Spend some time at a news stand or the magazine section of a bookstore, and it is impossible to avoid the glossy fashion, celeb, or women’s magazines and the highly manipulated, mannequin-looking women on their covers. This is the world of glamour photography–the world of the proverbial “perfect” beauty and body. There is also the wilder version of glamour photography, which includes photographs that appear in some
soft-core men’s magazines. Anything beyond that, i.e. the hardcore stuff, are
obviously not in the style of glamour and therefore not the subject of this
blog. Now, there is no-doubt a market for this type of work, but what about
artistic qualities of the genre?
Before going too deep into the topic, I should
mention that I have done some glamour-type work in the past. About 10 years
ago, I befriended a group of photographers in my area. The main goal of this
informal group was to share knowledge and practice beauty and glamour
photography. It certainly was exciting. We held get togethers, and model
shoots. This was also around the golden age of internet modeling sites, which
meant models were not in short supply. It was a lot of fun! After all, what guy
would not want to photograph attractive women in various stages of undress? But
alas, the creative part of my brain started to question things. The general
mood of the group was really “taking pictures of pretty girls” than
anything–perhaps not a completely unexpected attitude from a bunch of guys.
And then there was the very conventional idea of “beauty” that I
started to have problems with, which I thought was just too shallow. But it
wasn’t all for nothing though. This is when I learned and practiced the use of artificial
lights in portraiture. Some of the photographs I took during that era are still
among my favorites today, including the one at the top of this post.
So…let us move on to the question at hand. Is
glamour photography art? Perhaps a better question would be, can glamour photography be art? Most of what we see in those glossy magazines does not appear to have a whole lot of artistic quality. But then there are a few exceptions—a few photographers whose work, although do appear in some of those same magazines, are in fact oceans away from the rest. Take Annie Leibovitz as an example. She has an uncanny ability to turn whatever
she photographs into a work of art. Often her subjects are celebrities, but the
photographs that she creates are certainly no ordinary glamour shots. I also
thoroughly enjoy, although they are certainly not my style of photographs, the
juxtaposition of alternate realities created by David LaChapelle. Now here is
somebody who frequently photographs celebrities, but looking at his work one
has to think that a celebrity portrait has been the furthest thing from his mind.
LaChapelle treats his frame like a canvas on which he meticulously arranges his
subjects. The celebrity is often just one of those subjects, almost reduced to
a prop used to achieve his artistic vision. And of course there are others
whose work I have enjoyed over the years.
So it appears that glamour photography does not necessarily
have to mean overly photoshopped images that frequently go into the realm of
absurdity when it comes to the subject’s look and body type. However, that certainly
seems to be the norm. Having established that, what would be my advice to
someone contemplating a foray into the world of glamour? Well, the first advice
would be about the same for any type of photography. Make sure you are very
well-versed in the basics. Being able to take a good photograph in any kind of
situation is absolutely essential for a photographer. Also, while you are at
it, make sure you understand light very well, particularly artificial light.
There is probably no other genre where artificial light is more important.
Find a good model. It is absolutely fine if your
first model is your significant other, but it should be someone who is
compassionate and helpful to your quest to becoming a better photographer. Once
you start taking some photographs, work hard to create your own style. Be a
rebel, don’t conform to the norm. Your goal should not be the ability to create
perfectly lit photographs of people with unrealistically smooth skin and a
perfect body, rather it should be the ability to create photographs that others
will look at and say “I know who took this”. Go easy on post-processing, unless
it’s a part of your style. Don’t be conventional in your choice of subjects,
you don’t have to stick to the conventional definition of beauty. And of
course, glamour photography is not just about female subjects, male models can
be just as good.
There certainly are commercial rewards associated
with success in this area. Advertising is obviously a big one. But be advised,
like most things in life, only a few will ever get to that point and reap those
rewards. But I certainly won’t discourage anyone from trying.