The Lowly Head Shot?Monday, December 04, 2017
|Left Marina Hasselberg August 2017, Right December 2017|
The sound of head shot to me is abhorrent. For reasons that escape my method of association I equate that to the sound of the phoner (when someone in journalism interviews someone on the phone even when both might be living in the same city) and that other word (two words in fact) that begins with blow.
When I began taking photographs for magazines I avoided shooting fashion by default. The then fashion editor for Vancouver Magazine, Gabriel Levy, told me I was not a fashion photographer but a good portrait photographer.
In the 80s there were three big department stores, Eaton’s, the Hudson’s Bay Company and Woodward’s. All three printed weekly ads that were inserted in newspapers or were simply flyers. Business was good for a few very good fashion photographers. The very best was Howard Fry who adapted to the decline of local department stores and had a lucrative account with Nordstrom’s in Seattle.
Other photographers in the fashion field worked overtime shooting head shots for actors and musician and would-be models. They also “tested”. In this latter situation they would use experimental lighting on new models willing to work for an exchange of photographs for being in the studio and posing.
Head shots were shot to idealize and make people as beautiful as possible. Before the advent of Photoshop’s Diffuse Glow these photographers had shooting techniques that combined with darkroom techniques so that the 8x10 glossy showed flawless skin.
I tended to avoid headshots and fashion. By then new photographers would come to town and they were used extensively by the media for a few months because they were the new guy in town. There were at least two very good female fashion photographers at the time that had a hard time with art directors who did not understand the concept of being a female photographer.
In short shooting fashion was the kiss of death for anybody wanting to stay in Vancouver.
In the last few years I have noticed a decline in local photography. There is little style. In particular head shots seem to be innocuously pleasant and they don’t zing to me.
Sometime in the late 80s as I wrote here and here I had to find a model for a photographer to shoot for a cover. I was the director of photography at Vancouver Magazine. I went to a modeling agency and they placed on the floor about 100 8x10 b+w glossies. I picked two. The woman of the agency smiled in wonder. She said, “Alex they are sisters and the pictures were taken by their mother.” Then and now I believe that head shots have to stick out in some unusual, honest or edgy way.
My ace in my sleeve was my makeup artist and friend Inga Vollmer. She had a particular style all her own and she knew how to prepare people for the ordeal that sometimes photography can be.
Recently I photographed my friend (with whom I do old-fashioned testing) Marina Hasselberg. She is unusually good as a cellist and more so as she refuses to be pigeon-holed in our city’s sometimes limited musical palette. She plays the modern cello and the baroque cello (the latter without the metal endpin of the former and with gut strings). She plays established music but also more than dabbles (more like is fierce in pursuing) the avant-garde.
She is dear to my heart because she dresses with style and likes fishnet stockings.
For the headshot you see here (not as tight as normal headshots) here I instructed her not to smile. I did not want some vacant smile. I wanted attitude (a word Gabriel Levy and every other fashion art director I ever met I had no concept of).
I think the photograph begs attention and will be remembered by anybody who sees it.
Best of all I can safely say that this headshot of Hasselberg was not taken by her mother.