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Glamour & Fashion photographer from London, ON, Canada

Monday, January 31, 2011

Showcase - Ruslan Lobanov

I thought in addition to my ramblings, from time to time I would include a few works by photographers that I find inspiring.

First up is the Ukrainian photographer Ruslan Lobanov.  If there is a modern photographer who's style and vision I most admire right now it would be Ruslan.  It will not be an accident if you start to see some similar work coming from me in this year as he is a huge source of inspiration.  Here is a small sample of his work.

One of the many things I enjoy about Ruslan's work is the sense of authenticity that is present in his photographs with just the right amount of fantasy to entice the viewer.  It has a 'lifestyles of the rich and the famous' quality about it that gives us an apparent glimpse of world most of us will never know.  In Ruslan's photos it seems perfectly natural for his models to be nude or topless when walking the dog on a city street, riding their scooters or simply sitting on a park bench.  It suggests that these woman are so beautiful and fabulous that the normal rules don't apply.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Taste of Tomatoes

I hate tomatoes.  I've always hated them.  And I suspect that I always will.  As you get older, some foods you grow to like the taste of, but for me, tomatoes and I are destined to be enemies.  My best friend on the other hand loves them.  He'll bite into a ripe tomato as if it where an apple and thoroughly enjoys it.  And although I certainly do not share his affinity for tomatoes, somewhere back in the recesses of my brain it is possible for me to conceive the idea that other people enjoy the taste of them, even if I don't. 

I think its safe to say that similar experiences can be said for all of our senses.  Taste, touch, sound, & scent are easy senses to draw comparisons between each of our own likes and dislikes.  And to a greater degree, I believe it's easier  for all of us to relate to these shared experiences through the emotions they create.  Chocolate for instance, is an easy one to understand.  Most of us delight in a chocolate based treat from time to time and we can share this experience with each other through the understanding that the sensations and emotions that are produced from eating chocolate will be similar for you, as it is for me.  But what if someone didn't like the taste of chocolate?  Believe it or not, I once worked with a girl that didn't like the taste of chocolate and peanut butter together!  Gasp!  Can you imagine that?

Our senses create emotions and feelings as we react to the world around us.  Whether it is the music we hear, the food we eat, the odours we smell or the way in which we interact with each other through touch.  But what about sight?  The problem with sight, as I see it (no pun intended), is that it is impossible to see the world though someone else's eyes.  The feelings and emotions that are produced from visual stimulus is directly related to our individual life experiences.  Although it should probably be said that no two people will experience any emotions created by our senses exactly the same way, we at least have some common ground to draw from when relating to each other.  In large part, our similar shared experiences based on sensory input can be attributed the common biology we all share.  But we do not share our life experiences.  You have not seen what I have seen over the course of a lifetime and therefor, it is impossible to share that experience with me.

These life experiences will ultimately have an impact on the 'tastes' we develop.  Whether it's taste in music, literature or art.  Tastes in clothes, cars, or furniture.  Even the tastes we develop for certain types of people, physical appearances or personalities.  The interesting observation here is that it is completely and totally useless for people to argue about taste, but yet we do it all the time.  It happens quite frequently in the art world and in particular with media that are created for visual stimulus such as paintings, sculpture or photography.  Our feelings and emotions that are created by our sensory inputs are as subjective as the art itself.  I have no more right to tell you how to 'feel' about a particular piece of art than I do to tell you that you should or shouldn't like the taste of tomatoes.  How ridiculous and asinine would it be for me to tell you that if you like the smell of vanilla, then you're horrible person, that there is obviously something morally wrong with you and that liking the smell of vanilla is just plain wrong.  Yet people do this very thing on photographs and art pieces without thinking twice.  If it is absurd for me to condemn you based on your preference for certain tastes, smells, or sounds, then why is it not equally absurd for me to condemn you for your preference for certain visual stimuli like photographs or paintings?

I'm trying really hard not to wage into the whole art vs. porn debate, but this is ultimately what has sparked my ramblings today.  Peoples opinions about what is art, and what is porn are based on how they feel about the images they see.  It is the very same thing as how peoples opinions vary on what is better Coke or Pepsi.  It's all based on your own personal taste.  And in this particular case, those tastes are inevitably linked to ethics and morality.  If you don't like what you see, stop looking at it and move on.  Telling me that I should feel a certain way about the art that I choose to view and create is as useless and telling me that I should like the taste of tomatoes.  And you wouldn't do that.... would you?


Friday, January 14, 2011

*Live Nude Girls*

A question I am often asked is what it is like to photograph nude women.  People want to know about the awkwardness or if there is some sort of sexual tension.  Is there leering?  Is there touching?  Do I ever get 'aroused' during a shoot?  Has anything embarrassing ever happened?  Is it weird doing a nude photo shoot with people that I know?  Has an orgy ever spontaneously erupted?  I can understand the interest and curiosity.  We all want to know what goes on "behind the scenes."  So I thought I would take a moment and talk about my experiences.  But a word of warning.  Don't bust out the Vaseline and tissues just yet, because it's not what you may think.

Photo shoots, whether clothed or nude, contain many variables.  There's lighting and light modifiers, camera equipment, props, wardrobe, make-up, hair, the location and the models themselves are all part of what makes up a shoot.  Some are more complicated than others.  For instance, if you are shooting in a public place, you would have to be aware of what is going on around you, cars, other pedestrians etc.  If it is a nude shoot in a public place, you have to be on the look out for the police!  Things like the weather can change constantly and may effect how your shoot goes.  If you are shooting on a sunny day but there are a few clouds, the moments where the sun is blocked by the clouds will give you a completely different look.  Things like hair and wardrobe need to be constantly assessed.  Does the model have a tag sticking out of her underwear?  Did the wind just mess up the models hair and now she has a 'fly-away' that is stuck to her cheek?  And light.  Light is one of the single biggest aspects of what makes or breaks a shoot, and good photographers are constantly assessing it.  Some of these things are easier and more controllable in a studio environment or on a closed set somewhere, but the attention to detail should not be overlooked.

At this point you are probably saying.. "I thought this was an article about photographing nude people?"  My reason for explaining all of that is to try and illustrate the number of variables that photographers often face during the coarse of a shoot.  And that barely scratched the surface.  The reality is, there are too many other things going on during a professional photo shoot to stop and leer at the nude models.  My goal is to produce the best possible photos that I can and in order to do that, I need to give my full attention to all aspects of the shoot itself.  Having said that, it also means that during the coarse of a shoot, I am more likely to be thinking about light and shadows than I am to be thinking about the models tits and ass, which also means the chances for me to become aroused or create any sexual tension is slim to none.

The rapport I develope with the models is also a huge factor in the 'mood' that exists during a shoot.  Models are people, and like everyone else, they have their own individual personalities that will dictate how you interact with them.  Let me just say that again.  MODELS ARE PEOPLE!  The photographer is usually the one that sets the tone for the shoot and if you maintain a comfortable and professional environment then the experience should be an enjoyable one for both the photographer and the model, which ultimately should produce a better end result.  Many of the models I have worked with and photographed nude are people I have known prior to photographing them and I can't honestly say that it has ever been an awkward experience.  I make a conscious effort to try and create an environment that doesn't make it awkward for people.  I'm not going to give a tutorial on what you should or shouldn't say or how to behave during a shoot, but for me, maintaining a comfortable and safe environment is important to not only create good photographs, but to uphold my reputation.  So things like touching a model are rare and only happen if it is mutually agreed upon.

As for spontaneous orgies... well I can't honestly say that has happened to me.  I'm sure if you're Nigel Barker, you've probably had a few models throw themselves at you.  The photo shoots I have been involved in are comfortable, fun, and sometimes sexy, but not often sexual.  If you want to gawk at some live nude girls and maybe feel a little 'randy', you might as well just go to the strippers.  Nude photo shoots are hard work and take a lot of concentration.  Don't get me wrong, I consider myself lucky to be able to do what I do.  But it's not the sexually charged, boner filled, drool-fest that some people imagine it to be.  Which is probably just as well because I don't think my camera is waterproof and I don't like wearing steel underwear.               

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Nerds or Pornographers

If you visit one of my online portfolio sites such as ModelMayhem or DeviantArt you will often find a small disclaimer in my bio indicating that I am not interested in working with male models.  The reason for this is simple and rather obvious.  They don't interest me.  During a recent discussion about this very fact with a hair stylist and fellow colleague, it was suggested that having a few male models in my portfolio would "round it out" and possibly make it more appealing to prospective female models and clients.  The idea being that women who viewed my portfolio, and saw that I photographed more than just other women in various states of undress, would be less likely to see me a pornographer and feel more comfortable working with me without the associated connotation.  I have to admit that this notion has stuck with me for a couple of days and I feel there might be some validity to the claim of my colleague.  

Nerds or pornographers.  Two labels that could seemingly sum up all the people involved in the practice of taking photographs.  The latter of the two usually being reserved for male photographers in particular.  There is often no redeeming social value given to someone who owns a camera and takes photographs.  I find my self constantly defending or legitimizing what I do in a preemptive strike against the impending moral judgment that often accompanies my introduction as a 'Glamour Photographer.'  I personally don't see a lot more social value in someone who gets paid millions of dollars to chase a rubber puck around a sheet of ice for 60 minutes.  But I bet Sidney Crosby has never had to defend his choice to be a professional hockey player or legitimize what he does.

The struggle to maintain some semblance of artistic legitimacy has not come without cause.  Within the industry and art form, there are lots of unfortunate examples of people who undertake the process of photography with no other purpose than to expand their own personal porn collections.  These people are known as GWC's (which stands for 'Guy With Camera').  This is someone who's sole purpose for owning and using a camera is to convince their models to disrobe, and in the ultimate scenario, use the intimate nature of the interaction as a precursor to sex.  Basically, these guys are douchebags.  It's the poor man's version of buying a sports car with the hopes that it will get you laid.  But a DSLR is a lot cheaper than buying a Ferrari.  The unfortunate part is the damage that people like this do to the legitimacy of the art form and the photographers involved in it.

This all brings me back to the original suggestion that a more well-rounded portfolio is an indication of a "safer" and more respectable photographer.  Although on the surface, that is probably true, I personally find it somewhat offensive and ridiculous.  With every new model or client that I meet, I find myself going through the dance of explaining, convincing, reassuring that I am not one of the above mentioned people.  The assumption is often being made that because I have made a choice to work with female models exclusively, that I must be a pervert.  Even a master like Helmut Newton gave up at one point and started calling himself a pornographer because he was sick of having to defend his work and some of the labels that were associated with it.

It would be interesting to get the female perspective on this, especially from women who don't know me or haven't worked with me professionally.  To me it's a classic case of judging a book by it's cover.  My portfolio is my book.  What does that tell you about me?                  

Monday, January 3, 2011

Why do we care?

For my first blog of 2011, I was trying to think of good topic to start the year off.  I came across an interesting article by a Toronto photographer, Andrew Mann, that discusses the age old debate of trying to define the difference between art and pornography.  Although I thoroughly enjoying reading Andrew's comments, this so called "hot topic" in the art community is becoming old and tired in my opinion.  My initial reaction to the article was for me to weigh in with my own two cents of worthless opinion, but after pausing for a moment I couldn't help thinking that it is really another example, of a number of different issues, that we seem to care about, when I think the real question we should be asking is why?  Why do we care?  What difference is it really going to make if once and for all we can define the difference between erotic art and porn?  The obvious futile nature of the debate really makes me wonder why we do spend so much time and energy on the topic.  The subjectivity of art will ALWAYS prevent this question from being answered definitively.  Standards about what is acceptable vary from country to country, state to state, city to city and even within parts of a specific community, not to mention, that these changes in standards also occur over time.  What I consider art, you may consider porn.  What was considered porn in the 1920's would be tame by todays standards.

It all brings me back to my initial question... why do we care?  Why, as a community, do we spend so much time worrying about what everyone else is doing or thinking?  Why do we spend all this time and energy trying to impose our own personal, political or religious views on our neighbours and then vilifying and policing those that do not share our opinions?  We like to pat ourselves on the back and pretend like we live in a society that embraces change and diversity.  But the reality is, we don't seem to have a lot of tolerance for people who are different from ourselves in some way.  A quick glance at one of the various online art portfolio sites like DeviantArt.com for instance, is an interesting place to see the anonymity of the internet at work, allowing people from around the world to pass judgment and condemn those who do not share their own particular view.  I see images on sites like this all the time that "I" would consider questionable, and certainly do not see them as "art."  But I also realize that I have made a conscious choice to visit that site and view those web pages, which ultimately means I have to accept responsibility for being there whether I like what I see or not.  On a few rare occasions I have had people tell me that what I do isn't art.  Fair enough.  I respect your right to have an opinion, but what amazes me about this type of interaction is that the person leaving me these messages is under the misconception that I care about what they think.  Which inevitably leads me back to asking why do they care? 

I've tried to take an "if I don't like it.. don't look at it" approach to viewing other peoples work.  As opposed to looking at it, getting angry and then telling them that they are wrong for creating such images and are horrible human beings for doing so, which seems to be the sentiment of many of the moral authority types that feel the need to leave their opinions.  It's like a vegetarian going to a restaurant that they know serves meat, and then getting angry when the person next to them orders a steak.  Mmmm... steak.

My point is, I think we all spend a little too much time worrying what other people are doing or thinking.  Christians spend too much time worrying about who isn't a Christian.  Conservatives spend too much time worrying about who isn't right wing.  Homophobes spend too much time worrying about who is gay.  Art Nude Photographers spend too much time worrying about Glamour Nude Photographers who think their work is considered fine art.  Who cares?  The answer is, we do.  So the real question is, why?

I leave it to you to decide.