There is a clear line between commercial and fine art photography that begins with the intent of the creator. Images made to sell products or services are deemed successful or not based on how much product is moved as a result of the photo, or as in a photo campaign, the amount of attention drawn to a personality or idea. Not that there’s anything wrong with that in and of itself because after all, the economy does need to roll on.
But I see a trend in a lot of work out there from independent photographers that seem to happily embrace the “commercial look”, a major piece of which is an attempt to create the “perfect moment”. Complete with creamy-skinned people bathed in ethereal light amid a graphically simple backdrop or location, these images are formulaic but popular. Basic capitalist theory can explain that there is a great supply of this work because there is a great demand for it. A client’s waking mind tells them that they wish to be shown in the best light possible. A “perfect” family portrait is something to be added to the immaculately groomed front yard and the designer clothing that tells the world “I made it, in style – see?” Perhaps it is part of the ideal we all strive for to a greater or lesser extent to be seen as we imagine ourselves, and not as God sees us.
Spiritually speaking, I find this pursuit of a facade of perfection a fool’s errand and not worth working towards because it is based on deception and vanity. The portrait work I enjoy looking at and which I try to make values the photograph not as an accessory to one’s life, but both as a faithful record and a comment on one’s place at a specific point in time. The best portraits are believable and draw us into the sitter to see something in them and to reflect on who they are and how we might relate to them if we were sitting across the table from them. They help us relate to that person because they are truer.
The camera is the perfect descriptor of things. I have been and expect to always be in love with the way things look through a finely made lens. To enjoy the way things look is to enjoy photography, and to enjoy a photograph for more than a couple seconds is to meditate on the subject with an intensity not allowed in the passing moments of every day life. Why would anyone want that meditation to be fixed on something that is patently false?
Therefore, go easy with the Photoshop – that’s my motto. Skin blemishes, eye sockets that recess into shadow, a dirty shirt and countless other “imperfections” are all are things we can easily correct with some basic lighting skill or in Photoshop, but I say let them be. I strive for the imperfect image that embraces the notion that all of us fall short – but don’t confuse that to think I try to make otherwise beautiful and well off people ugly and humble looking! Rather, I simply try refrain from embellishing what I see in front of me – that’s all. I try to find the friend in the person or group I am working with – to see them as they were before building the “wall”, unless the “wall” is their defining characteristic.
Being human is beautiful – appearing vulnerable and accessible to those who would view your portrait later is accepting reality and presenting an admirable humility. As an artist I feel it is my duty to make these portraits as authentically as I am able. I do my best to make the portrait that will outlast trend, gimmick and fashion. My goal which I may sometimes attain and other times fall short of, is to make an image that reverberates for the client through the years with the same sentimental value as a precious family snapshot, but at the same time craft a beautiful and true photograph which I can be proud to add to the coffers of the human record in artistic endeavor.