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“I think the pandemic has stifled me emotionally,” photographer Brandon Kidwell tells us in an interview. “I’ve been trying to keep a sense of normal for myself and my family here, but it’s been a challenge when there isn’t a line between work/home and play anymore; it’s all blurred together.” Brandon created the Sawdust of our Youth in early 2019. But I can imagine that in time, his creativity will blossom even more. Brandon is one of those photographers who I look fondly at when I dive into the site’s archives. His work is stunning and so much of a technical masterpiece. What’s more, Brandon uses no Photoshop when he creates his personal double exposures. Now, more than ever was a great time to talk about those with him.
We’ve previously featured your work for the incredible skill you’ve got. And we feel it’s more important now more than ever. So in this series, you seem to be exploring the growth of your youngest son. Before we go deeper, it seems like you only really do projects like this when you’re emotionally invested in them. Am I right?
Thank you for your very kind words and for the chance to share with you again. I think you’re right, I am always looking for satisfying compositions in general and often try a lot of multiple exposures but if I don’t have a personal or emotional connection to the purpose or context of the image or series I tend to view it as flat or lacking dimension or meaning. I think visually interesting images can be incredible alone but for me, a series requires something deeper that inspires it. More often than not, I am trying to capture something that I feel or have experienced and struggle to translate into the image. I think the challenge of translating an idea, a feeling, or an emotion is what keeps me motivated.
Where did the sawdust metaphor come from?
This series was inspired by context and timing. We were providing some wood rounds for a family wedding, so I was cutting a lot of 1″ slices out of some trees we recently cut down. We had piles of sawdust. My son was four at the time, and he started pronouncing words correctly, even the cute and endearing mispronunciations that often lead to nicknames for family or inside jokes. He was developing a real wonder about the world, and his thinking was becoming more grounded. I started to imagine the sawdust as a metaphor for shedding the first layer of skin as a toddler or small child. It was symbolic of a noticeable change in maturity and intelligence.
So what are the patterns used here? These are obviously photos of your son, but the rest look like leaves.
The patterns here are actual sawdust. My son and I used a single strobe and an octa. We dropped handfuls of sawdust in front of the strobe, timing the fall to achieve the dissipating or dissolving effect. It took a lot of tries at first, but we started to learn the cadence and timing within a few minutes.
Why is only one image in color? It stands out a whole lot!
The series was meant to be about the metaphor, the effect. The color image is about my son. This image was the only one that captured how he truly was on that day and time. He enjoys it when I ask him to participate in my experiments, but his patience is temporary, so I thought this was important to preserve that mixed emotion, willing yet growing impatient.
How did you get him to stay still for these photos?
Honestly, he’s pretty good about it if I show him the idea and he’s into it, but generally I have to come up with some sort of bribe; if you do this, then we can…
Talk to us about the gear you’re using these days, and tell us how it’s helping you creatively. This will be a section itself in the article.
I have a lot of different cameras and gear for all occasions. I don’t have a strong brand loyalty, picking the best tool for the job, but mostly I’m using the Canon EOS R these days with the lens adapter since I’m so heavily invested in Canon glass. The EOS R was not my favorite body at first, but it grew on me as it gives me everything I need to be creative in a light and portable body. Canon has been my brand of choice for digital since I started with the 5DMark III. Canon has this great feature that allows you to capture an image, then load it live later to capture the second or third images to create a multiple exposure. This feature alone opened up a world of possibilities and added a way to iterate without using up a ton of film and/or your subject’s time. I have a Ricoh GR III for my always with my camera and a Pentax 645Z for my studio camera. The Pentax is heavy and slow compared to most cameras available today that are close to its image resolution and price point, but the image and dynamic range are hard to match. I have other cameras, but they are used way less often. For my strobes, I use Profoto. The ability to take a studio strobe anywhere without a need for electricity or a generator was another game-changer for me.
It’s been a while since you did Wisdom for My Children. And this project is far different. Has the idea come up to do this with your other kids too?
I think it would be great to do this with my other children, but I don’t think that it makes sense. My other children are older and past this stage, so it would be more for the sake of expanding the series and not for something that is motivated by or inspired by current events like it was for my youngest. It’s so hard to make the decision to move away from a series or a style or a project that is so familiar to you if it doesn’t make sense anymore. Continuity is so fulfilling to look back on, but life has so many turns and forks in the road, leading you to new experiences which can change you and your voice.
If you were going to do a similar project for you or your wife, what do you think the theme would be?
Giving. My wife inspires me in so many ways, but one thing that stands out is how much she will do for others without expectation for return.
How has the pandemic affected you emotionally? Has it inspired you in any other ways at all?
I think the pandemic has stifled me emotionally. I’ve been trying to keep a sense of normal for myself and my family here, but it’s been a challenge when there isn’t a line between work/home and play anymore; it’s all blurred together. I think the inspiration is festering, and from this pandemic, we will see an explosion of inspired art from all shades of the emotional spectrum.
So how’d you do this one? Still, no photoshop?
This series was created in-camera using a Canon EOS R, Profoto B1, and some adjustments in Lightroom.
Photoshop is such an interesting thing for those that enjoy multiple exposures. For client work, it’s absolutely necessary as it is not likely you will pass all levels of approval in the first go. There are always adjustments and considerations. However, for the artist that creates multiple exposures for personal (or professional) work in camera, it’s fulfilling in the sense that once the final shutter clicks, your composition is complete. There is such a great feeling when you take your inspiration, find your setting or landscape, find or set your light, get the emotion of the subject and it all comes together, then click, you’ve captured it. All the work is front loaded save for a few minor adjustments and you can let it go. With Photoshop it’s very hard to tell when the image is complete. I think it’s human nature each time you see an image you created using the software you will find something you’d like to change or wish you would have done differently because you can or you could have.
All images by Brandon Kidwell. Used with permission. Find more by Brandon at his website, his Behance, Instagram, and in our previous coverage. Want to have your project with no Photoshop featured on our site? Click this link to find how to submit.