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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Photographer George Lange Focuses on Emotion, Not Visuals

Posted By on Tue, Apr 29, 2014 at 4:40 PM

George Lange, the acclaimed commercial photographer who grew up in Squirrel Hill, makes a very good point about sunsets: Lots of people photograph them, but who actually looks at them?

Langes photo of his son earlier this month at the Childrens Museum of Pittsburgh
  • Lange's photo of his son earlier this month at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh

“I think what’s interesting about a sunset is the light,” said Lange via phone from his studio in Boulder, Colo., a few days before he visited Pittsburgh for Easter. “It’s so beautiful, and if you look at the people that you’re with … the light on them is extraordinary. So what’s interesting to me is the light from the sunset, bouncing off of people—not the actual sunset.”

Lange shares such insights in his book The Unforgettable Photograph: 228 Ideas, Tips, and Secrets for Taking the Best Pictures of Your Life. Though Lange has shot portraits of everyone from the Obama family to Kate Hudson, the book shows pictures of the everyday, such as his wife standing in a dressing room, contemplating a new outfit. The point of the book, Lange said, is to steer people away from “event photography” — pictures of birthdays, weddings, vacations, etc.

Instead, great photos capture human emotion, and Lange’s book teaches you how to produce them using everyday tools, like a point-and-shoot or an iPhone, to capture your everyday surroundings. Lange said he and co-author Scott Mowbray, the editor of Cooking Light magazine, chose images “that would feel really familiar to people and to their lives. They would look at them and not say, ‘Wow, look at George’s family,’ but ‘Oh, I know that feeling,’ or ‘Oh, that happens at my house.’”

In his pictures, that feeling can range from happy to sad. Lange's Easter visit to Pittsburgh produced a shot of his son Asher, crying at PNC Park, post-Pirates game (pictured). The boy was “upset that they only let him run the bases after the game, and not hit," Lange said in an email. It’s not that Lange sacrifices his paternal duties for the sake of art; during moments like these, he’ll sometimes very quickly snap a photo before attending to his children. He simply realizes that “we all photograph our kids smiling, rarely capturing these moments.”

(Emotion isn’t the only secret to a good photograph, however. Lange also advocates taking photos from unusual angles, such as the ones he took of swimmers at a community pool careening off a diving board. Lange lay underneath it to capture the shots.)

George Lange
  • Photo courtesy of Christine Kullberg
  • George Lange

Lange’s tendency to prize what he feels over what he sees in taking pictures stems partly from his Pittsburgh roots. His work was greatly influenced by his mentor Duane Michals, another photographic great from Pittsburgh. When Lange was studying at Rhode Island School of Design in the 1970s, he attended a talk given by Michals at MIT. He took a “crappy recorder” with him and spent two weeks handwriting every word Michals said about “appreciating the moments and…not just thinking that photography is visual.”

There was also his childhood home in Squirrel Hill, where his mother still lives. “I [had] such happiness and joy growing up there,” says Lange, “And that’s also what I try to create when I photograph; I’m looking for that happiness that I had growing up in Pittsburgh.”

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