Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Dishonesty of Glamour Photography

An online acquaintance, photographer Jim Felt, a founding principal in a very successful, Pacific Northwest, commercial photography business, emailed me this morning. Jim said he finally found time to listen to the interview I did, some months back, with the good folks at Photographer&

If any of you have some time to kill and you're up for listening to someone babble on about photography, mostly glamour photography, you can do that, through the magic of radio podcasting, by clicking HERE. It's easy enough on the ears as well as that gray thing lodged between them. IMHO, of course.

Jim was nice and said he enjoyed the interview, using words like fun and great and incredibly insightful and boffo!

Okay, maybe I'm lying about the incredibly insightful and boffo! parts but Jim did seemed to really enjoy the interview... or he was simply being nice. Regardless, I'll take compliments, sincere or otherwise, where I can get them although I know Jim was being honest and sincere cuz, well, cuz that's how Jim rolls.

In his email, besides kind words, Jim asked, "By the way, when was (glamour) photography ever honest? It's always been enhanced. Just not to the casual degree that Photoshop has allowed."

I agree.

But then I started thinking. (I have a bad habit of doing that, thinking that is, often when it's least important to do so.) So, I wrote Jim back, tackling the "dishonesty in glamour photography" issue-- Not that dishonesty in glamour photography truly qualifies as an "issue" in the normally-used context of the word. But it does in my world, dammit!


There's nothing new about enhancing glamour shots. Its been done for a very long time. I do so nearly all the time. After all, I'm not a photo-journalist. There's no rules of ethics for glamour photographers. Leastwise, not in terms of the results. My job is to make the best glam photos I can manage to make. That's one of my rules.

When shooting, I'll use whatever tools--tools sometimes used to produce dishonest results--at my disposal. (As effective or sometimes ineffective as they might be.) I use those dishonest tools and processes cuz that's how *I* roll, dishonestly... but only as a photographer, of course.

In glamour photography, dishonesty is often the best policy!

There. I said it.

If you don't find using the word "dishonesty" palatable, try thinking of the dishonesty I'm refering to as "tricks" or smoke-n-mirrors" or "skill and experience" or even the "secrets of the pros" some would have you believe are actual secrets.

Okay. Here's my response to Jim. Thought it would make for an easy and on-topic update:

Obviously, glamour photography has never been honest. That's the whole point--To produce images that glamourize the subjects. Glamourizing a subject requires dishonest techniques to create, what should appear to be and in more than a few ways, seemingly honest results.

(Please Note: Glamorizing a model is not the same as frosting a turd. I'm just saying. In case anyone has that confused.)

In general, life--except for the lives of a few--is not, as a rule, overly glamorous. Glamour photography is escapism, much the way so many movies and books and so much more are purposely escapist.

Certainly, Hollywood's stars, often referred to as America's royalty, have always, paparazzi aside, been presented in glamorous ways. I talked about that in the interview, i.e., the origins of glamour photography in 1930s and 40s Hollywood.

Later, Hugh Hefner came along and the rest is history.

Hollywood stars, supermodels, and glamour models as well, are not common folks like you and I. Well, they might be, and in many ways often are, but not if producers, advertisers, agents, PR people, publicists, spin doctors, many photographers and a whole bunch of the stars and models themselves have anything to say or do about it. Hence, glamour photography is one means to that end: That end being to promote the glamorous aspects, the regal star qualities, the way-more-special, beautiful, sexy, and/or much less common than you or I, aspects of the subjects.

Dishonesty in glamour photography isn't simply accomplished with lighting and makeup and processing and that kind of stuff. Sure, that's part of it. A big part of it. But the dishonesty of glamour photography is in the overall presentation of those so-called, make that creatively-enhanced, "glamorous" people." It's about style and feeling and allure and more.

(A guilty confession: I might have expanded a bit on what I wrote to my friend, Jim, in my email to him. Being somewhat long-winded and fairly opinionated is also how I sometimes roll. Can't help it. They write me this way.)

The pretty girl at top is Cody from a year or two (or three?) ago. Time freakin' flies! I snapped Cody using a few dishonest tools and techniques at my disposal--from production to post-production--including a fan used to subtly blow her hair, dishonestly creating the illusion that her raven mane was slightly moving about in some gentle, in-studio, breeze. (Like someone left a studio window open on a windy day or something.) Here's a BTS shot, below, for those who enjoy BTS shots.

NOTE: if you're a Canuck and still residing in your home world, you might notice I've added Amazon-Canada to my links in the right-hand column. A big thanks and tip-of-the-hat to reader, RovingRooster, for suggesting I also become an Amazon-Canada associate.


Ed Verosky said...

Dishonesty is more about misrepresentation, or lying about something. As you said, this is glamour. It's fantasy. Bringing up dishonesty here is like bringing it up at a magic show, or with a makeup artist, or at a theme park.

By the way, what is honesty in a picture of a person? Would you get that by using the sharpest lenses, showing every follicle and pore the human eye never really pays attention to? Or is it manipulating the image to appear more like the reality we perceive when we feel a certain way about someone we're looking at.

There's a certain honesty about candle light and a romantic mood that makes the pretty girl you're into look absolutely flawless.

jimmyd said...

@Ed Verosky,

Yah. I get what you're saying. All true. Actually, I like the magic show analogy: Smoke and mirrors and all that. The better the magician the harder to spot the slight-of-hand. Same holds true for photographers: The better they are the harder to spot the tricks employed.

Complete honesty in photography doesn't exist. But certain people-shooting genres are more dishonest than others, e.g., glamour, fashion, beauty.

Anonymous said...

I think people often forget that glamour photography isn´t much as "reality in middle east" as it is "fantasy scantly clad next door neighbor" and sure it is true that there are some techniques to enhance the looks of someone (and as you say photoshop won´t polish a turd, because you need a scantly clad beautiful model to begin with) but people often don´t keep in mind that these beautiful models are already uber beautiful!!

What we do with the lighting, the hair styling, make up, pose, etc. is to enhance the already beautiful model to make it uber super ultra mega beautiful :), is that wrong?? is it wrong to take a beautiful subject and make her (or him too) look even better?? (and again not with photoshop that´s why casting exists to search for the right talent for the right gig) I mean my school diploma was taken at the most serious portrait studio in my neck of the wood with a medium format film camera and they did retouching to the negative and all the acne i had as a teenager was removed... is that dishonest too???

I think people are looking to much into this kind of thing... I think it has to do with fantasy rather than dishonesty, I mean I have seen photos of Cody taken at conventions and she really does have that look and the body of course the "pop up flash in the axis of the lens" photo at the convention doesn´t do justice to her beauty so in order to make justice to her looks and the hard work she puts in the gym, skin and hair care, etc. We use tools of the trade to show how beautiful she is, put her in a fantasy scenario and let the dreams of many run wild! there isn´t anything wrong with that Jimmy.. it has been done in painting, sculptures, etc. through the history of mankind :)I mean you don´t see any skin blemishes in the "Gioconda" ;) and most of the roman emperor´s sculptures were idealized sculptures too :D.

My best wishes Jimmy :D

jimmyd said...

What we do with the lighting, the hair styling, make up, pose, etc. is to enhance the already beautiful model to make it uber super ultra mega beautiful :), is that wrong??

Not even a little bit wrong. In my update, that's what I was trying to say.

Where I do take issue is with photographer's frosting turds.

I'm not saying the models look like turds but where the overly-processed photos of those gorgeous models end up looking like frosted turds.

Anonymous said...

"Where I do take issue is with photographer's frosting turds.

I'm not saying the models look like turds but where the overly-processed photos of those gorgeous models end up looking like frosted turds."

Oh brother... that´s so true.. I mean I dunno why models aren´t a bit more selective... I have seen photos of beautiful models taken sooooooo bad that you actually wonder how did allowed to be shot by said bad photographer....

It has to do with so many things... people seem unable to do a paragon on what´s good and what´s bad... :/

So sad :(

Lin said...

Complete honesty in photography doesn't exist.

Yes it does. The photographs of your beautiful granddaughter spring to mind. I'm absolutely positive she really IS that pretty in real life.

Regarding re-touching of glamour photographs, using your photographic skills to reflect the subject in the best possible way doesn't necessarily indicate dishonesty, in the same way that an artist uses different types of paint or varying techniques to create the best portrait painting. Photoshop or paintbrushes - both are merely tools. To what degree you use them depends on both the skill of the photographer and the natural beauty of the subject.

The problem comes when the subject is no beauty and you have to create a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Then things can start getting dishonest.

I am not a natural beauty. (There, I've said it!) No amount of romantic candleight will help - more drastic measures are required, namely Photoshop. Actually I've had the frosted turd look before. Kinda liked it actually. Was it "the real me"? Good Lord no, but rather predictably eight out of ten viewers preferred the turd to the real thing. Sometimes dishonesty really is a sow's best friend.

(P.S. Too many mixed metaphors - sorry!)

Anonymous said...

A photograph is inherently a lie. It is a moment frozen in time, flattened into two dimensions and subject to excessive scrutiny.

In real life, expressions come and go, faces become flushed and pale, pimples appear and disappear, as do wrinkles. :-)

So why hold up to minute scrutiny that which passes by in real life. That is the art of the retoucher. To capture the essence of the person without magnifying flaws or calling undue attention to them.

I am so blind without my glasses, that I see all my girlfriends in soft focus. Is it any wonder that I am drawn to that presentation in photography?