Reflections on a brief flirtation with glamour photography
A few years ago, I spent time in studios with attractive young women in various states of undress. The models were professionals, and I was aiming to create photos to sell into the “Glamour” market. If I’d been successful, I’d be writing this from my luxury yacht, bought with freelance fees for working in “the lad’s mag” sphere.
I’m not writing this from a luxury yacht, so we know how that panned out. As much as I enjoyed working with the models who posed, I tired of capturing sultry poses, and never got over the embarrassment of asking someone to be a bit more sexy (whatever that is). In short, I was a rubbish glamour photographer.
And yet there are glamour shots in my portfolio, and I am proud of them.
Lads mags and exploitation
To some, the idea of “glamour photography” and the “lad’s mag” is exploitative of women. Others see it as harmless fun. A few as an art form. Models are empowered women in control of their sexuality, or victims of exploitative misogynists. Photographers rarely come out of this well.
The idea of a glamour photographer as an exploiter has followed me around a bit. Most people who see my work couldn’t give a damn. They either enjoy it, or they don’t. Rarely does anyone see a need to comment. Maybe because it fits into a wider body of work.
Occasionally I get “I found your portfolio” in a disapproving tone. Once in a while I’m challenged to justify how I could take such filthy images. On one hilarious occasion, I was dragged into HR because a colleague found my portfolio online and it made them “uncomfortable”.
That was a rare incident where I’ve felt compelled to defend myself. If pressed, I would use the same justification: I was experimenting with the type of photographer I wanted to be, and whether I wanted to make money from it.
Why I even have to justify myself is another matter.
Was I exploiting women?
No, I don’t think I was. I doubt the models would think so either.
Every model I worked with responded to a casting call placed on a professional modelling site. They had portfolios; they were comfortable with the style of shoot; and all were comfortable with what I was trying to achieve.
This is the crux of the problem: models are professionals
I know some have a perception of models as empty-headed bimbos, happy to take their bra off for cash. They can be painted as vulnerable, desperate to make ends meet, or failing to understand the wider implications of what they are doing. Maybe there are women in this position, though I never found them.
The women I worked with were polar opposites. They took their profession seriously, even if it was “just” a bit of work on the side of the day job. They worked hard to present themselves in the best way possible. All of them threw ideas into the ring, and I’m eternally grateful for the suggestions and guidance they offered.
So no, I don’t think I was exploiting anyone. I was a professional photographer engaging professional models for a professional shoot.
Is a glamour photographer inherently a misogynist?
There’s a part of me that gets the point of view that a glamour photographer could be, by definition, misogynistic. Sexual objectification is one way it manifests and there is no doubt in my mind (or the mind of the models I worked with) that would result from our work. No matter how respectfully I treat models in the studio, once the image hits the big wide world, it would be for others to determine how it is perceived.
What this view misses, however, is intent. Misogyny relies on the intent of the misogynist and their deep-rooted fear and hatred of women. Given the focus on capturing the model at their best, I don’t think fear and beauty make easy bedfellows. I’d suggest a glamour photographer needs a touch of philogyny about them, coupled with some self-critique.
Are there misogynistic, exploitative photographers?
Every industry has its creeps, fakes and exploiters. The glamour world is no different.
There are “photographers” who barely know one end of a camera from the other. Who thinks they can see a pretty young woman in her underwear for a couple of hours. Who, sadly, commits assault or worse.
It’s also true there are “models” who think all they have to do is turn up and stand around. They don’t understand it’s about taking direction, engaging with the photographer and with the shoot’s concept. Above all, it’s about being professional.
On balance: don’t judge the photographer by an image you dislike.
Photography is often about the viewer taking themselves into the image. I don’t think that’s any different with glamour. Someone who wants to see exploitation and misogyny will find it as easily as the person looking for a sexual thrill or a beautiful image. Neither will consider what happened behind the shot, nor the work that went into it. They won’t judge the image on its aesthetic or technical merits, just dive straight into whatever bias they already have.
Maybe that’s the way it should be. Photographers want a response to their work and we shouldn’t shy away from ones we find disagreeable or even offensive. “I don’t approve of this photograph” is as valid a reaction as “I love it”.