I regret about getting older…poor close-up vision.
JSP Q: Do you come from a photographic background?
A:No, I come from a long line of drug dealers. Seriously! My relatives since 1920 have owned and operated Chapman Drug Store. Besides drugs, you can get a really fine fresh-squeezed limeade. I was a soda-jerk making one of those limeades when a photographer from the studio next door came in. He “discovered” me and I left the family business to work with him. Sorry dad!
JSP Q: How did you get involved in NGO work, and why does it appeal to you?
A: My wife got me involved. She went to a presentation by a missionary who was giving a slide show. After the presentation, she went up to him and told him his photos were really bad and that he needed to get me to help. That started a 15+ year relationship that included covering more than 20 something countries.
I come at humanitarian photography from a faith-based background. I see huge needs in the world and try to figure out how to use God-given talents and abilities to help alleviate those problems. Sometimes it feels like we barely do anything at all, yet if we can help one orphan…don’t you think that is a victory?
There is much less money out there to support humanitarian photography, so we also shoot commercial stock for Getty Images.
JSP Q: You seem to be quite active in the multimedia arena. – How important do you think it is in the work that you do?
A: I am just beginning to delve into this whole video/multimedia arena. Parts of it excite me. Parts scare me. I have spent hours learning Final Cut Pro, Motion and After Effects and continue experimenting. I still prefer stills, but add audio and music and the stills often become even more powerful and/or poetic. As I learn to wrangle the video shoots a bit better I will gradually add more motion. No one can doubt that still images are powerful though. I mostly remember recent history by still images and not video clips.
JSP: That being said, Gary has some fantastic multimedia pieces over on Vimeo. Check ’em out.
JSP Q: From following you on Twitter and following your work, I know you have family in the military. Does this influence your work in any way?
A: Hmmm…the only way it has influenced me is that I have been scheming to get an assignment or reason to go to Iraq. That is where my son is. I tried to get to Afghanistan when my daughter-in-law was there, but it did not work out. I’m proud of them both for serving.
JSP Q: Personal projects seem important to you. Any you can talk about now?
A: I have always been a big advocate of personal projects. Whenever I teach workshops, I stress that projects help keep you creatively sharp. I am not only talking about serious in-depth photojournalistic projects. I have one as weird as taking photos of my feet/shoes all over the world.
Most recently my wife and I have begun taking a portrait of everyone that visits our house, from the plumber or UPS guy to family members. After two years of doing this, we are up to over 150 visitors. Here is the link to Visitors, the first 100: http://vimeo.com/10350382 …So, come visit.
My wife and I are also working on two personal projects in Pakistan about the education system and the persecution of the Christian minority. I have blog posts on both projects at www.garyschapman.com/blog. We are looking into grants to help fund further shooting.
JSP Q: What’s next for Gary S. Chapman?
A: Just today I got an urgent email from an orphanage in Africa where I had taken photos three years ago. I decided to share the need via Twitter and Facebook and was overwhelmed by the immediate financial help that was offered. More than $2,000.00 was pledged or given via PayPal. I am amazed these people, some that don’t even know me, are giving. They are trusting me to do the right thing with their money.
I am sensing the need/desire to be more than just a photographer. I think we can all use our photography and social media to really make a difference in small and big ways with the people God puts in our paths. We aren’t necessarily called to rescue the entire world or all of the whales in the Atlantic, but we can sure assist people that need help or get involved with issues that resonate with us.
Well said, Gary. Well said.
Last year, Gary and his wife, Vivian, also did a podcast interview with The Digital Trekker, Matt Brandon, which is a great listen. Find it here.
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