Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Art Trap

In one of his famous songs, Rod Stewart croons "every picture tells a story don't it?" And you know what? Rod's right. Every picture does or should tell a story. But not only does every picture tell a story, every picture also sells something, something about the subject or the content of the photo. Glam & tease photos sell something: they sell the model. They sell the model's allure, sensuality, sexiness, beauty, personality, and more.

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When I'm shooting models, one of my go-to lines is, "C'mon! Sell it! Sell it!"  The models always know exactly what it is I want them to sell-- themselves. Mostly, the sex appeal of themselves. There's always a market for that. Sex sells. It sells models and it also sells clothes, perfumes, automobiles, you name it, sex sells it.

I'm sure this is the very first time you've heard anyone tell you that "sex sells." (That was sarcasm, by the way.) But even a guy like me, someone who has photographed I don't know how many sexy women, has to remind himself that it's the sex that sells. You know why that is?  You know why I have to remind myself of that? Because I, like many other photographers, occasionally fall into the art trap.

This art trap might simply be something that glam and tease shooters mostly have to worry about. Well, come to think of it, that's not true. Most any time a portrait photographer falls into the art trap and makes the portraits more about them, as artistic photographers, and less about the subjects, the people in front of their cameras, they've fallen into the art trap.  (Unless art is what they signed on to produce.)

What? You're still not sure what this art trap thing is I'm talking about?  Okay, here's an example using myself as the example: When I'm shooting sexy women (and I'm supposed to be shooting them in sexy ways-- sex sells, right?)  I sometimes fall into the trap of trying to make pictures of them with excessive artistic elements that show off my artsy skills. Nothing inherently wrong with that, right? After all, I should always be showing off my artistic skills as should most photographers.  But I/we shouldn't be doing so in ways where the art trumps the sex if we're shooting photos that, specifically, are supposed to use the "sex sells" thing as the driving force unless that's the specific intent.

When I'm shooting beautiful, sexy women, I sometimes get personally conflicted over whether my photos should be more art and less sex or more sex and less art. It's an ego thing. And my ego sometimes clouds my judgment.  And that, of course, is when I'm prone to falling into the art trap.  Suddenly, I find myself working harder at making art than working at making sexy pics of my sexy models.  It's a line that gets crossed. I can't tell you exactly where that line is but I know it when I see it in front of my feet and, sometimes, I step across it even though I know that's not what I'm being paid to do or that I should cross it.  Like I said, "ego."  Artistic ego.

My clients, of course, aren't conflicted at all about this art versus sex thing. I've yet to have any of my clients, leastwise those who hire me to shoot sexy women for sexy photos, say to me, "Hey Jimmy!  Forget about capturing sexy photos of this model. We want you to capture art photos of her. It's all about art and you're a damn artist Jimmy!"

None of this is to say that art doesn't play a role in the photos I capture. It does. But it's a matter of degrees. There's a ratio. A sex-to-art ratio.  I'm not sure what the ratio is or should be. 50:50? 70:30? 40:60?  Different ratios for different models? Different ratios for different shooting environments? I think I usually have a handle on what the ratio should be, I just can't put numbers on it or tell you exactly when or why the numbers change.

As usual, I'm just thinking out loud here. Blogs are cool that way.

The image at the top is one my client liked but didn't have a freakin' clue what to do with on their adult web site. "What am I supposed to do with this, Jimmy?"  (grumble)  Obviously, I fell into the art trap when I shot that one and some others like it. The art/sex ratio for that image wasn't what my client was looking for.

Here's another of the same model below. This one is way more in line with what the client wanted.  Near perfect sex/art ratio for that particular client. No art trap was fallen into. I did some processing on the image on the top, not much though, but some.  The image below is very nearly straight out of the camera. All I did was re-size it for the web (no cropping, that's how I framed it when I shot it), a curves adjustment, fixed a few skin blemishes and sharpened it a tad. That's it. Period. Done. Get it right in the camera, right?  Not to mention good enough for government work.  Hmm... I guess I just did. Mention it, that is. Oh well.

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