Competing for Excellence in the Last CenturySunday, November 10, 2019
In the last couple of weeks I have been enjoying Neil Young’s Colorado CD on my very good sound system.
It is impossible to know what good is if you have not been exposed to it. In the same way in this century there has been a decline (my interest since I am a photographer) on the previous excellence in photography.
The smart phone is almost like a 19th century Colt .45 that has brought the availability of something that used to be in the hands of few to the many.
In that past century magazines and newspapers sold tons of ads. They competed for the best writers, editors, illustrators, photographers and art directors. This was a world before the ubiquitous hand-out photograph that is seen in many publications, over and over.
How can someone who gets instant satisfaction to access of a good Neil Young in YouTube understand the loss of sitting down in a comfy living room to listen to that very song through a good sound system? If that person understands then the trade-off is in the convenience (free and available on the spot).
In that past century, and in the beginning of this one, no photographer with any ambition could do without a good studio. I had many and shared a few with another photographer. There was this very business procedure of having one’s subject show up at the studio for the session. In some cases (not too many for me) a magazine or advertising art director would be around as would a competent makeup artist.
That situation is mostly gone except in the few very good magazines that exist here and there.
My writing buddy, Les Wiseman, a writer at the 80’s spectacular Vancouver Magazine (both in writing content and in illustration) came up with the idea of doing an article on fitness and how the well known fitness experts stayed fit in relation to their diets. I was assigned by art director Chris Dahl who told me, “Make the photographs heroic.” Editor Malcolm Parry added, “With little clothing as possible."
By telling two really competing women, Dana Zalko and Carla Temple that one was taking all her clothes off made it then paramount for the other to do the same.
At the time I was obsessed with the film still lighting of the 40s Hollywood photographer. I had to use many lights and needed a big studio to shoot the fitness article. I had a studio with a cove, a wall that curved from the ceiling into the floor smoothly. There was no need for paper backdrops.
My secret in the shots that I took was the collaboration of makeup artist Inga Vollmer who could also style and make dresses out of bolts of sating. Best of all she knew how to drape material.
Such was the competition during that fitness craze in Vancouver that when we found out that Dana Zalko was pregnant we proposed she pose again in the same way as she had done before.
None of that would now happen. I don’t really miss those elaborate shoots, made more difficult since there was no internet and email. Everything had to be done on the phone. Now in 2019 I like my very small studio and I get close (I cannot really do otherwise. My portraits are more intimate and obviously less dazzling.
I don’t miss it because I have done it. Will those who haven’t done it ever miss it or be aware of what is missed?