'Exposures' showcases Penn Hills actor's dark side

Patrick Varine
| Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, 3:30 p.m.

Craig Newham of Penn Hills is an upbeat, energetic young man as he discusses the acting career he decided on just four years ago.

Newham, 26, who changed his major from business to theater while attending the Community College of Allegheny County's South Campus in West Mifflin, shows a darker side as the lead in a new short film, “Exposures,” directed by Churchill native Jonathan Gribbin.

The 11-minute film, in which Newham stars as a photographer who is slowly unraveling over his choice of subject matter, is an official selection in the Macon Film Festival, which will take place in late February and early March in Macon, Ga.

It is a dark foray into ethical decision-making that was inspired by photographer Kevin Carter, who committed suicide three months after winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for his photograph of a starving Sudanese toddler. The photograph shows the emaciated girl collapsed on the ground, with a hooded vulture in the background, seemingly eyeing its next meal.

Varying accounts of the situation have surfaced over the years: another photographer shooting in the same location said the child's parents were nearby, getting food from the United Nations plane that carried the photographers, and that the vulture had come from a nearby manure pit with no intention of preying on the child.

However, the suffering Carter witnessed affected him deeply, to the extent that portions of his suicide note reference to his being “haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain.”

In “Exposures,” which was shot without dialogue, Newham plays Harper Lowell, who became famous based on similar shots of an emaciated child whom he photographed, but did not help.

“We wanted to explore the sort of physical and mental repercussions that could come of that,” said Gribbin, 24.

Following his accolades, Lowell becomes a pariah among his fellow photographers, and his career and personal life are rapidly unraveling when another opportunity for a disturbing photo shoot presents itself.

“We wanted to spark a debate about what's right or wrong about having made that choice,” Gribbin said. “We wouldn't have seen that image (of the Sudanese child) if Kevin Carter had done something other than shoot.”

Gribbin said he and fellow screenwriter Jonathan Blackwell talked with several photographers to get an idea of the more difficult aspects of their jobs.

“Exposures” was shot in four locations over a two-day period that included 37 hours of filming. Funding for the film came from a crowd-funding campaign through the IndieGoGo website, but while the goal was $10,000, the final film budget ended up at $4,000.

Gribbin said it would not have happened without the roughly 15-member cast and crew.

“It was really a group effort to pound it out and get it done,” Gribbin said.

Newham said he enjoyed the challenge of playing a character who is slowly coming apart.

“One scene — Harper's breakdown — was like that, really intense,” Newham said. “For a solid 10 minutes before that scene, Jonathan had everyone on the set stay really quiet, and it really let me focus on the fact that this character's life is just becoming too much for him. Even when we cut, I kind of needed a moment to myself, but I came out of it pretty quick.”

Gribbin has proposed “Exposures” for inclusion in more than two dozen other film festivals. He hopes to hold a Pittsburgh-area screening in the near future.

For more on “Exposures,” visit Jonathangribbin.com.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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