Once upon a time, two very different people met at a beach party in Singapore. There was a Burmese freelance photographer in his mid-twenties and a young multiracial girl, clueless about photography, who had to sneak into the club because she hasn’t turned 18 yet.
Alcohol has loosened my tongue and mind, but it doesn’t bring me closer to the group I am with. So I’ve started a conversation with this Burmese guy from the table next to ours, who – even though I’ve told him that I have a boyfriend – seems to be intrigued by the young foreign girl who was not completely herself (who knew it’d be the start of a long lasting friendship).
We sit on the sand next to the sea, looking ahead into the vast darkness. My friend Josephine is talking to another Burmese guy in the knee-high black water. When my new buddy Kevin tells me that he’s a photographer, the first question that bubbles into my tipsy mind is: “How important are appearances for you? I’ve always thought that [portrait/fashion] photographers are kind of superficial, because they only photograph the beautiful.”
How naive I was. But at the same time, so right.
When I started out with portrait photography last autumn, my main goal was to show the beauty that everyone has. It’s an important matter to me. I used to look at those beautiful photos of beautiful people and felt like shit. So I wanted the people in front of my lens to feel good about themselves and make them realise how beautiful they are.
However I realised something while looking at professional photographers’ photos: If I wanted to take my photography to the next level, there was no choice but to create visually more appealing photos. And how do you do that? Not only by improving your craft, but also by photographing people who are experienced or at least confident in front of the camera – models. And most models are beautiful in some way.
This realization put me into a dilemma. I was contributing to the high beauty standard, pressuring more young women to feel insecure about their looks, doing what my younger self in Singapore would have disapproved of.
I’ve received some messages during the last couple of months. Strangers told me how they appreciate that my photos look so natural or that they love that I’m photographing ‘real people‘. I appreciate those messages and I’m glad that people notice that I’m working with ‘normal people’, the girl next door.
But there’s a price for it. Almost all the girls I’ve photographed had no modeling experience – and often, you notice that. There’s nothing bad about it, everyone has to start somewhere. However, I was lucky enough to photograph some naturals and noticed a huge difference: it’s so much easier for me to take good photos if the model is confident and knows how to pose, so I can focus on directing and photographing.
I’ve recently watched a tutorial from fashion photographer Lara Jade in which she talked about the importance of choosing the right model for a successful shoot. She also said something like ‘if you don’t feel inspired by the model, it will show in the photos‘ and I realised how true it is. In the future, I’ll focus on shooting with people who really inspire me.
My answer the question in the title: A photographer wants to create ‘beautiful pictures’ and is probably also inspired by beauty. It applies to me as well, and I feel conflicted about it. Of course, beauty is everywhere, but I don’t believe that the phrase ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is entirely true.. I’m afraid that portrait and especially fashion photography are superficial, because we are naturally attracted to beauty (that comes in many forms!).
However, I believe that I can do something meaningful anyway. Maybe I could create other images aside from my usual work and spread awareness about an important issue. I don’t know. I don’t have the answers, but I’m trying to find my way.
Speaking of inspiring people – these photos are from my first session with Denisa in April. We didn’t know each other before it and it took us ages to finally meet up, but dang, I was thrilled! It was her first photo shoot and she totally rocked. And she’s not just super beautiful and an awesome model, no, she’s also really nice, funny and a great writer (check out one of her poems here).
Also, she was present at the incident that led me to write my post “People Pleaser” that resonated highly with you. I didn’t expect that anyone who was there would read the post, but she did and left a thoughtful comment.
When I decided to be more open and vulnerable here, I often wondered who of those who live in my area read my blog and what they think of it. With the exception of a few close friends and my sister, I hardly receive any feedback on my posts. Denisa’s comment was the first and it was so reassuring to hear those kind words from someone else than a close friend or a fellow blogger. I’m so grateful I got to meet her through my photography and can’t wait for our future shoots ♥
I hope my post made sense to you! What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your opinion!
Model: Denisa, April 2016