The Life Magazine Formula for Visual Variety in the Photo-Essay Part 2

In my previous post on this, I covered how I adapted the formula for documenting buildings. This time, I will demonstrate it in a human interest story with an industrial twist. It's something I've also used in wedding photography (yes, I shoot the occasional wedding, with not a single factory in sight!) which really does lend itself to a storytelling approach once you get beyond the traditional group shots of bride and groom and family, etc.

I spent a full day in a small Lancashire foundry documenting the work of Keith, a foundryman who had spent nearly 50 years in foundries. The green sand casting process is a very sequential process whereby there is a definite beginning, middle and end, which in itself makes a chronological storytelling approach both easy and essential. At the end of the working day, the job of casting is complete, and the following day sees the fettling (where sprues are ground off) and any other finishing work done.

As this is a one man enterprise, there are only two elements  - Keith, and the process of casting. Any incorrect photo captions are due to my faulty memory, not Keith's inaccurate description of what he was doing!

For this, I used my two Nikon bodies - a D810 with 24-70 F2.8 and a D700 with 16-35 F4 and both were generally wide open as light was at a premium. Both cameras were set to auto-ISO and the ISO ranged between 1250 and 10000. I also popped on a 70-200 F4 for a few shots.

OK, so it's not exactly Eugene Smith's 'Country Doctor' essay (https://timeline.com/life-american-country-doctor-9434632e1134), but I hope it illustrates the principles.

1] Introductory or overall - usually a wide angle or aerial shot that establishes the scene.

The start of the day - the first mould box is complete and the second one is underway. This is the entire foundry - the room at the top right is a small kitchen area, the room at the top left is for fettling. I used a 16-35mm lens (on full frame) at 16mm to fit it all in.

The start of the day - the first mould box is complete and the second one is underway. This is the entire foundry - the room at the top right is a small kitchen area, the room at the top left is for fettling. I used a 16-35mm lens (on full frame) at 16mm to fit it all in.

2] Medium - focuses on one activity or one group.

Loading the moulding box with the 'green' sand (which is black).

Loading the moulding box with the 'green' sand (which is black).

Using the bellows to blow the limestone dust into the mould cavity. This acts as a release agent but also fills in the tiny gaps between the sand partciels ato give a better surface finish.

Using the bellows to blow the limestone dust into the mould cavity. This acts as a release agent but also fills in the tiny gaps between the sand partciels ato give a better surface finish.

3] Close Up - zeroes in on one element, like a person's hands or an intricate detail of a building.

Tools of the trade.

Tools of the trade.

The furnace and ladles.

The furnace and ladles.

Steam venting from the casting boxes as they cool.

Steam venting from the casting boxes as they cool.

4] Portrait - usually either a dramatic, tight head shot or a person in his or her environmental setting.

Pouring the molten aluminium into the moulds.

Pouring the molten aluminium into the moulds.

Time for a brew.

Time for a brew.

5] Interaction - people conversing or in action.

The only other person in the foundry was me, and I was taking photographs so there wasn't any opportunity to get one of people convesring, and almost all the pictures are of Keith in action, but this one uses a slowed shutter speed to capture the movement of Keith's boot as he tramples the sand into the box.

The only other person in the foundry was me, and I was taking photographs so there wasn't any opportunity to get one of people convesring, and almost all the pictures are of Keith in action, but this one uses a slowed shutter speed to capture the movement of Keith's boot as he tramples the sand into the box.

6] Signature - summarizes the situation with all the key storytelling elements in one photo - often called the decisive moment.

Given the sequential nature of the process, it's hard to capture one image that encapsulates the full day in one image. This is the closest I could get - I wanted to capture as much of the environment as I could without going either too wide or too long so although I again used the 16-35, it was at 22mm when I made this exposure. In this we see Keith removing the castings from the boxes, which although set solid, are still hot and still cooling. In many respects this captures many elements of the story - the view of the foundry with the raw material in the background, the finished products being removed from the boxes, the boxes waiting to be emptied in the foreground and Keith, wrapped in steam in a bent over stance, which is how he spends much of his day, either shovelling, lifting boxes or castings, etc. It's physically hard work and I think that this shows in this image.

Given the sequential nature of the process, it's hard to capture one image that encapsulates the full day in one image. This is the closest I could get - I wanted to capture as much of the environment as I could without going either too wide or too long so although I again used the 16-35, it was at 22mm when I made this exposure. In this we see Keith removing the castings from the boxes, which although set solid, are still hot and still cooling. In many respects this captures many elements of the story - the view of the foundry with the raw material in the background, the finished products being removed from the boxes, the boxes waiting to be emptied in the foreground and Keith, wrapped in steam in a bent over stance, which is how he spends much of his day, either shovelling, lifting boxes or castings, etc. It's physically hard work and I think that this shows in this image.

7] Sequence - a how-to, before and after, or a series with a beginning, middle and end (the sequence gives the essay a sense of action).

So as the entire set is really a sequence of the casting process, I'll zero in on the transformation of aluminium billet into finished castings. Here, .Keith is loading the heated furnace with fresh aluminium.

So as the entire set is really a sequence of the casting process, I'll zero in on the transformation of aluminium billet into finished castings. Here, .Keith is loading the heated furnace with fresh aluminium.

Some time later, the aluminium is in a molted state and is poured into the moulds.

Some time later, the aluminium is in a molted state and is poured into the moulds.

Once cooled enough to have solidified, the castings are removed from the moulding boxes.

Once cooled enough to have solidified, the castings are removed from the moulding boxes.

After being left to cool in the sand, a tap with a hammer releases the remaining sand and they are moved across the foundry into a pile ready for fettling.

After being left to cool in the sand, a tap with a hammer releases the remaining sand and they are moved across the foundry into a pile ready for fettling.

8] Clincher - a closer that would end the story.

The end of the day. The sand has been 'thrown', watered, and now is being covered up to keep the moisture in.

The end of the day. The sand has been 'thrown', watered, and now is being covered up to keep the moisture in.

Links

http://www.mechanicallandscapes.com/writing/2016/10/10/the-life-magazine-formula-for-visual-variety-in-the-photo-essay

https://timeline.com/life-american-country-doctor-9434632e1134