“Dost thou know me, fellow?” – King Lear
One of the more wonderful mantras of the fashion world exclusive of, Give it to me baby, or Work it!, and lastly, It’s genius, is the ongoing and never ending search for Attitude.
Throughout my long involvement with photography, I have often heard art and fashion directors praise or diminish models and photographers for not evoking or embracing The Right Attitude.
The Right Attitude changes every year, so photographers, models and art directors are falling over each other to stay current, but then again not too current as to be out of touch. They have to find just the right amount of smirk, aloofness and snobbery to be desirous, but not off-putting. This must become so exhausting.
It seems that both photography in the fashion and art worlds over the last quarter century has struggled to find a way for the subject to appear disinterested and totally blank, and yet have people clamor for more. Vacuousness is declared important, and in fashion having the model appear inapproachable and disinterested, with just the right mix of attitude, makes her cool, trendy, appropriate for the minute, rooted in a specific time (our time) and space.
I suppose all of this attitude is suppose to be sexy, as lying beneath everything in our popular culture is a subterranean ooze of sex. She is supposedly approachable, yet unapproachable, desirous, yet appearing neutered and sexless. Cool and suave in their demeanor and appearing in and out of love with themselves. The Attitude is all about me and how one appeals and appears cool in this popular world.
All of this is why I only partially embrace the photographic world to which I belong. I am a member, yet I often feel like a far distant relative. I love the medium and its history, but mostly I do not embrace its contemporary and ever cool results.
So here lies the conundrum. Photography is interested in women being other than themselves. The culture idolizes celebrities that play roles. The fashion world needs models to exude something, that at it’s best, is only a distant cousin to their true being. The art world loves to create an environment, like a move set, so everyone can role-play and take on a new identity, and in the end I am left with a completely different impulse.
I am not interested in a role people can play, but rather I am interested in looking deep into the soul of the subject. I am interested in the right body language that does not express the right attitude, but rather expresses the uniqueness of that individual, the more original the better.
Often models are at first totally confused by me. I tell them to stop modeling and to try to just be themselves, and let me photograph the real person and not the one with attitude.
One time while shooting in Paris, I was photographing a beautiful, young model, who after a few hours began to cry profusely. At first I did not know or understand why. After a few moments she was able to gain control of her feelings, and began to explain why she had cried. She told me that everyone was interested only in her beauty, but no one seemed to care of know the real her. I was told I was the first person who ever showed any interest in her as a person.
It is also why I do not like to photograph celebrities. I am not interested in what role they can play to hide behind. I am interested in the person below the facade. Often they are surrounded by people who prevent you from going there.
So as I approach working with a person (a young woman) who has been applauded for their beauty and attitude, I try to find a way to celebrate a beauty within, both through their expression and through their body language. I am interested in the quiet, reserved person who is hidden below.
With a beautiful female model, my mantra could be, “Open your heart and soul to me, and let me know thee as you truly are.”