Sex, drugs and photography

Zack Arias posted an interesting video recently about amateur ‘fashion’ photography, or more accurately, the tendency of many male photographers to photograph young women. You can see it here.

You might have heard of the term ‘the male gaze’, the common male heterosexual perspective that objectifies women.

I think it’s interesting that Daido Moriyama talks candidly about photographing instinctively, reflecting personal emotions and feelings and desires.

'Cities are enormous bodies of people's desires', he has said. 'And as I search for my own desires within them, I slice into time, seeing the moment. That's the kind of camera work I like'.

Like Zack, I’ve photographed young models many times, mostly women. It’s a relatively accessible way to explore some basic portraiture techniques. It’s easy to find female models who want images, although it’s not difficult to find male models either. When I first came to New York and started work with a modeling agency, it was their male models who were more in need of images.

I think, if we’re honest, we have a tendency to want to photograph people that we think are beautiful, that we find interesting or attractive in some way. Perhaps we tell ourselves that they’re the people we most like to look at, so it would make sense to want to photograph them. Or that young women most want to be photographed.

There’s how we photograph too. Whether we’re trying to genuinely make a portrait, or to ‘sexualize’, to make an image that others will find sexually appealing or provocative, which in a sense is putting the male viewer in a position of a power and making the image, the woman, the object of the desire or lust.

Maybe it’s a fantasy for some, to be one of those photographers who gets to photograph pretty girls. Maybe you’ve seen YouTube videos of a male photographer and a young, female model. The ‘talent’ (I hate that term). The photographer nervously directs the model with little other interaction. There’s no sense of collaboration.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with a man photographing a woman. But we should ask ourselves why. Are we making a portrait? Then what’s their story, what do they care about, what do they hope for? Or do we only care about how they look and trying to make a suggestive or evocative image? Then maybe we’re photographing out of our own weaknesses and either using male privilege to do so, or encouraging that privilege to continue by what the image suggests.

Why are we making the photo? I think it’s always a good question to ask.


Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

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