Sunday, September 26, 2010

trends in photography (timeless vs. stylish vs. dated)

Interesting post today on my favorite photography forum...

A photographer brought up how Annie Liebovitz stated she moved into digital (as opposed to sticking with b&w film) because her photos had to match the time period in which they were photographed. The discussion on the forum was about photos that are classic and timelessness vs. those that are trendy and dated. I wrote up a rather long (and opinionated) reply and it occurred to me that hey - I finally have something to write about on my blog! I never write about how I feel about photography (mainly because I take photos so I don't have to put what I think or feel into just takes too long. Those of you who've met me know it can take an hour for me to describe the colour of cement...) However, this is something I feel has bearing on my job as a photographer and it is relevant to you as someone interested in wedding photography. So here it is.

Photography is kinda like any other kind of fashion. A well cut white button down shirt is always going to be classic and timeless. Certain styles of clothing will always be indicative of the time periods during which they were worn. And then there's the trendy crap you look back upon and think "wtf was I thinking?!?"

Photography isn't much different. Most of the "effects" that indicate when a photo was taken are based on the materials that were available at the time. In the 30s, no one scratched up the borders or yellowed their prints for fun. No one set out for Polaroids to be flat and washed out and no one in the 70s said "oh, let's make 126 film with heavy yellow/green casts and OOH we can add some light leaks too 'coz that will be coooool!!" The film just sucked by today's standards and what makes us appreciate these anomalies is the nostalgia we have for these time periods.

But just like that big ass neon Frankie Says Relax tshirt in my basement, trendy fads like selective-colour (you know, everything in b&w, but the flowers are in colour), over-saturation, excessive sharpening (like when the eyeballs look like creepy glass marbles), overdone texture overlays, and other digital treatments that pretty much scream "LOOK WHAT THE PHOTOGRAPHER CAN DO IN PHOTOSHOP!!!" will most likely lead to nothing but shame and slow head shaking in less than a decade's time.

That said, styles and trends repeat themselves. The 80s stemmed from the 50s, the 90s were full of 60s influences, and this past decade has had the 70s all over it...hence the explosion of "vintage" treatments, which I have to admit, when well done, I love. Plus, I started in photography using those crappy films and cameras...each time an old beloved film was discontinued, my heart broke just a little more. I spent a long time learning how to emulate those films using Photoshop when I went kicking and screaming to digital (which still kinda sucked at the time.) So I'm just making up for what I lost.

But like anything else: everything in moderation. I feel like "stylish" makes the leap to "tacky" when it goes overboard and beyond what the original inspiration looked like. The advent of digital has given us photographers the capabilities to do practically anything...and I'll be the first to admit it's a hell of a lot of fun to "see what you can do" with the latest techniques. But too often we'll look back on our own work from the past and think "why the hell did I think that looked good?!?" The effects and treatments cannot be what the images are about - they must be about the people in the photos, their love for each other, and the moments they shared on a very special day. The processing of the images should not take the focus away from those moments.

Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with looking at a photo and knowing what decade it is from, especially for something like weddings - history should have a time stamp. But I feel like what ever we do to these photos should be classic within that time period and not just exploit the technical trends of the time (I mean, did Swatch watches really need to be scratch-n-sniff?!?...what was the point of that anyway?!?)

I hope my clients' grandkids will look at their wedding photos and say "ooh, this looks so turn of the century" and NOT "ewwww, this looks so turn of the century." Know what I mean?

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