I don't get it. Photography, and being an artist in general, is about trying to see beyond the obvious. We are to try and explore the external and internal world in an attempt to reveal some kind of truth and encourage the audience to engage in a dialog about our subject and point of view upon it. Right? Yet every few years there is a resurgence of portraits that seems to me to be taken by photographers who are using basically none of the tools of photography to make a compelling/story telling image about their subject.
What I'm talking about is almost always a person usually standing directly in the middle of the frame with very little environment around them and almost nothing in the foreground. The person has their hands at their side or in a position where there is no kind of gesture. The subject has no expression – call it the "thousand yard stare" if you will so there is no emotive state other than possible boredom as they look into the lens. The scene is either lit with direct on camera flash or unflattering ambient light.
I call this the "Diane Arbus effect". I'm not blaming her but she is one of the originators of this kind of work. Since she's dead she won't be directly confronting me about it. But this kind of look which I've been seeing a lot of, again!, lately makes no sense to me. There is no: 1) use of color/graphics, 2) dynamic composition, 3) dynamic lighting or 4) moment that makes the photo interesting. The image, which is printed in an established and visually respected publication, is just plain boring. Now Arbus did a whole body of work this way and I have never understood why she's famous – that's me just ranting btw. But all these people, professional photographers mind you, appear to be telling their subjects to "go stand over there and look like you wish you were somewhere else". The most boggling thing to me is that these images get published and the creators get more assignments to produce the same kind of work. Wha?
I think that there is a huge difference from producing a photographic likeness of a person and creating an evocative portrait. The kind of images that I'm picking on I find to be neither inspired nor inspiring. They just puzzle me. Meh!
So here of mine that I'm happy with: This is Sven Hadenas, part of my "Chef's that I dig" series.
Being a "foodie" I get a big kick out of photographing the people who grow and craft our food. Cooking is the only art form where all 5 senses are taken into account so in lots of ways I'm jealous of chefs but don't tell them that, ok? They say that the test of a chef is to have them make you soup. It's something where most of the fancy techniques a chef learns, especially those for presentation, can't really be used and none of it matters a whit if the soup isn't tasty. Give a chef a lovely fillet, some foie gras or a lobster and they are hard pressed to botch it. Then there is the task of taking scraps, odds and ends and making something yummy out of it. That is the beauty sausage: turning things that you would throw away into something that is superb. A staff photographer for Associate Press once referred to news photography as a sasauge factory: making something good out of bad situations.
Well I had to photograph a chef/owner of a new place that is about to open and when I arrived what I found was this:
Well they said that they were finishing up construction but I didn't believe that it would be that rough. I couldn't take him outside as it was snowing and the whole place was a construction zone. Mmm, ok … give me a dude and some space and we will grind it up into something usable. Light is the seasoning that's the easiest to use, yeah I'm still using culinary terms, so I tried to find a space to use. There were about 6 construction dudes running about so I needed some place that let me set up lights without being in the way. So I took this hall way and moved the baking racks out of the way to give me access to the tiles that would break up the scene and give something more interesting than a seamless background. However the hall is only 7 or so feet wide. Gad!
Alec the chef was super nice and accomidating. I sent him to the storage shed to get some kind of cooking impliment so that he'd have something in his hands.
I put a small Chimera softbox high and over his shoulder at camera left very close to him so that it would quickly fall off his face. I also pointed it away from the wall as best as I could to minimize it's spill as it was only about 3 feet from the wall. I aimed a light with a grid about 20 feet away at about waist level so as to light the tiles with extreme side lighting for maximum texture and dialed about 2 stops below "normal". When Alec brought out a long French wisk, yeah I actually know my wisks!, I knew that I wanted some sparkle on it but the main light woudn't be enough. So I pulled out my 3 degree grid spot so as to just add a bit of light to the tip of the whisk without hitting him or the wall. The softbox did spill onto the wall but I didn't expect that the line created would be the same as the line of the whisk – when I saw the first test shot I just smiled and went with it. Why not?