June 19, 2013

Don’t Give It To Me Baby

“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.”

 

Comments

7 Comments »

  1. “I want to understand you,
    I study your obscure language.”
    – Alexander Pushkin

    Thank you for this wonderful sincere post, Mr. Smith. I am at once a happier person and a more confident photographer.

    Comment by Anya — June 19, 2013 @ 3:54 pm

  2. well said! I don’t get ‘fashion’ photography either. Let’s keep it real.

    Comment by katie — June 20, 2013 @ 3:18 am

  3. Mr. Smith ~ well said as always. I was just looking at another blog and among the images of a runway show a few of the models were (gasp) smiling! Why is it that smiling isn’t cool? Maybe it is that they don’t have any real joy in their lives? Pity. There is so much in this world to be joyous about. You are amazing.

    Comment by barbara meyers — June 20, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

  4. this is relevant to me now more than ever.

    as my friend once said, “if you live in LA/ NYC you will either shoot fashion, have shot fashion or will shoot fashion.” taking pictures of pretty girls is fun but these days it’s more of:

    - hold an intelligent/ engaging conversation for three, possibly four hours
    - the remaining five minutes of that time for whatever inexplicable reason is always used to create *the best* images

    keep up the fine work Mr. Smith. Know that I visit often and comment rarely.

    P.S. – best of luck in finding that new studio manager. good people are always challenging to replace.

    Comment by alan — June 24, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

  5. I would agree with you for some, but I can’t…

    You just can’t dismiss fashion photography while you’re part of it.
    The Attitude as you’re saying is sometime just trying to reproduce the atmosphere that a few infused successfully in their images. While you’re describing it so well, this attitude is a very nuanced blend of emotions in the image, or of some space for emotions to be felt while viewing them. This is exactly what I feel while seeing a successful image of Tim Walker or Paolo Roversi for example (as many others as well I won’t cite here).

    And I believe that sometime having to push a model to tears is essential to come out of the fake attitude to reveal an emotional attitude that is looked for. That’s directing a model! not just taking what he thinks is good for your picture… Fashion photography is commerce, but also a theater to display and convey emotions, working and directing some human beings to create emotions (re-read the words of Avedon).
    And I praise the few that are successful at taking a celebrity portrait and reveal something else that we’re used to see of them…
    While you’re to my eyes one of the very best to convey some strong emotions through your compositions and words, obviously you aren’t at the best confronting to the model and express something through their own emotions… and that’s perfectly fine to me as I love your photography for other reasons (or maybe because of this very one reason: your weakness and your beauty).

    Comment by Matso — June 25, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

  6. Totally agree, as I am 75 the photographers I admired in my beginings were Avedon, Penn et. al. and fashion photography had style and content, sometimes mystery, but there was “something” going on. In my own work I was always looking for that “glint” that special “glint” that each person has, not one that I would impose, but that they would feel comfortable in letting out. I wanted that even with the celebrities I photographed, I wanted their spark, not their celebrity or what they used to shield themselves. I’m very disappointed in most photography today, soulless, too clean (photoshop) and of course I miss the texture of film. The sensors of all camera’s are much the same. It’s wonderful to see your work and read your blog. Thank you.

    Comment by Jim Britt — July 11, 2013 @ 9:24 am

  7. This isn’t just true of models: we all put on the face we want the world to see. I started to comment on this, but my response got too long, so I put it in a blog post. If you want to read it, please click on the “Comment by” link below.

    Comment by Clay Olmstead — August 11, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

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