Pie Town Portraits

Charlene general 22 Comments

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Portraits. I’ve not done much of them, and with few exceptions, been too intimidated to put myself out there to get any decent ones.

The reason I often cite as the source of my reluctance to go out there and make portraits of strangers, is my muted horror at the invasiveness of sticking a camera in someone’s face purely for my own selfish motives. It seems unfair, somehow, not to give something back.

But that’s not really it. What is, is having to lay some of myself bare to create that connection to make a succesful portrait. Because photography is about life, and life is about relationships, and real relationships involve some degree of intimacy, which involves some giving and taking. Which addresses the point above about the fairness of giving something back to a random stranger, when you ask to make a portrait. You give something of yourself in return. 

And that is what scares me: What if nothing I have to give is of any worth? And how prepared am I to find out for sure?

I still can’t answer either of those questions, but neither can I leave that sleeping dog alone, so in September, the pie festival became one of a few “get over yourself and go do something” targets to come.

I found my groove talking to some brilliant folk over at the Pie Town Volunteer Fire Department stand that day. Got to hear some fine stories, although didn’t end up with any great portraits; what you see here is about as good as it got, but I did take a step in the long road towards getting over my irrational fears…. and becoming a real photographer perhaps, instead of a daydreaming office monkey?


Glynn: rancher, world traveller, Pie Town VFD fire fighter, and purveyor of fine New Mexican knowledge. He was extremely kind to this sleepy noob from Western Australia, and spent a very long time talking to me while we walked around the festival area.


Justin Carroll, Fire Chief, Pie Town VFD


Thea Marshall, author and Pie Town VFD fire fighter. Thea was also one of the subjects of Arthur Drooker’s Pie Town Revisited project


Uncle River: authorPie Town VFD fire fighter and another subject of the Arthur Drooker’s Pie Town Revisited project


Merry Cowboy/Country Singer, Good Pie Cafe


Larry Hardin (thank you Justin!), wood sculptor, outside his studio

An aside: I’d always imagined balking and bolting if I was ever asked to be on that side of a stranger’s camera, having never consciously been before. However, during my month in the USA, I was the subject of many an unfamiliar lens while ambling around various locations, and found I wasn’t too bothered by the momentary, often wordless connection. A world of relation.

On the camera: All images from my month long jaunt to the US were shot with only with the Fuji X-Pro 1 and 35mm f1.4 kit I got back in June. I’d not used it much until September, which meant I got to know the camera while getting to know a new place and new people. The perfect trifecta to frame a life changing trip (more on this later).

As a DSLR shooter, there was a lot about the X-pro 1 that I had to get used to: the smaller body, which means my thumbs are forever hitting buttons they shouldn’t be, the relative lack of performance (greatly improved after firmware update), the rangefinder style (optical) viewfinder and all the little other differences of a non-Nikon system. But it had everything going for it from my point of view – portability, weight (or lack thereof), size, image quality etc. This was a camera that came everywhere with me, easily, and despite the initial difficulties I had with the AF lag, managed to work around quite happily after settling in with it.

Comments 22

    1. Thanks 🙂 It helped watching Brian, Dan Milnor and his wife Amy walk around shooting people like it was the most natural thing in the world. I did start to wonder after a while, what the hell it was I was so scared of.

  1. You are doing great. Having gone through the same process I understand completely. Funny thing is, most people do not mind at all and when they learn you are doing it for a purpose a project they will go out of their way to help! And a tip: once you have established the connection, talked to people, be allowed to shoot, you can shoot, then go closer, shoot, go closer again. Uncle River has a great face, could definitely look great even closer without the sky in his glasses.

    Hats over walls. You are doing great 🙂

    Oh All I shot at Pie Town was this dude right in front of my camera like all bloody day long 🙂

    1. Thanks mate 🙂 High praise coming from you. I’m starting to realise this slowly, people not minding.. although I find that I have a hard time believing it, especially when I am getting into it after a long time of not shooting. I have issues, i know!

      Everyone I spoke to in Pie Town seemed to have these exceptional faces – and I don’t think it was the altitude either, maybe it’s something to do with the Matrix being far removed from Catron County?

      Yes, you and that dude. We’re still waiting for the big unveiling!

    2. The more comfortable you get the more comfortable people will be. Some places it’s near impossible though, in the Andes Mountains, everyone avoided cameras like it was poison.

    1. Too much discomfort in these ones still, more from me than my subjects. I can see it in my composition. Sigh. I did take some great portraits (for me) not very long before I left for my trip… coming up in the next post. You’ll see the difference.

  2. These are cool! I know what you mean about portraits – I’m rubbish at them except for ones of my family (hence why most of my shots are just landscapes or sports). I actually like the clouds/sky reflected in Uncle River’s glasses (sorry Flemming!) – for me it actually adds a little something extra to the shot and makes it my fave!

    1. There is something about Uncle River I haven’t captured here that I was very drawn to. Then I read a bio somewhere that described him as a hermit and think maybe it was recognition, hehe. Thea has a magnetism about her that is hard to describe though. She radiates like a Valkyrie.

  3. Love,, love, love your images, really tells a story Charlene, and your description of making portraits sent chivers…you are so spot on, it’s so true…..I always feel I should be giving something back and, it is always the most challenging area of photography…for as you say you are giving of yourself and have to make a connection in order to create a soulful response…..and that feeling is always there….I have to remind myself that most people soak up the attention; it’s their moment too….as well as ours.

    1. It’s funny you say this – I guess that feeling never really goes away huh? Just gotta learn to keep working despite it.

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