Not All Wear Capes: Stylized Portrait Series Celebrates the Heroism of First Responders

Begin a personal photography project, they said. It’ll be rewarding, they said. Well, for Brandon Cawood, the photographer behind the “Not All Wear Capes” series, a collection of stylized composite portraits of first responders in Dalton, Georgia, it actually was.

In the following video, Cawood explains his inspiration, concept, and goals for the “Not All Wear Capes” project and discusses several of the struggles he had to overcome throughout the six months he spent shooting, in addition to showcasing his stunning series of photographs:

Cawood is a relative newcomer to the craft, having only started shooting professionally three years ago under the name of Flashlight Productions, but the quality of his technique looks more like a seasoned veteran than a newb. “Not All Wear Capes” was an idea wrought from a photography workshop course that Cawood attended; the instructor suggested that everyone commit to a personal project on a topic of their choice. Cawood ended up deciding to undertake a project on first responders: fire fighters, police officers, EMTs, and the like.

“I wanted to make a series out of them, but in kind of a movie-poster-video-game-cover style,” said Cawood. “I felt like it was a way that I could pay my respects to the people in my community that do this thing day in and day out, and it was a way to showcase them in a way that I’d never seen them showcased before.”

Despite the initial “bumpiness” at the beginning of the project when Cawood lacked images to entice local departments to participate, he was eventually able to create this image of the firefighter, after which Dalton’s firefighters and police officers, Cattanooga’s SWAT team, and Georgia state troopers all began contacting him and asking to be involved:

emergency firefighter fireman fire burning building rescue save

After making this image, it was not difficult for Cawood to find participants for his project.

To create that stylized look, Cawood created the images as composites, which means that he combined multiple separately-captured images together into just one—like the firefighter photo, which was created with just under 40 different photos. Cawood hasn’t gone into detail about his specific workflow, but he does include a timelapse sequence in his video from 1:00 to 1:10 depicting those 40 different images coming together, probably in the order that they were captured, to create the final striking composite.

“The colors are pretty vivid,” Cawood told the Chattanooga Times. “I like the idea of the energy and feel of a high-intensity action movie and translating that into photographic form.”

careflight ambulance emt emergency medical technician helicopter

Cawood often had to shoot while first responders were on duty.

female cop police officer woman arrest thug handcuffs

Cawood created several photographs of police officers in his 12-image series.

SWAT special weapons tactics

Many of Cawood’s portraits have a “video game” or “movie poster” feel.

As if the cause of dignifying unsung daily heroes wasn’t noble enough, Cawood decided to contribute the $6,000 proceeds from his gallery exhibition to the Creative Arts Guild in Dalton, Georgia as scholarship money for children who aren’t able to afford art classes.

“I want to be able to keep doing personal projects throughout my career,” he said. “I get so much out of shooting them, but it’s so cool to be able to take that and apply it somewhere else, do something for somebody else… it’s rewarding. It’s just everything that photography for me should be all wrapped in this one package. It’s just a way for me to give back.”

And so, it seems that Cawood is something of an unsung hero himself.

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