Culture & Photography

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My e-mail inbox often contains some photo related promo piece, most of which I have learned are only worth ignoring and trashing. But Workhouse Publicity sent me a piece about Photographers Limited Editions describing it as a showcase for some of the world's best contemporary shooters and the press release was about featuring the work of Howard Schartz currently. However I recognized a lot of the names of photographers that I know are published in the slickest media today, so I decided to take a look, and was entranced in this website gallery for some time looking at the collection of images on display.

The photographers represented have an included collection of images that is quite diverse, but also reflects not just the photographers' interests but what the contemporary cultural elite respond to in vision, style and sensibility. The largest part of the body of work are photographs of people, celebrities but not any the paparazzi pursue like Britney Spears and that Hilton girl; a collection of artful, classy nudes and even more portraits, but also a much smaller selection of city and landscapes, architecture and nature. But as at all levels of society today people and photographers are most interested in other people as subjects.

Browsing through and appreciating the images in the Photographers Limited Editions website gallery also brought to mind another frequent item in my e-mail in-box as well as being a recurrent post in the Shutterbug website Forum, young aspiring photographers looking for advise as to how to break into professional photography. From the outside there seems to be an assumption there is some secret key to becoming a well known published shooter. But beyond education, a lot of hard work practicing and honing one's skills, and of course native visual talent, as well as being able to perceive and visualize pictures in reality, there is no magic key to unlock the portals to success.

However the website gallery collection of images representing many successful photographers provides some basis of insight as to what kinds of images are successful culturally. In fact the very first article I had published in a photo magazine called Portraiture In A Media Mode in RangeFinder in 1972 suggested that anyone photographing people to sell portraits would do well to consider the ideal self-image people have, and that that ideal vision is very much shaped by the way people are portrayed in the mass media, in magazines, ads, television, on billboards. Even the stylized face and figure of a Barbie doll has many of the same ideal attributes you see on the pages of Elle, Vogue and Glamour magazines. So I suggested in a portrait photograph of themselves, people want to see the image in the same style of photograph that is familiar to them they see in the media.

Does this mean that an aspiring photographer should copy exactly the look of the photographs of some current star shooter? Not any more than a singer will be successful mimicking Barry White, for instance. Each photographer has to develop their own unique individuality, but at the same time you cannot be either ahead of or behind the curve of what is the vision and sensibility of current popular culture if you want to find your photographs are appealing to people in general. Photography is and a photographer has to be a part of the contemporary culture in the society in which one is practicing to attain broad acceptance. So if there is any key to success it is to be very aware of what the current cultural idiom is in terms of look and style and visual sensibilities which is also the ideal self-image of most of the people who will be a photographer's audience of clients.

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