Saturday, July 17, 2010

Photography: Natural vs Reality

Dave Levingston recently was expressing his position based off of critical comments/questions by his friend Morgan. Her main concern (in a nutshell) seems to be why aren't photographers asking models to pose in "natural" ways.

"This is about calling bullshit when I see it and it’s bullshit to say that someone is celebrating the beauty of the natural female form when there isn’t anything natural in the ways they pose or photoshop their models."

Okay, first of all, what constitutes "natural?" Here, I have a link to the definitions of "natural." None of those definitions seem to really fit what Morgan is aiming at, instead I think they cater to more of how Dave defines it. Dave asks his models to either mimic or contradict the lines or patterns of nature in the scene as he sees it. If models were asked to be photographed, posing like one would stand waiting for the bus, or lounging like they're watching tv, there would be nothing inspiring to photograph - in most cases. And that's not the definition of natural, that's just sedentary. Any way a person poses is natural, because the pose is emanating from themselves. They are not attaching anything artificial, or man-made, to their bodies, or doing something impossible that a human being cannot possibly do. That would be unnatural.

And my favorite type of photographic art is one that tries to imitate the impossible. But that's just me.

But I personally don't believe this is really the case at hand - I think it's mostly an excuse. I think Morgan is just pissed off at society at large for the way women have been perpetuated in the media and blaming it on how it has influenced their representation in artistic mediums. Specifically (obviously) photography. But every era in time has their own idealistic version of women - how they are considered attractive and sexually appealing. In this day in age, even I wouldn't fit that description. Yes, I am trim, but I don't have big breasts. I am not tall. I don't have that exaggerated hourglass figure. But I absolutely love the way I am, and I am thankful that I am lacking those physical attributes because I personally strive to participate in nude art that tries to separate beauty from sexuality. Of course, those two can't be totally separated, I realize, but I focus my energy in collaborating in art that does not excite sexual arousal. I am most excited by art that represents the innocence of the nude form; that we come from nature and we are all born naked, the amazing geometry and forms that the human body can take, and the unconventional beauty of "unnatural" posing.

I think people have this notion stuck in their minds that photography should depict realness. I think when people see a photograph, there's a part of their mind that views it as purely journalistic. But photography, when used for a tool in art, shows the artist's reality - and that's it. And their reality doesn't have to be real. That's the most absolutely wonderful thing about art. Art represents a continuum between fantasy and truth. Wherever the artist decides to stop on that continuum is their prerogative.

I think photography is involved in so much controversy because it most often does show truth in the scene. It's a snapshot in time, it captures the moment. No other medium has these claims that it distorts reality, because all the other mediums do that automatically.

I guess it boils down to, if you want to see "natural" photographs of people you'll have more luck looking in the newspaper (yes, they still exist - for now). Whatever you do, don't look at art.

On that note, here's an "unnatural" pose self-portrait.


unbearable lightness said...

Well said:

"And that's not natural, that's just sedentary. Any way a person poses is natural, because the pose is emanating from themselves."

Maybe the word "natural" has become confused with "ordinary." I fell in love with nude art when I saw the sculpture of antiquity with its ideal bodies in heroic and pathetic poses. I don't think the idea of beauty in any age has departed much from that ideal, based on the Golden Section, a mathematical balance that could achieved when wide hips are balanced by large breasts, or a short person has as perfect proportions as a tall one.

Michael said...

Wow! That's an amazing pose! I'm impressed. When are you ever going to make it up here to Victoria BC? You're definitely on my list of models I'd love to work with...


Michael B

Anonymous said...

This coming from the skinny bitch. Honestly it's impossible to look "natural in a quality image. I don't walk around on my toes but lord knows that little thing can be what makes the difference. To go off on a tangent here, when I am in front of the camera I am not the girl who drinks beer and watched football. I am a different person, I channel all sorts of stuff, I don't have ability to be just a normal person with a camera on my nude body.

Being a curvy model I suck in but there are way to just flex and not look like horrible. Livingston needs to stick to his good models ;)

Phydeau said...

You're absolutely right in that a "natural" pose would be beyond uninspiring. It would be downright boring.
And you're also right in that any "un-natural" pose would involve at the very least disfigurement.
I think what people are talking about when they refer to a "natural" pose is one where the model feels a legitimate emotional connection to his or her body yet still retains something dynamic.

At least that's what I would want in a "natural" pose.

Like I said, there's nothing unnatural without dislocating some joints. Neither is there anything inherent to human nature about consciously posing. I think what people are talking about is being less than "sedentary" as UL mentioned.

By the way, Brooke, you seriously are the best self-portraitist, hands down.

markhaskins said...

Criticism such by Morgan is much more about her issues and much less that of the image(s) she is reacting to. It’s difficult (some may say impossible) not to bring our own backgrounds into a discussion about an image.

Reportage photography is different from that of tableau vivant, what comes into play more importantly is the intent of the image creator. Criticism is more relevant to how successful the creator of the image was in how I the viewer react and interpret the image.

brooke lynne said...

All very great and thoughtful comments. Thank you everyone!

Alex said...

I totally agree with you. I have occasionally observed how "doctor's shots" on deviantArt are praised as unpretentious and natural. But being on toes is as natural as you make it, so long as it feels natural to you. thank you to both you and UL for raising the issue.

Bruce said...

Thanks for your perceptive article. I've been trying to get a good artistic perspective, but hadn't landed on one yet. Your writing is very helpful.

N. Sukumar said...

I've heard such comments before and I'd just attribute them to differences of taste than any psycological issues. Some people do not care for "posed" images, others do not care for the "documentary" style. What I look for is form and light and shadow; my imagery - even when it involves models - is not really "about" the person. BTW: I absolutely love your self-portraits.