Twenty-seventeen was the year that something clicked, figuratively, in my head.
I spent New Year’s Eve coming to the realization that I had become something of a character in my public life. An old friend, newly single, stated on her online dating profile that she couldn’t see herself dating “a man who photographs half-naked women.”
I’d always preferred portrait work and, particularly, collaborating with people who are already visually stunning. It is “half the battle” when attempting to create something aesthetically pleasing.
I’ve always been one to absorb what I see in front of me. In our culture of instant gratification, that has too frequently been pop culture. I readily admit that I was seduced into photography by the supermodels of the 1990s, who were just as iconic as Marilyn Monroe or Bridget Bardot before them. I have a deep appreciation for beautiful things. Consuming them visually affects me still today, the same as listening to a symphony or taking in an art show at a museum.
I made a choice earlier that led to me surrounding myself with the images I take in for consumption. Too frequently, those images have celebrated the universe of the pin-up and glamour photography. I need to do a better job of surrounding myself with different sources of inspiration since I’ve taken my photography of women as far as I can within the current environment.
To make a long story short, I am going to make a conscious effort in 2018 to focus my concentration in photography on areas other than fashion and glamour photography. I don’t know how long I will persist, but I’m not happy that I’ve given anyone the impression that I am some guy living a playboy lifestyle or an old man trying to persuade women half my age to give me a cheap show. That’s a vulgar distortion of reality.
That’s not what photography is about for me. It’s about wanting to create beautiful things that other people can enjoy with me. I imagine my work may take on a hybrid quality, with the old influences working their way back over my sensibilities. I just want to make sure that the choices I make going forward are accepted with the good intent with which they are intended.
The first step, was earlier in 2017 when I held an exhibition at the Coal & Iron Building in Fort Payne, Alabama. I would have appreciated a more robust reception for my work in my own hometown, but that experience fulfilled a goal I had set at the start of the year to present my nature and lifestyle photography to potential buyers and those who appreciate art. Small steps eventually lead to destinations.
The next step was to notify the owner of a swimwear calendar that I shoot for regularly that I would not be returning this year. The project is very challenging, but also very fun to produce because I got to spend a week around energetic young people at the beach during a fun time of year. I am sad that I won’t get to experience that particular group anymore, but I wish them well.
I’m still available to do photo shoots, whether they are straightforward portrait shoots or some great idea I want to shoot and submit to a magazine or newspaper, but I am going to no longer make “model photography” such a large portion of my catalog of work. It is indulgent of me.
I have many friends, mostly male, who would gladly run with that branding of “model photographer”, and I wish them well. But let’s be real. I’m not ideally situated in the world to get lots of work in the fashion industry or the boudoir market. It’s a reality I am painfully aware of. I’ve never really been the kind of photographer who wants to instruct a model to straddle a motorcycle or get on all fours and stick her ass in the air like she’s in heat. I mistakenly thought that that would distinguish my images from the crowd.
As much as I enjoy creating these beautiful images, making money is the bottom line. There are a ton of really great female photographers whose work I admire, as well, who are beginning to dominate those markets by virtue of their talent and the inherent comfort of female models to work with someone who has the same body parts. It would be foolish for me to try to establish myself as an authority on photographing women in seductive ways when so many others are already on the stage and/or already have the correct genitalia to not have their intentions second-guessed.
There are deeper issues at work here that have been troubling me for a while. In the last year, I’ve come to a greater understanding about what women go through on a regular basis. The pressures they face to look and be perfect at all times. It’s the same sense of existential panic that men feel when the world transitions to a place where our brawn is inconsequential to getting ahead. I have endeavored with my own daughter to be aware of the creative choices I make to have people I photograph conform to certain societal ideals. To employ retouching to sustain illusions about what is attainable in real life. I can always strive to have my subjects look their very best in front of the camera, but by putting a little distance between myself and the niche of photography in which this is predominant, I can also do so with a clear conscience that I am not part of a larger problem that creates self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness in today’s young women.
I want my work going forward to reflect more of that social consciousness and actively seek out faces that are fascinating, not merely “hot”. This action is a recognition that there is far more to capture about the human experience than how good Mary’s ass looks in a thong. When someone likes such a photo, I know that 75% of the liking is a credit to Mary’s time spent in the gym rather than my skill behind a camera. Besides, there can be some rather unethical and unsavory people involved in the glamour photography business. These are people I do not care to be linked to by association or stereotype. Let’s just say those folks would fit right in with Donald Trump walking in on contestants in their changing room because he can get away with it.
I photograph what my eye gravitates to. Like any red-blooded man, I covet what is around me. What I find desirable. To some degree, I am not entirely in control of what inspires me. Youth, in particular, has energized me.
Here lately, I’ve gravitated to this idea of helping others the way I wish someone had helped me when I was their age. I love the idea of mentoring someone so they avoid the potholes of the industry that caused me grief and wasted so much of my time in the past.
To the models I have shot with in the past, I appreciate your willingness to collaborate with me. I’d even dare to say that I consider you to be friends. I hope we can still get together on occasion to shoot something fun, beautiful, and amazing. It keeps me fresh and fun to be around creative people, and I relish my friendships I have with dancers, acrobats, performers, and just good ole young men and women who are gracious enough to share their beauty with the world. I’m sure that models will still be integral to my work, however it now evolves.
In my personal work, I’ll do what I like. But when it comes to my career and my business, I am choosing to focus more on alternative things that will be more fulfilling and lucrative. Nature photography seems a far more respectable pursuit, and I certainly have access to mentors whose work inspires me greatly. I’ve always enjoyed straight portrait, on the street, in natural light, telling a story. Just like the old days at the newspaper when I needed to get a front-page photo that would inform or entertain our viewers. Back then, people would tell me I had a good eye – not gawk at the shape of the breasts of the girls in the photographs.
I will do my best, in the weeks and months ahead, to shift more of my photography to these areas. You’ll forgive me if it takes some time for new influences in my life and spontaneous bouts of inspiration to reshape my “style” of work.
Thanks for continuing to follow the evolution of my work.