the photoshooter's journey from taking to making



THUMBING THROUGH THE PORTFOLIOS OF THE CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD PORTRAITISTS, we marvel at the combination of art and science that created not just images of the famous but delicate, artificial constructs, visual myths of lower-case gods and goddesses that held far more allure than mere snapshots. We look at these pictures now and see them for the sly marketing they were, as we were taught to value the idea of a face more than the face itself.

Today, the average photographer has tools at his command that rival those of the old masters of airbrush and studio lighting, allowing us to mold our own smiles as deftly as George Hurrell sculpted the cheekbones of Joan Crawford or placed a twinkle in a corner of Myrna Loy’s eyes. The enormous surge in self-portraiture in the digital age has grown up side-by-side with these instant-fix tools, to the point that we are seldom presenting ourselves to the world “in the raw”, but, instead are troweling layers of post-shuttersnap glop onto ourselves in a desperate attempt to, if you will, create a legend. The legend of us as we’d like to be.


Getting the children of the iPhone age to agree to having their picture made without their direct participation in the endless preening and retouching process that comes after is a major effort. We all trust our own “vision” of what we look like and reject the original idea of portraiture, which is for the artists to make an outside observation and share out that interpretation with others. The photographer is not supposed to be a mere assistant to our own vanities, however well-justified, but an objective second opinion. He or she may produce something with which we disagree, but the beauty of art is that, as a personal statement, it can’t be invalidated as being false merely because we don’t see things the same way: art merely is.

It’s understandably impossible to create a completely honest self-portrait. We simply can’t bear the unvarnished, brutal truth of it. But that doesn’t mean someone else’s vision of our face is inaccurate or wrong in some way. Like the Hollywood giants of old, we naturally would like some publicity department to shape us until we’re perfect . But maybe, in being honest, we become more so than we ever dreamed.


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