Making a Game Face
Middle schoolers designing video games? Sounds cool, right? Well, it is! But photojournalistically it’s a bit banal. Just picture it; it’s basically kids sitting in a classroom, working on laptops. Of course, any situation can be amped up by capturing a few great moments, set behind a relatively clean or interesting background. Great access always helps, too. Lucky for me, the students and teachers at Tygarts Valley Middle School in Randolph County, W.Va., were fantastic. I actually got a few of those clean, moment-driven photos early in the day, but those images were, so to speak, my safety net.
Education Week photo editor Nicole Frugé wanted to do something a little more interesting. She approached me with the idea of riffing on a specific aspect of Robbie Cooper’s “Immersion Project,” which looks at how people interact with virtual worlds. The New York Times Magazine featured seven of Mr. Cooper’s images of children playing video games in a slideshow titled “My Game Face.” Of course, I wish I came up with this idea all by myself, but I found solace in the fact that Mr. Cooper borrowed from filmmaker Errol Morris, who created a signature look-into-the-camera documentary interview style, to make his images.
The way I shoot photojournalism assignments and the way I like to make portraits are, believe it or not, somewhat similar. I try to focus on moments in both, and I try to get creative with how I photograph the settings, too. The big difference is that I have a ton more control when I shoot portraits. Although, the problems I often run into with portraits is that people often don’t know what to do. Luckily for this assignment, they were supposed to work on their video games while being photographed.
I set up a portable studio in Mollie Ferguson’s classroom and focused on the students’ “concentration faces.” Individually, the portraits of some of these students are a little too subtle, but as a group the nuances in their facial expressions become amplified.