Paul Winner captures Dolan Geiman’s process creating mixed-media art with the Tamron SP 45mm Di VC lens.
By Jenn Gidman
Images By Paul Winner
Paul Winner has enjoyed a varied photography career, from managing a high-end wedding studio to retouching for celebrity portrait photographer Lynn Goldsmith, serving as the photo operations manager for National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting, and running his own commercial photography business. So it’s no surprise that the City of Englewood in Colorado commissioned him for a long-term project that involved photographing local companies in the community.
“The goal was to show that Englewood is a vibrant place to open up a business,” Paul explains. “One of the people the city wanted me to showcase was Dolan Geiman, a mixed-media artist who’d recently relocated there. Dolan is a former ‘interpretive naturalist’ for the US Forest Service, and he creates intricate art mosaics—using a variety of found materials like salvaged metal, reclaimed wood, and vintage papers—that often highlight his love of nature.”
For this assignment, shot in Dolan’s studio, Paul used the Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC lens. “I’m so impressed with this lens,” he says. “When I started using it, it soon became clear how quick and how sharp it was. For this series with Dolan, most of the photos were taken at f/2.8 or below; I needed a lens like the 45mm that could work in such a low-light environment, because that’s the moody ambiance I wanted to photograph.”
Paul worked with Dolan for about an hour and a half in his studio on the day of the shoot. “He doesn’t usually let people into his space to watch him while he’s creating,” Paul says. “But during our conversations, things warmed up pretty significantly. I got to hear about how he started and the work that he did, and my eventual images are emblematic of that experience—it was just a friendly conversation that turned into a documentation of the day.”
The lighting for the shoot came courtesy of the cool available light from a window in Dolan’s studio that he’d had specially installed so he could see the mountains, supplemented by warm lighting from an old lamp he’d salvaged. “During the shoot, I purposely angled myself so that light was behind Dolan, because it created a wonderful warm rim light and also lit up this painting he’d done of elk,” Paul says. “These almost perfectly lit scenes needed only a bit of post-processing in Lightroom to bring some of the detail out of the shadows. The lighting worked out perfectly with his style—I wanted the environment to feel warm and intimate, not stark and sanitized.”
Dolan purposely keeps his studio cluttered because he finds it conducive to the creative process. “When he was a kid, he and his siblings would check out local abandoned houses and barns and come away with the knickknacks that were left behind,” Paul says. “So he has many of these pre-1970 items just gathered in his studio, and they influence and inspire his style as he works.”
All that artistic clutter actually helped Paul, too, as he went about the shoot. “Having all those various elements in the photos, like the Day of the Dead woman you see in that one image, is something I was happy about, because it allowed me to incorporate so many different things into the image to make it feel truly environmental,” he says. “They contributed to the general feel of the photo. Even Dolan’s shirt worked out well: The blue proved to be an excellent complement to that warm orange glow in the background.”
Using a fixed-focal-length lens like the 45mm helped keep Paul cognizant of each and every composition. “I had to get creative in the angles I chose, whether it was shooting him straight on or standing on top of the table where he was working,” he says. “My main goal as I moved around was to keep that inviting light behind him, and to remain mindful of the corners of each image. The focal length was wide enough so I could capture the content but still provide a shallow depth-of-field for that nice separation from the background.”
Paul made sure to get a few detail shots into the mix to show the tools behind the creation process. “This photo of the scissors especially ties in well,” he says. “That warm glow that already existed in the background worked with that shallow depth-of-field. The minimum focusing distance of this lens impressed me—I was able to get in there almost at the macro level and capture that line of sharp detail across the crayons and scissors, while still maintaining some detail in the buffalo form to the right. I took this at f/5.6, but because I’m so close up, the falloff is exaggerated enough so that the eye is kept on the scissors and crayons.”
When it comes to his post-production work, Paul notes that working with Frans Lanting of National Geographic helped inform his own eventual process. “Frans was incredibly meticulous with the work he presented to the public,” he says. “And so today I’m an absolute tinkerer in Lightroom. I spend a lot of time adjusting minor details in the image and making sure every aspect of it is congruent with how I want it to look. Every time I sit down with the photo I seem to find something I want to adjust, even if it’s a tiny detail along the edges.”
What ultimately helped make this shoot a success was Paul’s ability to forge a bond with Dolan, artist to artist. “One of the things that’s difficult in doing environmental portraits is that they’re very dependent on the relationship between photographer and subject,” Paul says. “Dolan is extremely nice and approachable and helped a great deal. His openness and willingness to share his background allowed the two of us to connect and made me feel comfortable—which, in turn, got my juices going, because I never had to worry too much about my subject. I was able to simply fall into the flow.”