“Can you make me famous?” a model insists, while trying to arm twist me into creating an image that will propel him to the fabled pages of Vogue and into a Prada campaign.
I tried to gently explain that it takes a lot of time and testing to get there, and models don’t always have the ability to control their fate; simply being “hot” is not enough. I started working with food shortly after that conversation happened for the third time in a row, with three different doe-eyed faces. A model concerned with fame never makes good pictures, and they have yet to give me the look I need to move forward. It’s allabout the picture and I have yet to have a kiwi, pomegranate, or alligator claw be concerned with their own stardom.
That being said, I’m ready to get back to testing and creating fashion images. Working within the photo and working with single ingredients and patterns has taught me about filters and backgrounds, sculpture and transformation. Food is ever patient and finding the prefect subject is as simple as going to the farmers market or grocery store or taking walks in Chinatown.
When I started reading Just Kids by Patti Smith, a book about her youth and relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe – her roommate and occasional lover – I thought the process of creating work would be wholly different and unique to a bygone era. It’s not. Creating work, finding resources and models, discovering patrons and buyers, getting a gallery – it’s all the same.
So what’s in a picture? How is it made? How is that moment captured? It’s a lot more complicated than equipment + model = picture. I wandered through Nan Goldin’s recent show where she elevates the junkie to the level of a Botticelli at the Louvre and marveled at her documentation of drug culture. Would the images in “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” even be possible today? Everyone is so concerned with looking good for Facebook that retouching before posting is now the norm. The existential question has surfaced – if a status update get’s no “likes” has the event actually happened? Timeline has now made this social network even more editorial. Is life real, or is life based on your version of events through this strange lens?
Yet droves of young men and women pose with iPhones in suggestive stances. We see them drunk and sometimes unconscious plastered through the pages of the Internet, sporting erections and asking to be judged. None contain the glimmer of truth behind Nan’s work. When I was working on my Leslie/Lohman show I asked one of the guys reluctant to bear it all about this strange ideal. He had no qualms of being suggestive and flagrant online. “It’s just the Internet,” he responded. I mentioned that the Internet cares far less about his image and privacy. He had no reply and went back into the sea of gorgeous men posing for their cell phone cameras in mirrors.
I’m attending portfolio reviews and the high-end magazine market wants a certain kind of very glamorous image, this almost ephemeral ghostly look.
Which means that photography is becoming more and more about production and crafting the image by working in the picture. I happily went to a local bookstore to purchase Tim Walker’s book, he’s the only photographer I know who’s been so successful with crafting a set and working with texture. For the first time I feel like I could make that: construct a set, work with colors, build things. It’s a dedication to craft, which was sparked by my recent devotion to graphic design. I just realized a photo is so much more than light, camera and subject. Rather, it’s a combination of many perfect choices and any one of them can derail the picture. Then there is the humanity of it all; can it be produced, can it happen?
Yet how is emerging photography or production supported? I’m not sure. Overwhelmed art directors universally cry that I need better fashion, models and a higher production value in my photos. So that’s the question I need to answer as I scrounge through my sources and knock on agency doors and take rejection as well as I possibly can and try to convince people, places and talent to live in my photos.
After all, everything’s been done before. Sure we have a plethora of photographers, but there is more need for imagery. I’m also not convinced that photography has died or that the medium is no longer relevant. I think it has just changed, like everything else.
I don’t have the answers, but using certain visual references and learning how famous names of the past broke through helps. I should be less fearful when making pictures and not so overwhelmed by the need to constantly blog in order to stay relevant. Instead I should just focus on making an amazing photo as best I can and the rest will come.