Aimee Guido is one of Natchez’ most creative and talented citizens. She warmly welcomed me for an inside look into her creative world: her painting studio (she prefers “shop”), as well as her ceramics workshop where she “throws” clay on her pottery wheel. In the image at left, she pauses at the door of her workshop, a doorway into a world of talent, creativity, and amazing works of both two-dimensional and three-dimensional art.

– Click on the photos to enlarge. 

In my “Characters of Natchez” photo series, I set out to photograph a limited number of local people and portray or reveal something that is uniquely them. In doing so, I use a photographic style, lighting technique, camera angle, lens choice and setting that fits them. I don’t use a one-size-fits-all approach and squeeze them into my “box” – the “box” changes with what best represents them. Harder and more taxing upon me? Yes. But, it’s also much more rewarding in the end because it stretches me artistically and creatively to fit the techniques and style to what will best reveal them. This is “subject-centric” photographing. My entire process is designed in every way to bring out the essence (or at least one aspect of it) of that person. That’s my goal anyway. Although I may shoot five hundred photos in a given session, I am working toward the one shot that best represents the person. That image … “the one” … is what I post to my portfolio’s “Characters of Natchez” section. However, in this blog I provide an extra shot or two and go into the back-story of the photo shoot to reveal a few more interesting details about the person and the session.

A famous photographer once said that to produce a beautiful image, begin with a beautiful subject in front of your lens. Aimee Guido is easily that. She also is an amazing ceramic artist and a very gifted painter. When I thought about how to best go about photographing her, what came to my mind was the striking symmetry between her own feminine beauty, and that of her art. Her beauty is natural, and so there exists a poetic harmonism between her and the clay and pigments that she handles in creating her ceramic art and her paintings, as clay and pigments are natural elements of the earth. 

The environmental portrait that I chose as ‘the one” (the above image of her standing in the doorway of her workshop), was her idea to try. Great idea. Often, I’ve found that listening to what your subject’s own ideas are and even other people around on the scene, can immediately lead to great image captures … or, spark a creative thought of trying something different that is even better. What I like about this shot is that it is Aimee. She is smiling, relaxed, obviously comfortable in her own skin … it shows her in context of her creative workshop, a wood and tin structure that is warm, cozy and “chaotically creative” as I am fond of describing such spaces (I wish I had one of my own) … yet, I think there is bit more to this image. I believe it hints of a bit of mystery … it invites the curiosity in us to wonder just what all is in there through the doorway. We see a peek: her pottery wheel in the background awaits her – but we know somehow that more is there (and indeed there is). The lighting and point of view I chose is warm, angled, dramatic, and a bit dark … but in an inviting and interesting way. 

When I asked her if she realized that her hands were forming a “heart” shape when she pressed the clay, she said that she had no idea. I love the symbolism in this shot, as ceramic art is one of her great passions. I couldn’t use it as a portrait shot, because that’s not what it is. But, I wanted to share with you the intimacy of the image: her hands and how she uses them in close contact with the water and the clay as she creates her amazing three-dimensional art. The “heart” speaks for itself. 

While I was photographing her, she made seven or eight pieces of pottery. It was an education into the process, as well as fascinating to watch her work with the clay … pounding it, slapping it, kneading it (I’m sure those are all the wrong terms) … moulding and shaping it … all as it spun in various speeds on her wheel, controlled by a foot-peddle. In the image below, she squeezes water from a sponge onto the clay as it spins, making for a fun action image that is in tight.

Beginning photographers might think that the shutter speed of 1/200th of a second is what froze the water mid-air, but that would be incorrect. When using strobes and flash, the shutter speed contributes to the ambient or background exposure. It is the flash itself that freezes the action here, as the instantaneous burst of light is in the many thousandths of a second. So, in flash photography there are actually two exposures you are dealing with.

In addition to learning about the process of making clay into functional yet beautiful pieces of pottery, I learned more about Aimee. Somehow (and unfairly) I had the impression that she would never like to get dirty or sweaty. That’s probably an idea we have (or is it just me?) of painters in fine-art studios who seem to work in pristine environments in indoor studios with a mug of coffee just within reach (or would that be a glass of wine?). I’m telling on myself here, but it’s an image I think we have of painters sometimes. This is certainly not Aimee however. Perhaps my mistaken notion is one she has encountered many times, and why she prefers the word “shop” over “studio.” I learned just how hard she does work, and how she puts all of her small frame’s strength into “throwing” the clay. She got dirty, she was sweaty, she was fighting off bugs (and lizards! – that’s an inside joke), yet she was smiling almost the entire time.

This is Aimee Guido.
Beautiful…
Natural…
Creative…
Talented…
Gifted…

… and laboring away lovingly in her painting studio … er, shop … and in her little ceramics workshop, creating amazing ceramic art and paintings.


I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into Aimee’s work and life, and my process as a visual artist. To see more of Aimee’s work and read a bit more about her, visit her online at www.uniquelyaimee.com. 

Shoot Details and Camera MetaData:
Shot 1 (Doorway): Nikon D810; 50mm f/1.4 Prime Lens; ISO 64; f/8; 1/100th of a second; tripod mounted. This is a classic example of Environmental Portraiture:  Aimee standing in the doorway of her ceramics workshop.

Shot 2 (Hands in Heart Shape): Nikon D810; 24-120mm f/4 Zoom Lens (at 120mm); ISO 400; f/11; 1/250th of a second; tripod mounted. She had no idea her hands formed a heart shape. She said she would always think about that now, after I pointed this out to her. I think that’s pretty cool.

Shot 3 (Water onto Clay Freeze-Action): Nikon D810; 24-120mm f/4 Zoom Lens (at 120mm); ISO 400; f/11; 1/200th of a second; tripod mounted. I love freeze-action photography – most often associated with sports photography. Flash, when allowed, helps capture some amazing images due to its super fast capture time.

Shot 4 (Shaping the Clay): Nikon D810; Lens Baby Composer Pro with Edge 80 Optic (80mm); ISO 400; f/11; 1/250th of a second; tripod mounted. Quickly becoming a lens choice favorite of mine (though it is very difficult to master), this Lens Baby lens uses a “slice” of focus to emphasize a certain part of the image (similar to a Tilt-Shift lens) – here I placed it onto Aimee’s face – which blurs out the clay. I wanted the viewer to be looking at her. I love this shot of her working, in particular the shapes, curves, colors and warmth – very natural.

Tripod: Gitzo carbon-fiber legs with a Really Right Stuff ball-head.

Lenses Used: Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Prime; Nikon 105mm Micro f/2.8; Nikon 24-120mm f/4; Lens Baby Composer Pro with Edge 80 Optic.

Lighting: Paul C. Buff Einstein mono strobe (x1) with 27″ beauty dish, gridded, as the key light – all other lights were hair lights and/or kickers (accent lights); Elinchrom RX400 mono strobe (x1) with 8.5″ reflector; Nikon SB910 speedlites (x3) with Magmod modifiers; Lights were triggered with Pocket Wizard radio controllers (x6) – Flex TT5’s, Mini TT1, and AC3 Zone Controller; stands – C Stand with boom, Manfrotto Nano stands, and Alzo 10′ stands. Both creative gels, as well as color corrective gels (CTO 1/4 strength) were used to help create mood and correct the color temperature of the ambient fluorescent lighting. Remote Power: The mono-strobes for the Doorway shot were powered using a Paul Buff Vagabond Lithium Extreme external power pack, an amazing piece of equipment that allows me to be able to use my studio strobes on remote locations, far from electrical receptacles. The Nikon SB910 speedlites and my Pocket Wizards are powered using Eneloop Pro AA rechargeable batteries.

Post-Processing: Adobe Lightroom CC 2015 & Adobe Photoshop CC 2015.