Multi award winning environmental portrait photographer, Craig Wetjen presented at the Melbourne Camera Club on Thursday 1 July 2021. Currently teaching at Swinburne University of Technology Craig has worked for over three decades in the photographic industry.
Craig Wetjen first picked up a camera when he was 10 years old. It was a 1946 Agfa Billy 6×9 bellows camera with a maximum shutter speed of 1/200. Although many cameras have passed through his hands since I can imagine he might always have one on hand ready for action. Graig knows and respects the gear he uses. He even has a “little gallery” of his retired cameras.
Graig moved from the US to Australia in 1996. He was in possession of his first digital camera (a Kodak fashioned like ‘brick’) and with that established one of the first digital photography courses in Australia, at RMIT.
Craig is possessed of that vitality certain photographers have when they are doing what they love most. I think at heart Graig lights up when engaging with creatives of whatever bent – outback boys who break in wild brumbies, men at work in their sheds, and the many other people he photographs within the context of their normal surrounds.
Graig said that for him a portrait: “is not just a photo of someone but about someone … a story of who that person is.” For example, there was an image of a horse pointing it’s back hoof to balance itself as he reached forward to nuzzle the boy sitting against his leg. It’s not just a nice picture: it points to something more universal – the possibility of affection shared across species. I was very moved by the image. To my mind it is reminiscent of Steve McCurry work. Craig’s images also speak of how he is able to be in the moment as a non-intrusive presence to take the shot. That requires sensitivity and respect for his subjects.
We see similar qualities at work in his Men and their Sheds series. The concept behind this work was the idea of a shed being like a sanctuary where a man could retreat to pursue his hobbies. On shoot day Graig said it was important to relax with the person he was photographing and to discover what was important to them, all the while “walking around assessing the light and where I might shoot”. The results of his Shed series was environmental portraiture at its best. This was borne out by his project crossing the boundary between still shots and TV when his work was featured on Channel 10’s The Project, Sedding Light on Man Caves; and channel 9’s GO! in the TV series Manspace.
Craig also shared the technical constructs that undergird his images. In addition to working with his subjects and getting the composition and framing right – there is the business of lighting. Graig recognises that as photographers we are essentially “light drawers … we use light to draw an image”. As such he is careful to identify sources of ambient light in the shooting environment (to establish mood) and supplement them, if necessary with artificial light (keeping it as natural as possible). He exceeded expectations when he gave an on the spot demonstration of how he goes about his lighting and then edited the photos he took in Camera Raw and Photoshop. Quite a feat in a Zoom session!
I would urge you to view the video if you would like delve further into the detail of his prodigious technical know how.
By Helen Lang
The video will available on the Members Video Library page