Remote tools for storytelling: Q&A with Corinne Bobrow-Williams
For Innovation in Focus this month, Hunter Pendleton, University of Missouri student, interviewed Corinne Bobrow-Williams, visual storyteller and collaborator for the online publication “The Archive”. Bobrow-WIlliams has been using virtual conferencing services like Zoom and Facetime to conduct photography sessions with subjects.
Pendleton: I’ve done a little research on these virtual photoshoots that you’re conducting with subjects – where did you first get the idea?
Bobrow-Williams: I got the idea because I saw somebody else post a Facetime photoshoot, and I thought ‘This could be something really cool that I could do’, primarily because I really wanted to show ways that I’m still being creative while I’m at home. I’ve been doing self-portraiture, both photos and videos in my house, and utilizing my creativity for that, but with the virtual photoshoots, it keeps me interactive with my friends and other people that I follow. I’m able to continue doing something in my creative field, and I’m not just stuck. The situation we’re all in has actually allowed me to start interesting conversations with people through these virtual shoots, and you get to learn different ways to direct because you’re not physically there with them. To have to find different ways to be a photographer, or an art director, because you’ve got to direct somebody through the phone is a really unique opportunity.
Pendleton: Do you do any kind of preparation for your shoots with your subjects, or is it a lot of improvisation?
Bobrow-Williams: I do a lot of Pinterest boards, so most of my subjects know the mood I’m going for before we do the shoot. I always do a Facetime call with the subject before the shoot so we can talk about outfits, styling, potential poses, potential areas around them we could use, and all that is super helpful. Also, a little thing I’ve been doing is to play music through my computer to help them feel more uppity, because you want people to feel comfortable while you’re taking pictures of them. It’s been really fun.
Pendleton: What are the challenges that you’ve encountered with these?
Bobrow-Williams: One challenge I encounter often is being able to direct people on their surroundings. Everybody lives differently, in different places, and some people feel like they don’t have enough in their surroundings, so sometimes you have to tell people “I really like that area in your house, can we go there?” You’ve got to get people to start thinking like a photographer.
Pendleton: So it’s a lot more collaborative than the traditional photo session?
Bobrow-Williams: Absolutely. For example, in a shoot I did with my friend Bella, she would suggest something, that would lead to something else, and it really took the shoot to the next level. The models will suggest something really dope, something I wouldn’t have thought of, and you’re bouncing ideas off of each other and creating something special. It has to be that way, because we’re in a completely different time, and so the subjects have to know what they’re doing and what can work as well, and that’s a really interesting dynamic.
Pendleton: How are you choosing subjects for your photos?
Bobrow-Williams: Because of the pandemic, it’s been allowing me to reach out to people I wouldn’t usually reach out to over social media. When I’m in a place, I’m usually limited to the subjects that are physically in that place, but with virtual shoots, you can use anybody, anywhere. So I started with my friends, but I’m beginning to interact with people I follow, and most of the people I’m interacting with are giving a really good response. The interaction part is vital – social media is much more than just liking and commenting on someone else’s post. You can send messages, follow-up, and do a lot more connecting below the surface. I feel like, now more than ever, people have been able to turn to social media for that. We’re using social media as a tool, and that’s been a really good aspect of it as well.
Pendleton: Where are you publishing your photographs?
Bobrow-Williams: Most of these are going to my website under my Virtual PS Series page. I’ve got all of the rest of my work there as well. Eventually, I want to work to start my own publication.
Pendleton: What advice would you give to people who want to do photography with remote tools?
Bobrow-Williams: It’s funny you ask that – I’ve got a friend in New York right now who has a whole studio to work with, but still feels like he can’t do anything with it. He’s got backdrop setups, fabrics, lighting setups, but still feels stuck. I’d advise people to use the resources around them, and make use of what you have, because that’s the most important thing you can do right now. Make use of the people you live with, or your house, or your surroundings, or just capturing the things about you. This is going to be our generations history. The emotions that you’re feeling in this moment, whatever they are, can be captured just by using the things around you, and that’s the most vital thing.
Editors note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.