When I was about seven years old, my world revolved around one thing; Batman. To this day, I can’t tell you what it is that spoke to me so early on about my hero, but I was obsessed. I wanted to be Batman when I grew up. I crawled around my basement playing with action figures and jumping off boxes in a black cape. I lived in Maryland, and once in a while, winter would dump blizzard-amounts of snow on my neighborhood. On one such occasion, as the neighborhood came together, shoveling each others’ driveways in a big group, I decided it was the perfect night to don my cape and cowl and look out over my own microcosmic gotham. In my mind, I was atop a building, cape billowing in the wind, scowling. In reality, I was standing on a four foot snow mound, glaring at my obviously bemused neighbors. And, I have photo evidence.
Striking fear into the heart of criminals everywhere.
I’m older now, and while my love for Batman is still strong as ever. I’ve come around to the realization that society, lack of billionaire resources, and a crippling fear of heights have terminated my childhood career aspirations. I’ve moved on to other things. Photography, writing.
Enter my good friend Mandy. She has two kids, Joseph and Emily. Joseph is seven, and he adores Captain America. In a way that reminded me of when I was his age running around in my mask. Mandy posts statuses on Facebook to the tune of “Told the kids to get ready to go to the grocery store. Joseph comes downstairs in his Captain America mask and his shield on his arm.”
This is Joseph.
I read these posts and I think, I know this kid. Because I was this kid.
And so my thinking percolated for a while. Then in January, a recent fascination with movie posters and television key art mixed with another Captain America sighting in my news feed, and an idea formed. What if I put my photography and Photoshop skills to use, and enlist Joseph for a photoshoot in which we specifically match Marvel’s Captain America posters from the ground up, but featuring Joseph?
What a dream come true, right? Many kids imagine being their comic book heroes, but it’s rare that they have an opportunity to step into the role in such an immersive way. Without going into details, Joseph and his family have had a tough time of it the past few years, dealing with stuff that no kid should have to deal with. The heavy stuff of the adult world seeping down to a kid not yet in elementary school. And the fear that stays for years after. Yet, as his mom tells me, it’s his love for Captain America that helps him get through the hard days, identifying with a character once weak, who became heroic, noble, and strong against huge obstacles.
And so I knew I had to make it happen.
I got Mandy and Joseph on board (they loved the idea), and brought them to my studio for the shoot last week. We worked for a bit over an hour, making sure the lights were consistent to the posters, and that Joseph could emulate the poses. Then, in the following week, I got down to business in Photoshop.
I’ve been serious about photography for a year and a half now, and there was no way I was just going to cut out Joseph’s face and paste it onto the posters already done by amazing photo artists like Michael Muller. I wanted to give him something completely original. As many photos from my own computer as possible, a handful of stock photos when absolutely necessary, and a matching color scheme, lighting, and dodging and burning (not only because I’m learning a lot yet by imitation, but) because I wanted these to be that much more immersive for Joseph, to have him inside a world he was already familiar with.
These are the original posters I was specifically intending to mimic:
And here are the final products with Joseph:
It was when I got an email response from Joseph’s mom telling me of his reaction, that he said, “That’s actually me. That’s the real me,” that I knew I’d hit something special. Joseph was over the moon. His mom was over the moon. And my inner Bruce Wayne, still dressed up in cape and cowl on that skyscraper in snowy Gotham, was for a time totally satisfied. Gear Geek info: Canon 6D, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, 430EXII Speedlite, one two foot ring light, a constant LED light, an umbrella modifier, three light stands, and my trusty Photoshop CC. And a couple times, an open window.
Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer, and ghost hunter. He won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy on Syfy, went on to work briefly with the Ghost Hunters International Team, and now leads the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide and the collection Into a Sky Below, Forever. He’s also a conceptual and portrait photographer in Colorado, and he loves key art and great television. You can find more at www.KarlPfeiffer.com or on Twitter, @KarlPfeiffer.