Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Personal Project - Chris Crisman

My favorite part about featuring these personal projects is that each photographer I've spoken to feels very strongly about the subject matter he/she has shot and a big part of them is in these photos. I just hope that passion comes across in these posts.
Chris Crisman's personal project in Titusville, PA is a great story and the images walk you through that story and the significance it had on the photographer. I think the characters chosen and their environments are brilliantly showcased and Chris has done a fantastic job to capture the human emotions and honesty in each.

©chris crisman

What made you choose this project?

I actually started a project connected to this back towards the end of college. This start was more concerned with the remains of the space that was Cytemp Specialty Steel in Titusville, PA. This is actually my hometown. The steel plant there is where my father worked during the years I was growing up. In the mid 90's the business there started to be sent overseas and the workforce was being drastically reduced. It was the largest employer in Titusville and it was a major economic disaster for the small community. When the mill was going down my father served as the Vice President of the Steelworkers Local Union. He knew every one of the men in the photos.

After I finished the college project and graduated from school, I decided I wanted to continue the project. I also realized that the more integral part of the story was actually the men that had worked there. In the winter of 2005 I started taking trips back to Titusville to photograph these men. At that point I was also trying to my career as a commercial photographer off the ground. Every week I would try and get any work I could here in Philly and if I didn't have any jobs around or through the weekend, I'd get in my car and drive back to Titusville to meet and photograph 2-5 of these men. It's about a 650 miles round trip from Philadelphia to Titusville. I think I have racked up about 12,000 miles in the car so far with this project.

These men are really quite a throwback. It's not just the men, but the entire community of Titusville. Growing up, I guess I always knew this and that's why I made the decision to move to Philly and live in a city for awhile. Most of the men in the photos worked at least 20 years in the mill, with some of them putting in over 40. You can see the toll it put on their bodies, but after working on the project I really feel it's a labor of love. My father was really such a big part of this project as he is the one who helped me find and make contact with the steelworkers. I also would usually bring him along on the shoots as most of the guys felt more comfortable with him there. At some point the shoots even started to have a script to the process. We would arrive, do an introduction to the project, then I'd sit them down with my dad as he would take them through a portfolio of my work. While they were looking at photos together I would scout around their home and/or property searching for some options for the photographs.

In the scouting process I usually would lean towards spaces or environments that would convey something about the current passion. Some of the men would live alone for different reasons and you can see that in the photos. There are others where the men still lived with their wives and you can see how much impact the wives have on the decor. In most situations, I would try to not disturb a room or space in any way. I really wanted to bring as much of a journalistic process as possible to what was coming into the camera. The post process is a different story.

How many photos were there before you edited it down to the featured images?
The photos you see is a pretty good sampling of the best of the best. I would usually shoot 2-3 scenarios with all of the men, then choose just one photo as my favorite. I would say there are 10-15 men/shoots that aren't represented in the edit that is online. A few of them didn't sit well with me, a few others just aren't that strong. There are even a few shots that I thought I had great options with a different setups, but those that I didn't select have just been tucked away for another day.

What was your favorite aspect of this personal project?
My favorite part of this project while I was doing it was the time I was able to spend with my father and these men. It was such an amazing feeling to listen to the conversations my dad and any of these men would have with me in the other room. Just sitting and talking about their lives and the time they worked at the mill, their families, the reconnection this project created because of it, and so on.

In retrospect, it's a good feeling that this project is getting some kind of recognition. When I started it I was in such awful financial shape, I had very little work, and I could hardly pay my bills. As a matter of fact, on one trip back to Titusville I was absolutely broke. I had enough money for gas and a meal and I thought if I just made it home I would be okay. About 50 miles from home my car broke down with a snapped belt and I was in trouble. My credit cards were maxed out and I had to call my parents to have them pay for a tow truck to get it back to Titusville. I was very embarrassed and to make matters worse my landlord at the time called me to tell me my rent check bounced and I was going to have to move out of my apartment. Did I tell you it was raining, too? It all worked out and I went on that weekend to make two of my favorite photos from the series. Actually, I think one of them got into the Comm Arts Photo Annual that year.

It might also be of interest to you to learn something about Titusville that has quite a bit of significance in our country right now. You can learn that here:,_Pennsylvania

Check our Chris' Titusville project [here] and his other work at
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