Occasionally, people offer up the unsolicited suggestion that I shoot “ugly” people. That it is, on one note, boring, to shoot beautiful people like Steph. And almost always do I demurely avoid the question, or settle for saying “happy with what I’m doing.” When what I really wanna say is “bigot!”
Okay, not really.
What I really want to say is they seem to have a narrow idea as to what is interesting to photograph. It’s a rather strange suggestion to me, actually, that somehow these are the two kinds of people worth photographing: the beautiful and the ugly. That nowhere in the middle is there anything worthwhile to be captured.
My friend Nick calls it the “x factor”, that quality that can make a physically plain person attractive. A quality that you get from an expression, a posture or a look.
That’s what I’m after. That’s what I want to bring out. It’s no less a challenge for me to photograph a beautiful person than it is someone who is considered unattractive. My goal isn’t to show the surface, though. You can do that with a cell phone and a steady hand. I want to show you, in a photo, that Steph does not suffer fools. That she has invented whole new words to describe assholes and rejects. I want to show you what I know about her from hanging out with her, talking to her.
I’m trying to show you something. And what they look like, that really doesn’t matter. Because that’s not what I’m trying to show you. That’s easy. I hope to be able to show you something you can’t see by just looking at someone with the naked eye, but something just as vital.
Much as I fussed and complained, digital has made that easier for me. The speed of my digital camera, actually, has made that much easier for me. Because sometimes those things that hide below the surface only come up for a brief instant, and if I’m not fast enough, I’ll miss it completely.
That fact is, that’s what led me to what’s considered my style. Directing my subjects to relax, to not smile, that’s me trying to avoid them giving the camera a stock expression, it’s me attempting to bypass the photo-friendly smile everyone has at the ready.
But it wasn’t until I started shooting with a digital camera, far faster than my Polaroid or my medium format camera, that I realized it was no longer necessary to give that kind of direction, to have my subjects freeze in position, or attempt to replicate an expression I’d seen flit across their faces for a fraction of a second.
I went for a walk just now, thought about it some more, what it is I’m after, what I’m trying to accomplish by taking a picture.
And that’s what it is. That’s why I take pictures. o capture that x factor. To be able to show other people that thing I sometimes see radiating off one person, or only appearing like a shadow for a moment in another person. So, if you can’t tell from the photos that accompany this article that Steph is the kind of dame who likes to cut a fool for acting up, well, then I haven’t done my job.