Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Photography: The Art of Artifice

     I don't have a craft post today, but it IS related to what I do. I am a photographer, and the majority of my work is portraiture (families, teens, children, even some actors and fellow artists).
     Here is a link to a young woman recently featured on television. The young lady suffers from severe acne. The short video shows how she artfully applies makeup to hide the scars and blemishes to create a flawless face and then is able to model professionally. It is a simple How-To, but it touched me greatly.

    So, WHY am I pasting it here on a blog about crafting and art? Because, it reminds me that modern photography has changed. But the view of photographs and video has not. There are thousands of websites devoted to exposing the "evils" of Photoshop. Models shaved down to wasp waists, extreme lithe limbs and skin to rival the backside of any newborn.
    People complain that it sets unrealistic standards of beauty and injures the self esteem of developing teens and young adults. I say this is a societal excuse to remain uneducated about an art form that has developed beyond it's scientific birth.
   I've also been watching perhaps too many period pieces on Netflix, and enjoyed my art history classes a bit too much. (Alas, my college did not offer a Art History degree...). This exposure to ancient and contemporary art, be it painting or sculpture also taught me the art of artifice. No matter how realistic a painting or sculpture may be, not a single one was True. Even the Roman emperors in a time when artists worked hard to depict every flaw, every sinew, bulging vein and muscle - had their images "edited" to create the Image they wished to project. Active follicles were added to hairlines, the invention of the six-pack ab, even manicured toes and better teeth. Renaissance masters perked up breasts, whittled waists and bleached the skin of Royalty. Gray hairs were corrected with a simple paintbrush, and other flaws were simply omitted from the Official State Portraiture.
    A recent special on the History Channel exposed the vanities of our First President. His white wig, shapely calves and even stature were enhanced as part of official PR. The real man more closely resembled a war ravaged and scarred Soprano brother, than the angelic statesman perched atop pedestals that decorate my neighboring city in DC.
    Photography has moved into the Digital Age. Images are a file composed of edited Pixels, dots of electronic paint. I have a tablet and stylus and with the flick of my wrist I am able to create a mark or remove one. I am painting. I may "sketch" with my camera, the sensor picks up the basic shape, signal of the object in front of it, but even the RAW file is not the finished image. The computer itself will interpret what the data says - and converts the 3D object and renders on screen a 2D image. Often straight and plum items develop an angle, lights that looked white suddenly become orange or yellow. My "sketch" does not look like the thing which I took a photograph of.
     I change the white balance, I correct distortion. I remove a blemish, but try to leave the freckles sprinkled across the nose. I remove a stray hair, soften a line on the face that the shadows and flash made more obvious. I have already removed the photograph from its original.
     Even before I pushed the shutter, artifice was at work. The "black velvet drape" is actually cheap black fleece blanket material. The flowers are silk, the vase looks like bronze but is really cheap plaster. I raised the lights to shadow a soft belly, raised a hand to diminish a bit of loose skin at the neck, hid the other to hide a bandage on a finger. Rotated the shoulder to make the subject look slimmer. Stood on a ladder so the perspective will make the head larger, the body smaller in proportion.
    Even my subject has used artifice. She wore Spanx under her dress, she curled her naturally straight hair, or straightened her naturally curly hair. She is wearing lipstick to redden her lips, mascara to lengthen her lashes. She may even be faking her smile, appearing cheerful, when she is really sad.
     The image is True to the Person who created it or wished its creation. Because when we wish a photograph to be made, especially a portrait, what we really want is the Magic, the Illusion. To see reflected in the frame the image we carry in our own head of who and what we are. When we accept that the image is not scientific, but artful, then we learn to accept that other images are artful as well.
     Our self esteem is not damaged by that image. Our self worth is not in that image. Our worth, our value is in what that image stands for. When we expect others to be that image then we put on them an unrealistic expectation. When we say that because they don't look like the image that they are flawed, then we have put the blame on the wrong end. We have forgotten that true beauty is an internal thing, that the image tries only to make manifest and show that beauty in a flawed way. No artist, no matter how skillful, can show or render a Soul onto a lifeless material.

No comments:

Post a Comment