How We Shot It: Moriah Cowles and Orchard Steel

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Zack wrote a bit about the long-form photo documentary project we shot with with Moriah Cowles and Orchard Steel:

I think we made three or four trips down to Brooklyn to visit with her. We also sat down and recorded audio of everything—of her talking through her process. It was two months of shooting and then another four months of actually crafting the narrative and the photos, putting them together and finding a good time to get the piece out to our own community. It was definitely a long-term project.

I felt it was necessary to avoid capturing everything in one day. The more comfort a person has in front of a camera, the more natural the final product looks. I wanted to build a report, because we were photographing her as well—not just her knives. The knives obviously don’t need to worry about being comfortable in front of the camera, but she does while she is in the process of making them. By the second or third session she gets used to me being there and I can pick up on little things that kind of speak to the process that weren’t spoken to the first time when she might not have been comfortable with my being there.

We take our daily movements through life for granted, and it’s not until someone sits down and says “walk me through what you do” that you start to realize what your day to day is actually like. I wanted Moriah to not worry about conveying everything all at once. I wanted her to get comfortable enough to where the little nuance things she does, that if she thought about her process she would leave out because she forgets that she does them. If she’s going through a checklist in her head to illustrate a process for me, those aren’t part of her checklist—they’re just things that she takes for granted. The second time around is when you get those things that are taken for granted, because she’s no longer just going through a checklist to illustrate something I’ve asked her to. When we did get around to photographing her [as opposed to her process], it was the last interaction we had with her and she was already tired of me being in her workspace for that many days. At that point she was natural and collected and I think it shows through how she smiled.

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Whenever I’m photographing people, my goal is to pick up those nuanced inflections in their face, tone, and body language. These are things that someone who’s known a subject to for fifteen or twenty years can look at and go, “That’s Moriah’s tweak in the corner of her mouth when she smiles.” That’s how I know it’s genuine and that’s how I know it’s her, whereas if you ask someone to smile they don’t automatically do those little things. It allowed for that natural essence to come from her and that natural essence to come from her process.