By Anne Telford
Creating magic on a daily basis comes naturally to photographer Chris Crisman. He is constantly on the lookout for intriguing architectural elements with which he can create alchemy in post to fuse a brunette on a caroming motorbike with an ancient Lisbon intersection or any combination his fluid mind can construct. “That city is so wonderful,” Crisman reflects. “It’s not as design forward as Barcelona, but it has so much timeless design. The light on the stone is inspiring.”
This latest series of work created while on a job in Lisbon has a slightly surreal feel while still being rooted in reality. Beautiful wrought iron terraces and soft lighting emphasize the architectural features of the Moorish style arches and the geometric precision of windows behind decorative railings . “There’s a certain quality of light,” Crisman says. “My palette is one thing, but there is also a palette to every place, every city. I like matching the color and the feel of the place with my palette to achieve my own interpretation. ”
Chris and I spoke while he was on the road in Pennsylvania en route to buy a new pickup truck. “We had a commissioned project in Lisbon about two months ago.” Crisman relates. “We do travel quite a bit, but it was my first time shooting in Portugal. We shot all of these back plates in one morning. We set out right before first light and wanted to create a mini body of work that encompassed the many walks of life that intersect in the early morning hours. Based on my experience over the week there, I built the concepts around the plates. I think this body of work nicely represents our week in Lisbon. I think this group of images represents one thing that our team does well: Regardless of how much time we have to make great work, we are always able to create special images that we love. I was mentally envisioning these images all week, but it only took two hours to grab the real pieces we needed to tell the story.”
“When I saw Rossio square, I knew I wanted to shoot in there. It was bustling with people milling about and birds frantically following them in hopes of a scrap of food. When we arrived there to shoot on our last morning, only a few pigeons were within sight. I really had this idea of how I wanted it to look, and I certainly needed those birds,” he explains of a frame of a couple casually embracing in a square with a lovely fountain and a burst of pigeons on the wing. “And of course, a good way to get more birds is to feed them! I found a bag with a whole order of fries inside, and started breaking them apart in front of my camera. All of a sudden you have a flock of pigeons! I had my assistant run through them and they would release. If I don’t have anyone, I’ll set myself in the shot. You need to understand the blocking. You can have a reference of the light. It’s nice to have someone for that. It was really easy to recreate the light of the morning in the studio.”
“First and foremost, to capture the action of the motorbike, you need to understand the light,” Crisman says. “It was a scene I saw when I was there but it wasn’t at the opportune moment. She was one of the talent that felt like they belonged in that space. Once she showed up on set, we realized she was from Spain and had moved to the States in the last six months,” he says of the casting serendipity.
Crisman enjoys playing with color. “For me it works better when there’s a bit of an edge on it,” he claims. “I like to minimize the palette. Two primaries, two distinct colors then the neutrals that are the surface, the texture. This approach guides the eye across the image and tells the story on a deeper level,” he details.
For the optically clever shot of a woman pushing a decorative pram, the wardrobe direction Crisman gave was deliberate, knowing how he wanted it to work. “With the art direction, when I have the control I like to play with the idea: is this a 100-year old picture —some references are now, some colorways are now—or not?”
Entering the unique world of Chris Crisman, one is guaranteed a colorful and enlightening visit, one that might challenge the viewer’s notion of what is real and what is artfully constructed.