Fine art photography works best when it starts a story. An image doesn’t have to tell the whole story, but as a kick-off point few things can beat an interesting picture. Obviously this is what we expect of documentary-style photography, but it is even more acute when creating narrative images from nothing.
One thing I have learned about my style of photography is that it requires a personality. It is impossible for us to be small and grey, because we have to work with so many people to create the image.
Take a look at this wonderful video about Eleanor Antin and her recent series Inventing Histories, and you can see how much fun she is. Of course as an artist working in this particular medium you have to be deliberate, you have to know exactly what you want, and leave just enough to photographic coincidence to allow for magic.
The same holds true for Gregory Crewdson. In spite of the melancholy and pensive images that he creates, Gregory is a gregarious and generous person. On set all of us get a little bit more tense (and intense) than at other times, but working with a large team still requires the leader of this creative endeavor to hold it all together, to get people to do what needs to be done, and to stay creative throughout it.
Erwin Olaf may not seem unusually charming in this particular video, but I think it’s important to see how hands-on we have to be to get the shot. You have to do all of it… fine-tune the set, perfect the clothes, set the perfect final angle of every light. But where we obviously agree the most is our complete disdain for television and the obvious emotion, and our respect and homage to the great painters.
To create photographic images this way is a lot like painting. Every item must be justified, and then placed perfectly. Why is there a telephone in the picture? And is that the perfect spot for it? But unlike paintings, you can’t really paint over it afterward.
Antin references the Neo-Classicists, Crewdson told me he got a lot from Edward Hopper (I know that feeling!) and Olaf emulates Vermeer and probably the whole slew of other Dutch painters that used soft light so marvelously.
The other artist who draws a lot of inspiration from painters is David LaChapelle. I will admit that he is the exception to my observation that it requires huge personalities… Those of use who know him or have met him understand why that is.
I bring him up to make a final point: we all try to make beautiful images. If you have a deep understanding of the painters that came before you, and you’re going to create images out of nothing, you can bet that they will use Beauty as a key weapon in its visual arsenal. I have written about ugliness in contemporary photography before. I find it to be an admission of creative bankruptcy.