Sunday, November 06, 2011

How Well Does Your Photographic Memory Lie?

Some people claim to have photographic memories. I'm often amused by this statement. As a photographer, I'm well aware that photographs lie. If photographs lie and routinely misrepresent the truth, why should photographic memories be trusted?

Photographer David LaChapelle once said, "People say photographs don't lie. Mine do." I'm happy to say mine do too. I totally endorse LaChappelle's words. Personally, I have no problem, none whatsoever, admitting to the lies, deceit, exaggerations and misrepresentations of the truth contained in most of my photography. While I'm not a surrealist photographer like LaChappelle is -- most of us probably aren't-- I still used LaChapelle's simple yet insightful words as one of my chapter headings for my latest e-book, Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography.

The freedom to lie with our photography, especially glamour and other forms of portraiture, is probably the single most important aspect of our work. Lies enables us to make photographs that are more memorable: Portraits that resonate with viewers in the ways we intend them. Lies might not be a positive trait for people in general but, in many areas of photography and for many photographers, it is. It's a very important and positive trait. In fact, I'd say it's a required trait.

When it comes to glamour, fashion, beauty, and other types of portrait photography, as well as more than a few other genres, the better a photograph lies, the better the photograph. I'm not talking, for the most part, about big whopping lies. (Although big whopping lies can sometimes be effective and work well too.) Big whopping lies don't usually make for portraits that achieve the photograph's intent. Rather, I'm talking about small lies and exaggerations of the truth; the lies in a photograph which are often lies of omission. After all, in photographs we don't see the whole picture. We only see a limited, rectangular or square view or portion of the big picture. As photographers, we let others see only what we want them to see and in ways we want them to see it. What we want others to see includes all kinds of lies of omission and exaggerations or misrepresentations of the truth. I wrote a fair amount about this in Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography.

Besides saying someone has a photographic memory, photographic memories are also words used to describe photography itself. Kodak built most of it's marketing strategies on the idea of photographs being the tangible equivalents to memories. A photograph is, after all, a remembrance of a time already gone: A picture reflecting a tiny fraction of a second depicting some past moment. With photography, we both document and re-create the past while photographing in the present. This might all sound very philosophical but, I think, good photographers should, besides being creative and skillful, be philosophical about photography. Being that way helps us better understand what we're doing, as well as becoming more effective and accomplished whenever we raise cameras to our eyes.

The pretty girl at the top is my friend Jamie from a few years back. Jamie wasn't really pursuing modeling as a career of any sort. She just enjoyed getting in front of the camera occasionally. I love having attractive women like that as friends! I was playing around with some yellow and red gels and snapped this one of Jaimie straddling my pal, Rick's, orange Kawasaki.

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