To some degree, I find it a little sad that the age of self-photography has eradicated the need for family portraits – as awkward and as poorly lit as they can be. For a wild and dysfunctional family, it can capture a civilised moment of calm – for just a second, the tableau portrays a perfect, emotionless image of what society says a family should be (an idea which is a significant instigator for internal conflict in the first place). For a perfectly happy family, the result is somehow the same. My point is, and after several analyses, probably Shakespeare’s point in Sonnet 83, that the humble portrait does not intend to capture reality. Leibovitz, Dali, Penn and Wilde would all agree: a sitting goes one of two ways. You either receive a constructed projection of how your subject would like for you and the universe at large to perceive them, or the photographer or artist in control projects their interpretation of the person onto the image.
For that reason, portraits, art, music, you name it, created between friends, family and lovers are always the most telling. There is no how do you do formality. There’s eye contact – eye contact is key. They really are the window to the soul. You can force people to fall in love, by staring at each other for four minutes straight (with a few accompanying speed-dating questions). I think Joe Franklin said something to Ira Glass about eye contact with radio interview subjects being the key to a show’s success, on the first episode of This American Life’s first airing.
So it must be right.
And yet, in the same way, there’s something just as descriptive and mysterious about gaze aversion in an image, that shatters the perceived perfection of
what should be. This was probably more common during the more expensive days of film photography than it is now – particularly in 1930s China, the rigid portraits from which is what I loosely based this art series I shot for the Swisse’ Marquee design I worked on with Matt Martino in the Birdcage in Melbourne last week. That, and some of the extravagance of the Ming Dynasty 明朝, underlined by the muted disconnect of an imperial family, say, further scattered by the international faces, the wide spectrum of international designers used in my styling, and the free reign I gave Tobi and Erin, save for a fundamental brief, on the hair and make-up. For our fictional imperial family here, we couldn’t be happier with the results – the Marquee in the flesh was a project dream come true, and everything seemed to jigsaw perfectly with portrait eyes looking on (or away).
For all their shortcomings in authenticity, it’s still
regrettable that we no longer have a photographer document the evolving faces of our families year to year. Here we are behind our screens, sniffling at how beautiful the aging process of the Brown Sisters is, and yet continue to document the people in our lives with blurry front-facing lenses with sub-par filters.
Speaking of authenticity, in the wake of the whole media storm (and Insta-fame panic) surrounding the perceived realities of Instagram, a lot of you been emailing/Tumblr-messaging me as to my opinion on the matter.
So, I thought I’d just share here the full statement I gave to the Harper’s BAZAAR team for the piece they did discussing the whole Essena O’Neill internet mess:
Instagram, like any other digital platform, is what you make it. It can be used as an authentic vehicle for sharing your work, skills, opinion and outlook. The personal digital brand that grows from that, in conjunction with the actual work you produce (if any), doesn’t need to be obsessively edited and staged. It’s a real projection of your work and life from your perspective, with the obvious omissions of really basic privacy protection (for instance, where you live, too much information about your personal life). My entire career and livelihood isn’t vested in this transient medium – far from it. Instagram is merely another platform for sharing what I do, to supplement the finished work that ends up on Shine By Three, or whatever publication or brand has booked me to do a job – here’s the lighting set-up for this editorial I shot, here’s the mood board in my office for a collection I worked on, here’s the jacaranda I walked past this morning on my way to class.
[As I’ve stressed here countless times] it isn’t commercially motivated – on the contrary, I have a very public policy of not engaging in any kind of paid posting or even advertising on my website.
At most, it’s a personal branding exercise.
If you choose to forgo all of the above for a quick dollar with sponsored posts and product-for-post deals, then absolutely – it’s shallow, short-sighted, unsustainable, and I would say, a pretty irresponsible abuse of what was once an interested audience.
Most of the commentary surrounding “bloggers” and “Instagram-ers” relies on the unfounded assumption that everyone operates in the same way, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Some do just capitalise the engagement on their posts in return for cash, tea, coffee scrubs, or dresses. Some are the face of an operation where the real talent lies behind the scenes. Some use their profile as a means of promoting their own brands or products. Indeed, there’s a market for everything. But we can’t go dragging anyone with any kind of digital presence through the dirt when just one form of influencer discovers that there is no longevity in what they do.
Now, back to the books.
The cram is so real.
MODELS // Chandra @ JDM, Natarsha @ IMG, Nicholas @ IMG, Raenee @ Chic, Talisa @ IMG
Styling notes: models wear archive Romance Was Born, archive Sarina Suriano couture, Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, Osman and Jennifer Behr from Désordre boutique, Christie Nicolaides, Carla Zampatti, Third Form, Holly Ryan, Ford + Harris.
Special thanks to SWISSE and Matt Martino for having me onboard for this project