Recently, I was coming home from a shoot, and connected via Houston. On the hard plastic waiting seat? A copy of US Magazine. I think it was US? I don’t remember. It was one of those magazines that follows the stars — most famous for being famous. (HELLO! WHERE IS MY PAPARAZZI?) In this case — you guessed it, the Kardashions. The magazine seemed divided into two parts: first, the stars they ridiculed. Second, their darling celebrities. How do these magazines really make money, I wonder?
Those they ridiculed included Madonna (inside sources say she is desperate and ruthless to hold onto her flailing looks, and even her vagina is plastic), Dolly Parton (the flower tattoo between her fake breasts is also fake, sources say), and Leann Rimes (almost emaciated, her bones stick from her skin and she is barely alive, according to close friends). Boy, she must have gone down hill since I photographed her!
But the article that riveted my attention was on Kim Kardashian. It seems Ms. (soon to be Mrs.) Kardashian is having issues with her ass.
It keeps getting bigger. And, as the person next to me on my flight confirmed, she is about to marry Kanye West, who has a small ass. Or, so I’m told by US Magazine. Marital bliss is at stake.
Now, all this is earth shattering news to me. I would not have recognized Kim Kardashian if she sat next to me on the plane, and would be very mad if her ass spilled over into my seat. But, I do know the name. I did not know, however, the world of US Magazine. I don’t think I’ve ever read it, or even glanced at it, save for standing at Walmart waiting to buy hair gel.
What have I been missing? How did I not know you could sell the most unflattering photos ever taken and make huge bucks off them? All those photos any photographer in their right mind would delete — bought and published. So, here’s where all those sucky photographers go to get published! I suspect it’s also the source of many fears about looking bad in a photo, and a hatred of photographers in general. Who can like anyone who documents life’s most unflattering moments, and (supposedly) becomes rich off those embarrassments?
My favorite photo wasn’t of Kim, but her sister. She (according to the article, which I read), was the envy of her curvy sister — a blinding jealousy if you believe “an inside source close to Kim”. (Why would that inside source lie? I can’t imagine!)
It was this picture of the sister, strutting down a New York Fashion Week runway, that stopped me dead.
I thought it was a mannequin. I honestly believed it was an article that poked fun, and had a store dummy dressed up to look like the sister. I’ve read too many Onion articles.
I couldn’t quite tell. I folded the article over, covering the rest of the story, and showed half a dozen people at the gate.
“Is this a real person?”
One by one they looked at the image. No. No. No. No. “That’s Kim Kardashian’s sister.” And, a final “no.”
And that brings me to portrait photography. The current trend (though it’s backing off a little, thank God) is to take portraits and remove every single flaw. The result? Images that don’t look like people. Images that look like mannequins at Target.
Now, historically, deciding what physical flaws to eliminate creates an artistic dilemma. Remember Henry VIII and his eight wives? An international incident erupted when the official painter (who was very well known) Holbein, painted an image of Anne of Cleaves minus facial smallpox scars.
Common practice in Tudor England to not paint these scars, Holbein’s portrait nearly caused domestic and international crisis. Now fat King Henry, complete with pussy leg sore, “fell in love” with Anne of Cleaves based on the painting. Then, when he met her, he declared, “I like her not at all!” and — a short time later — made her his “sister”. (Freeing him to marry Kitty Howard, who he executed for being a slut.) By making Anne of Cleaves his sister, by the way, Henry spared her head (scar tissue and all). For the record, Anne was happy to be Henry’s sister. (Fun fact: I love stories about Henry VIII, and have read everything available.)
Moral: there are consequences to producing images that don’t look like the person that portrait is meant to represent. Holbein was chewed out publicly by his king, and, for a time, people thought his head would join Ann Boleyn’s.
Look at school portraits (done in private studios), photos of your local realtor (done at the nearby neighborhood traditional photo shop), and you’ll see similar images. Flawless faces. Coincidentally, that’s the same name as the aesthetics studio near my house.
I am not a portrait photographer, though I do some portraits. When hired, I tell my clients just that — it seems to me a bit like the client hiring a portrait photographer as an event photographer. But, I like doing portraits, and every once in a while, I’ll zap one out.
I’ve had a few notable successes. I did Linda Springer’s official state portrait. That may not be a household name for you, but as the Head of the Office of Personnel Management, the portrait I did hung in every federal office building, nationwide. In addition, it’s in Wikipedia as her official image. How cool! And, to this day, I like the picture — I think it shows her in a flattering way without making her look like the Cat Woman.
When you do an official state portrait, you get about six shots before the said official is whisked away. So, you better be fast.
Anyway, seeing the photo (which was not a portrait) of Kim Kardashian’s sister started me to question what made a great portrait.
In this next series, I’ll take a look at portrait photography and add my own opinionated take. Remember three things: first, I write this listening to ABBA. Second, I’m not a big fan of traditional studio setups. Always on the road, I’ve fallen in love with viewing people in the environment: real or green screen pretend. Third, my expertise is events, and I should not stick my nose into portraits.
But I will. A whole new rant will continue.