By Anne Telford
Butcher, brewer, fire fighter, pig farmer, developer, mechanic, lobster fisher. That is just the start of a personal portrait series focused on “women working in spaces dominated by men” that Chris Crisman fits into the rare moments when he is not traveling the country on an advertising or editorial assignment. These portraits are very natural yet they are also heroic. They celebrate the strength, determination and moxie it takes to do hard, sometimes dirty and dangerous work.
“It started with one particular shoot,” Chris remembers. “I was in New York in January for portfolio meetings with some art buyers and I was meeting Emily Heller, who used to work at Crispin Porter in Colorado. She works at Droga 5 in NYC now. She said she had a friend who lived in Philadelphia who was a butcher. I’ve always seen that as a male trade. I was really interested in meeting this person and seeing if she was interested in a shoot.”
She was. That initial shoot produced a stunning portrait of a confident woman surrounded by sides of beef, and it opened the door for more referrals to potential subjects.
Chris flew from his home in Pennsylvania to Maine specifically to photograph another subject, Sadie Samuels. He spoke to me from a rental car as he and his assistant drove from Portland to Bangor to meet the 23-year-old. He became intrigued after reading an article about Samuels last fall in the Boston Globe. One of the statistics given in the article was that there are 5,000 commercial lobster licenses in the state of Maine, including 75 women under the age of 35. “The lobstering is good from late spring through the fall. It’s one of those careers where you need to make your money in one chunk of time,” Crisman says.
His commercial work is frequently fueled by his personal explorations. He was inspired by his mother, and his family’s somewhat unusual lifestyle, to self assign this project. “My mother was—and still is part time—a dog groomer. She ran her business out of our home. It’s a pretty specific non-traditional job. It’s not male-dominated necessarily. There wasn’t a real specific division of labor,” Crisman explains. “I grew up in the woods. We were big into gardening, and living from the land so to speak. We never paid for gas, we had a propane tank outside and that would get refilled once a decade. We had an external outside stove that was wood burning that heated water in the baseboards.”
He’s always been drawn to folks who work hard, having had that example at home. “I think a lot of people think about photographing men and women differently,” Chris claims. “I wanted to photograph the women in this project without the veil of adding a feminine characteristic to this. I didn’t want to have a filter of photographing a woman, but a person.
“There are different attitudes to different pictures. I think when the body of work really fills out it will connect all the dots. We’ll see how far we can go with it. I’m trying to make the best portrait of a person that’s most reflective of their real personality. We’re touching on some archetypes here,” he says.
Crisman’s epic shot of pig farmer Nancy Pali of Stryker Farm is documented in a lynda.com Inspiration video. “Lynda [Weinman] came with us on that shoot. They were doing an interview with me about my work, and used that shoot as a backdrop.” In the video Crisman relates, “A lot of it is telling a story in one single image. Creating a superhero out of a real person and making the power of that person connect to the viewer.”
It’s unclear how this project will play out, but given the dynamic and inspiring portraits he’s created so far, the sky is the limit—and remember women hold up half of it.
If you would like to see the rest of the continuing series, please link here.