The Future of Fashion Photography, Character As Commodity, And A [Re-] Introduction

I keep making noises that I'll update the blog more often, and then I don't do it.  So, we'll try this again.

One of the things photographers hear over and over again is that we need to carve out a voice, to be the kind of artist that leaves [potential] clients with the impression that we are the only person who can fill a very specific niche.  Make it so that your name becomes an adjective. 

For a long time, I thought this meant my background.  I was thisclose to getting my PhD in Art History, or at least a Master's in Museum Studies or something academic and art-related.  Saved up the money and everything.  I was even accepted to school.  And at the last minute, I decided I wouldn't be as satisfied studying other people's art as I would making my own.  So I switched gears.  I thought my "unique perspective" was that I had fine art ability with art history knowledge, and a feminist voice, and that would be my ticket.  So I started with fine art erotica, then switched to fashion and beauty.  And that was my schtick:  the academic photographer. 

Except no one actually gives a fig about my education.

Let's call a spade a spade:  in an image- and results-oriented industry like fashion, the journey doesn't matter as much as the ultimate destination.  Can you produce good work?  Can you produce the work I, the client, need you to produce?  Are you worth my money?  Organization and persistence is just as important as talent and skill when it comes to success as an artist, but none of that is mutually exclusive with intellect.  You could be dumber than a bag of hair and still take an amazing photograph if your natural instincts are strong. 

To make a long story a little shorter, I've shifted my presentation.  My elevator pitch is less about my academic background and more about how that background has dictated how I take pictures.  My approach to lighting, color, tone, and composition is more in line with how a painter operates than a photographer, since I learned how to make a picture from painters, not photographers.   Studying the trajectory of hundreds of years of art gave me an encyclopedic visual vocabulary from which I can draw inspiration, but more importantly, educated me as to the evolution of the portrayal of women.  And this is where I stand today.

I am a woman creating images of women for an industry that does not have a reputation of being kind to women.  The historic portrayal of women in art is deeply flawed and troubling, more often than not furthering their subjugation.  Therefore, I have a responsibility to ensure what I put out into the world furthers the dialogue in a progressive manner, not just for the sake of other women, but for myself as a fellow woman and as an artist.  Just like the male artists of the past, there is power in my voice.  "With great power comes great responsibility", yadda yadda yadda.

And so, for the last few months, I have taken on an interesting experiment:  present myself as a feminist fashion photographer.  It's my introduction.  That is my elevator pitch. 

I've been attending portfolio reviews for years, specifically Fotoworks (both in NYC and LA), and they've been extremely, extremely educational (all that PhD tuition money had to go somewhere, right?).  While there is something to be said about having to "sell yourself" in a brief, fixed period--if you can't do it in fifteen minutes, it's not gonna happen--I have never gone in with the expectation that one brief meeting will yield me an immediate job, or representation with an agent.  I would like to be considered for such things, but I understand the process enough to know that even if someone absolutely adores me and my work, they can only offer me something if they just happen to have the right project for me.  It's a big ol' bag of right-place-right-time-maybe-maybe-maybe.  Just as these reviewers get to hear about how I work, I want to hear about how they work, what they look for, how they prefer to work.  These are golden opportunities to get insight, both on my work and the industry at large, from some incredible people with far more experience.  It's educational, and it's golden. 

I've been to two Fotoworks events so far this year, LA in April and NYC a few weeks ago, and I've been so pleasantly surprised that the vast majority of reviewers with whom I met were not only supportive of my feminist ideals, but openly enthusiastic about them.  I firmly, firmly believe that fashion and beauty is for everyone, regardless of size or skin, and these meetings have been instrumental in not only gauging general temperature and receptiveness of the industry at large (and which markets therein), but whittling down with whom I'd like to continue a relationship from those who are not supportive of my efforts (or progressive efforts at large).  My models are not tools for my creative expression, they are human, professional pretty people who still retain agency over their bodies and minds, covered in skin that, even after retouching, *still looks like skin*, and with the grace, confidence, and strength so many of us, myself included, have attributed to the modern, idealized woman.  None of that is exclusive to dress size or skin color.  In the last few months, I've met with some fantastic people:  a major luxury label, a handful of higher-end retailers, some fantastic magazines with serious caché, and a collection of ad agencies producing work I genuinely admire and respect.  And they have *all* been supportive of this direction.  I'm genuinely optimistic for the future of fashion, and I'm thrilled I get to be a part of it.