Wednesday, February 06, 2013

David Hockney on the Current State of Photography

In a recent interview, famed British pop-artist, painter, photographer, and collagist, David Hockney,  said that, as a result of digital photography and Photoshop, a certain staleness has descended on the art of visual display. He contends there's been a loss of creativity and uniqueness in magazines and fashion images because what's now considered a good picture is one where no blemishes are present and the highlights and shadows are perfectly set. Hockney says it's a trend where images have become too uniform and too perfect and, as a result, there’s been a loss of personal connection and human experience with what we see in those images.

Personally, I agree. And I agree in spite of the fact that I am, to various extents, guilty of regularly producing images where some or all of Hockney's complaints are in play.

Hockney's observations are not limited to magazines and fashion images. We see them in so many photographic images these days, especially when it comes to model photography.  We see them whether the photos are published, used for some other form of artwork, or appearing on photo forums, online portfolios, or photographic social media like Flickr and elsewhere.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not a Luddite when it comes to Photoshop. I digitally process every image I share with others. But there's "processing" and there's "PROCESSING." Personally, I prefer "processing" my work. You know, in a lower-case sort of way.  What that means is, for me, it's a fairly quick process where I crop, adjust levels, dodge and burn a bit, and do some touching-up, e.g., removing  some blemishes and/or other things... and that's about it. If some of my models look like, for instance, they have near-perfect skin, it's because A) they probably do have near-perfect skin; B) the makeup artist is skillful; C) a result of the way I light them and expose them. (I'm a get it right in the camera kinda guy.) It's rarely because, with a heavy hand, I "artfully" apply various Photoshop tools to the model's skin or use some 3rd party skin-processing software. (I don't even own any 3rd party skin-processing software although if some photo-processing software company wants to donate any of their products to me, I'll be happy to try it out and review it.)

In my ebook, Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography,  I wrote a fair amount about some of the same sorts of things Hockney mentioned. In my view, it's not that you shouldn't use any of the many photographic cyber-tools available, it's that you might consider a bit more discretion when using them. Just because you can use something doesn't mean you always should.

There's an old Egyptian proverb that tells us, "A beautiful thing is rarely perfect."  (I'm confident David Hockney would agree with that notion.) Too many photographers, myself included, often seem overly preoccupied with creating perfection in our photographs, i.e., our photographs' technical aspects as well as in the appearances of our models. In photography, especially glamour photography, there's a place between reality -- you know, the realities of the models in front of our cameras -- and (the fantasy of) perfection. That's the place where true beauty lies regardless of the creative flourishes we add to the images-- whether we do so in production, in post, or a combination of the two. It's also the place where our photographs generally become most appealing in ways that resonate best with viewers.

The full-frontal-nude pretty girl at the top is Jayme. (Click it to enlarge.)  Three lights and a fan.  I pushed the chroma a bit. Beyond Jayme's obvious beauty, I think her pose, expression, and attitude really sells the image. Plus, IMO, she looks a bit surreal. (Which I like.) Almost android-like. Kinda like a mannequin come to life. Or maybe that's just me?


Bill Giles said...

It's not just you, she does look a bit surreal. Well done.

mkhealey said...

Great image Jimmy. Really does look android like.