Can of Worms: I like Scrabble

I recently had a colleague share that someone had disclosed to her what she felt was a seriously dirty little secret about photography. But before I share it with you, let's talk about the advertising industry. (I promise this post is about Scrabble. Bear with me.)

When you watch a commercial for McDonald's you are not shown an overweight disheveled Mom with three screaming kids in tow still wanting to play on the urine-streaked slide. When you see a magazine ad for men's cologne you are not shown a short middle-aged man with a receding hairline and skin that is fish-belly white. When you find an internet dating site, you do not see sample profiles of pizza-fed gamers sporting mullets and underweight girls with thick glasses and overbites so big they could pick apples through a picket fence. In fact, you don't even see average folks with average figures and average lives being used to promote much of anything. This is because the fantasy is what sells. Right or wrong, it is what it is.

For decades our society has been successfully brainwashed into setting an unobtainable bar for the average person. By keeping this fantasy of experiencing the elite world of beauty, youth, wealth, sex appeal, and happiness alive, companies perpetuate business for their products and services. If we always feel a little bit inadequate, there's always something we're willing to buy to feel a little less inadequate, or at least make us feel that what we are buying isn't going to make us more inadequate. Honesty has never been the best policy for advertising, and integrity is something they often can't afford to have without cutting into their profit margin. They need to keep selling a dream, right? They need you to believe that hot skinny chicks eat at McDonald's, that cologne will make you as appealing as that burly tall muscular athlete, and that every person who is single happens to be drop-dead gorgeous and simply hasn't found Mr. or Mrs. right yet.

Knowing this, should it be surprising to discover that there are photographers who screen "ugly" clients, or at the very least accept their money but conveniently fail to blog or otherwise acknowledge them? Well, the dirty little secret is, this is a fairly common practice. There is a marketing theory that by limiting your blog photos to the 'pretty' people you will therefore attract more pretty people, and keep your blog looking pretty. The other part of that theory is if you feature average or fat or ugly people, you will attract a clientele that consists of average or fat or ugly people.

Of course on some level this flies in the face of everything common sense and human decency should tell us. Of course it should. But all those millions of dollars the advertising industry spends on market research reinforces that we as a society are repelled if not reviled by anything that falls outside the parameters we've set for ourselves. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand why tropical resorts don't use obese women in bikinis and shriveled old men with hairy backs standing in the rain eating fistfuls of cake at 24-hour buffet while scratching mosquito bites and peeling sheets of sunburnt skin off each other as the hotel maid scrubs toilets for 10 dollars a day in their ads. That would be too harsh a dose of reality for most of us to stomach.

My favourite part of my colleague expressing surprise at this was the fact she does not perceive the world in those terms and this is reflected in her work. When you don't buy in to that philosophy, it makes it very easy to ignore it. It doesn't make it any less controversial, especially when a photographer who wants the pretty clients is someone whose work you genuinely admire or enjoy. For whatever it's worth, I personally know some people who enjoy or even place a lot of value on some really superficial things, who actually happen to be very nice people. Some of them are even very close friends of mine - I laugh at their fancy clothes and they laugh at my Zellers couture. Whatever - after all, variety is the spice of life, right? But I don't tend to attract that clientele because I don't think to showcase their Louboutins and actually advise against bringing kids to me wearing the equivalent of an advertisement for some hip baby store. If that was my target market, then my blog and website would (fittingly) show my best pictures of people in their Louboutins and baby pictures that looked like billboards for baby clothing.

The nice thing is this: there are so many photographers out there that you really do have your pick of the crop. If you fancy yourself to be fashionable, attractive and slim and want someone who specializes in showcasing that as well as perfecting your skin and figure in post-processing, then you will need to hunt for the a photographer who works that way. If you happen to be not your typical cover model, chances are good you are going to look for someone who has some examples on their website or blog of work that exhibits their ability to make even the most ordinary person look extraordinary. A skilled and talented photographer translates their ability to interpret and capture the beauty they see regardless of size, age, weight, colour, or gender, and at some point we divide into very different camps, mostly because of what we LIKE to shoot.

I believe in grow old gracefully, embrace the wrinkles and rolls and grey hair you've earned, don't sweat the small stuff. This is part and parcel of why the photographer is in every picture. Read: I'm not going remove your wrinkles or the skinflakes on your baby. But I also I believe that having integrity as a photographer encompasses being honest and unapologetic about your shooting preferences and your own value system. Therefore, if you prefer photographing people who are hip and trendy and stylishly dressed, knock yourself out. Implying by omission is dishonest - state it. Your people will find you, I promise. I take pictures because I like taking pictures, and I especially like taking pictures of people. If you're human, you fascinate me and I want to shoot you. This kind of makes me a whore when it comes to clients, and is part of the reason I think some photographers perceive me as a threat. But honestly, I'm not. I assure you that generally speaking the clientele wanting to look like GQ or Vogue or Gap Ads is NOT attracted to my work, my style, or my pricing.

While it's easy to get up on a moral high horse, if you come in contact with a person who only shoots the pretty people, it is unfair to judge them any more than you would judge someone who prefers to shoot babies or landscapes or puppies or bugs. And it's safe to assume that a person who wants to be one of the pretty people blogged will find a photographer whose body of work reflects this. When you reduce it to the point of your job as a photographer being able to connect with your client and produce images they are going to love and cherish because you are passionate about it, it makes perfect sense. Logically, you wouldn't hire an architectural photographer to take pictures of your newborn, right?

But what does this have to do with Scrabble you ask? Well, I love Scrabble. It's my all-time favourite board game. Some of my friends hate it, others prefer cribbage, and some don't play board games at all. It doesn't exclude me from playing the occasional round of rummy if it suits my fancy, or having a backgammon freak join me for a round of wordy. I'm pretty adaptable. I don't cut people out of my circle because they don't love Scrabble. That would be silly, wouldn't it?

So the moral of this story is, as always, how about we all get busy doing a little shut up and shoot...

P.S. I love Scrabble and if you start a match with me on Facebook, GAME ON.


Tonikka said…
This is the very reason that 200 of my new business cards showcase a plus size bride (size 22/24) to show that ANYONE has a right to pictures etc.. and can be beautiful no matter what...
Carlin said…
Again, brilliant! I post all of my sessions, unless they ask me not to. My clients like to see themeselves on my blog...and I like that they enjoy it.

Thanks for posting this. :)
Tanya said…
<3 Love this.
nkwphoto said…
Hope! You are a wise WISE woman and I admire you more and more as I [feel I] get to know you better. Thank you for being the example of the type of photographer I look up to and want to be like.

<3 Nicole
I 100% and wholeheartedly agree with this! Everyone who comes to me gets blogged and posted on my website, I believe that everyone has a right to be shown off, whether you're a size 2 or 22 :)
Shale said…
Well put, Hope. I'm of the same scope as you - everyone of my clients is featured on my blog simply because I shoot for pleasure and to provide a great product and service to the client who desires it, not to sell my photographs to haute couture fashion magazines for an editorial spread. Each of my clients is fascinating and beautiful in their own way and I especially believe this to be true when we're capturing happiness in one's life. I aim to have my website reflect this with a variety of sizes, shapes, colours, and fashions of people so it's obvious that I'm certainly not preferrential to skinny blondes or GQ-model men. Frankly, they bore me anyway. :)
"A skilled and talented photographer translates their ability to interpret and capture the beauty they see regardless of size, age, weight, colour, or gender..."

That is EXACTLY what I said to her! ;)

Hope, you have such a way with words. I aspire to one day exude even half of the insightful wisdom that you do! I check your blog before I log into Facebook in the morning!! hahaha.
Cecily R said…
I came because of a comment you made here: You said everything I was thinking (within my limited, non- professional scope) only you said it better than I ever could have. I applaud EVERYTHING you said there and here. Not that it matters much since you don't know me at all, but I am so impressed with your way with words and your perspective.

Thank you!
Cecily R said…
Oh, and. I just spent some time with your photography...absolutely inspiring. Truly.
Melissa said…
I absolutely agree with your statements. Everyone has the right to be photographed, feel good about themselves and have fun because we are ALL beautiful!
Your words are inspiring!
Hope Walls said…
I think you guys are missing the point. If you want people to hire you for your baby photography, you make your website full of babies. If you want someone to make you look like a pin-up girl, you find someone who does pin-up. If you only want to photograph the rich and beautiful, then that's what you advertise for. It's honest, even if you disagree with it, and effective because it matches the right consumer with the right service. Kismet.
Hope Walls said…
Thanks for stopping by Cecily and Melissa - I'll have to go scope out your blogs when I have a chance!

Not everyone shares my perspective, and it's always nice to find new people who share a similar photographilosophy!


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