Genies and Djinn II: Under the Brush

I talked yesterday about why I take pictures and what I'm searching for when I photograph people.

I spoke of being uninterested in studio-type photographs. I like the quality, but rarely appreciate the style that most 'professional' photographers employ.

Now let me make something clear. . . I'm not discrediting the work of photographic retouchers. Glenn Feron is an artist. I don't dispute that point. I simply don't enjoy the art he creates. The type of post-processing that means photographic integrity can be ignored or discounted in the exchange that takes place in the editing room is something that holds no appeal for me.

It's much like cheesecake. I have no interest in the taste of cheesecake. I don't dislike it, nor do I find the taste unpleasant. I can even distinguish 'good' cheesecake from 'bad' cheesecake, but I derive no pleasure from the experience.

There are aspects of professional post-processing that I find very helpful, and make use of myself. color correction and glare reduction are healthy, useful functions of the studio's ability. Where I draw the lines are things like wrinkle removal to make a face look younger (and less human) or 'reshaping' to make a model more buxom or skinnier.

These techniques are in wide use across the 'industry' of professional models in personal photoshoots. Everyone has always joked of course about Playboy airbrushing the models used for the magazine. Most of the major magazines that feature images of women (Maxim and FHM, et all) follow suite, and this means that finding professional photographs that haven't gone "under the brush" is as rare as finding actresses and models that haven't gone under the knife at some point to enhance their careers.

Now, as a person trying to collect photographs that enhance my understanding of how to capture raw images of beauty as a result of the camera-work and the body in question, and not the result of some fellow in a dimly lit room with a copy of photoshop and too much time on his hands, I've got a bit of a challenge ahead of me. My solution has been to turn to flickr.

Flickr is an online photograph hosting service/community. The upshot: you get to post public and private pictures at your leisure, and share them with people. Want to show granny all the pictures from cousin bob's wedding without e-mailing her 30 jpegs? Send her a link to the wedding set. The system isn't perfect (you have to hope granny doesn't find the 'swingers in action' set in one of your contact's collections and think it is yours). But it does allow for a whole lot of pictures to be shared by a whole lot of people.

Over my time searching for images of the female form that are based in reality and skilled photography, I've come to rely almost exclusively on the (often) amateur collections available on flickr. These collections range from professionals who take personal photographs on the side, to the-girl-next-door that just happens to love her digital camera.

The photographs on flickr are not always raw. Some of them are post-processed, some even heavily, but rarely are these effects applied with professional goals in mind. Mass-marketability is not the driving force behind the modifications. This means that most of the after-work, often done by the same photographer who took the picture, is merely an attempt on the artists part to make the image more closely resemble their own memory of the moment at which the image capture occurred. Sometimes they may edit to bring out some certain emotion or reaction to the image, but rarely will they reshape a model to fit more closely into society's 'sexy' mold.

Flickr, like any other public community, has bad apples. There are plenty of flickrites who merely repost other work, including much professional stuff from photoshoots for magazines or pornographic movie covers. This work is just as heavily mangled as any of the work you'd see in this month's issue of Maxim, but it is a simple matter to avoid such users and plumb the depths of the amateurs and professionals who are motivated by drives similar to my own.

I have created a flickr site of my own, under the moniker Rossum's Child, and am slowly building a small portfolio there. Not much of it is worth noticing yet, but over time I hope to create a comprehensive body of my personal work. If you have a few minutes to spare and are incredibly bored, I'd love to hear some feedback on the (small amount of) work I've already posted. Criticism strongly encouraged.

So this public photograph sharing service has become my goldmine for images that give me inspiration and ideas about the kind of photography I want to be able to generate on my own over the coming years. Which is where I'll leave off for today. Part III comes tomorrow, where I'll rant about my biggest problem with Flickr, and how I hope it improves in the future.

All images copyright/copyleft their respective owners in the flickr system. If your work is displayed here and you'd rather it wasn't, I will happily remove it, just drop me a note.

Special thank you to Greg Kim. I used several images of his.

Also, an apology: I haven't kept the flickr account names associated with each of these photographs, so I can't link to their owners, but I would prefer to. If you're the owner of one of these images, please drop me a note and tell me your user name so I can link the image to you.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


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