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The portrait photographer's motivation

Easy access to the Internet and digital photography has resulted in an ever growing number of photographers uploading their images for comments and ratings from peers.

Online communities evolve and these mini-societies each have their pecking order, internal groups and communal preferences. Photographers learn from each other. On sites that have a rating system there is often pressure to conform to certain styles, techniques and even subject matter.

Although I participate in numerous sites (it's great fun), I recognise the danger of becoming a herd animal and losing the edge of individual creativity. There will always be the creatives that lead the way and the imitators that can only try to follow in their footsteps.

This lead me to think about classifying photographers according their inner motivation. So as a bit of fun here are a few different types:

The innovator
Driven to always find something new, different and creative. Wants to be leading edge. Motivated by creative satisfaction. They pay no attention to popularity and resolutely follow their own path. The innovator sets the future trends.

The imitator
Dreams of being an innovator but is always playing catch-up. Does their best but hasn't got an original thought. Once inspired they can deliver good images. They are swayed by popular trends and whatever's in fashion.

The second hander
Slavishly copies the work of the popular photographers but lacks the ability to critically evaluate images and doesn't have a clue about the difference between popular and good. They also can't see the difference between their images and those winning accolades. Doomed to oscillate between frustration and megalomania. Winning popularity is everything.

OK, the above is a bit tongue in cheek. However I do have a serious point to make as well about photographer's motivation.

A professional photographer commissioned to do an advertising shoot, for example to sell perfume, will use a model. The model stands for all the woman looking at the advert. The image says, if you wear this perfume you will be as beautiful and as glamorous as this model. She embodies perfection and some of that will rub off on you. The model is objectified. She becomes a symbol, not a real person.

Many amateur photographers try to take pictures of friends, family and acquaintances in a way that turns them into visual objects, like the model, rather than in a way that brings out their true personality and character. The photographer turns them into a shallow representation of themselves and the image lacks life, soul, honesty and truth.

As viewers we quickly recognise an image that is visually decorative and well designed, and on our upload sites we praise the photographers skill and artwork, but ultimately a portrait without soul, that has no character will be seen today and forgotten tomorrow. Just another empty vessel to be discarded on the digital image scrap heap.

So what's your driving passion and motivation. Is it truth? Is it popularity? Is it graphically designed beauty? Is it to sell a product? Or is it about your subject, showing their real character and a glimpse of their soul?


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Marleen said…
Hi Paul, wonderfully written again, I thoroughly enjoy your articles and views on photography.

Paul Indigo said…
Thanks Marleen.
David Toyne said…
Top stuff Paul.
Paul said…

Good points raised there.
Sempringham said…
To be honest about it, I would have to put myself in your second-hander category. I'm not good enough to be innovative; I struggle just to be competent.

But my motivation is something else. I once took a great picture of someone I love who had trouble seeing herself as attractive, because she wasn't attractive like your objectified models. The great picture was a fluke, an accident. But it had a profound, positive effect on the rest of her life. That's when I discovered how powerful this photography thing can be.

Now I take pictures of people because I want them to see themselves the way people who love them see them. Teenaged daughters of friends love getting pictures of themselves with their adolescent blemishes PhotoShopped out. Middle-aged and older women like to feel still glamorous. Middle-aged and older men like a picture that shows character. Et cetera.

And I try to produce these because it's something I can sometimes do for them that nobody else is doing.
Paul Indigo said…
Thanks for sharing your story and views, Sempringham.

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