That was one of my favourites in the college years. I used to hum along to it as Billy Joel sang his romantic message to his (former) wife through my walkman’s headphones. Maybe I love the words so much, but I cannot explain any other way to describe my philosophy towards photograhing people. I just love you just the way you are, and that is what my photography captures.
This post is lots of words, but if you don’t mind it, please read on:
Mixi is a popular Japanese social network site. On the main page after log in, for the past few weeks I always see the same ad on the right hand side. It is an ad of the lip sticks called ‘Rouge Automatique’, with a slider on the side that reminds me of those ’80s big music stereo component and their equaliser sliders. Anyhow, I have problem with this photo, the one that is on my face as I log on every day.
The first word that comes to my mind is ‘ooh, what a fake!’. Sure, MAYBE, she actually looks like this. Maybe she actually has those deep true-blue eyes. If that is the case, I’d say, that is a fake-looking face. In any case, it is quite obvious that this ad was not made for Japan market. You don’t find women with skin tones like her. And you don’t find women with such striking pinkish rouge on, unless you go back to the ’80s when she had a big stereo system in their living room, complete with 10-point sound equaliser sliders. When I saw this oddly placed unfashionable ad, it reminded me of a video I’d seen many times before. It was rather sensational and it was well received in creative world, so you might know this.
I believe it received a number of creative awards. It was not shown in the places I’d lived in, or when I was regularly watching TV any way, and I saw it for the first time in some meeting in an ad agency when I was working there in Singapore. It has a strong brand message, the kind that appeals to the user’s loyalty. But when I see this ad on Mixi, what I remember is the end product of the process, the manufactured face.
It was probably 4-5 years ago, when many of the photos used in printed advertisement were fake. With multiple lighting to create a sense of the place, rather than shooting in a real environment, the image was ‘improved’ heavily on Photoshop, removing irregularity from the skin, hair and shape of the body. It has become more of an issue since they have negative impact on the teenagers with their perception of an ideal adult woman. We adults know that there is no way such a human being could exist or considered ideal, but kids don’t know that yet and they are bombarded with such manufactured extreme images through media.
If you look at ads of automobiles on magazines these days, most, if not all, are manufactured images of cars driving smoothly in an impossible situation. They are products of 3D imaging and the amazing technology in texture graphics. They are there to impress potential shoppers with positive feelings, so that they actually go to the point of sale.
In fashion, perhaps as a rebound from the extreme length it’s once gone to manufacture perfect images, or as a simple change in trends, many images are made in a natural, simple manner. Even in the top fashion magazines, many photos are made with a simple single-lighting set up, and the photos are often used in print with very little modification.
I personally enjoy shooting in a documentary style, so I normally do not modify my images much. One exception would be one time when I was working on a mother-and-child series. The mother came in and said she hasn’t got a make-up on but she wouldn’t worry too much about it. I prefer to keep that mood going on, so we got right into it. Of course I took care in choosing the lighting, but there was a moment where the emotion was visible and I could see the connection between her and her baby. The lighting was not ideal but to me the main thing is capturing the real feeling rather than takng ‘pretty’ pictures. So we pressed on, and it turned out to be a beautiful image. The lighting, however, emphasised the skin texture a bit and made her look more aged than she was. After all, she, just like many women out there, would put a make up on before being out in public, and a photograph, by nature, is something that should be displayed in public, among their other family photos. So I put the image in Photoshop, and assumed the role of the make-up artist. I lightened the wrinkles ever so slightly, and also powdered the spots around her nose. It is just so light and natural, rather than manufacturing something artificial. It looked like she had her make-up on, and others may not notice it from the natural image. I delivered the print in 6″x9″ which is not a small print, and I’m sure she would have noticed the make up that somebody else put on her face, but there was no mention of it. It was me who encouraged to proceed with the shoot right there and then, and it was my job to ensure she doesn’t look older in the frozen memory called photograph.
Any photographer with proper image editing skills can do that much. Controlling the tonal contrast in parts of an image to draw viewers into it more strongly is something photographers are used to doing. But fundamentally, it is about what and how I, the photographer, capture. What I really care about is the integrity in the reality, the real feeling, the real memory at the real place in the history of people I photograph. That is why I normally go to the customer’s house or some place that is familiar to them, dressed up like they normally would, and use the lighting of the location as much as possible, to make photographs that look just like how everyone in the family would remember how they are in that place and the point in time. I photogrpah just a day in life of a family, birthday party, gathering of relatives and friends, to weddings, as well as other, more corporate or creative photographs. If you like to have photographs of your history, your family and friends, just the way you are, please speak to me. I’ll work according to your schedule and location as much as possible.