October 1, 2012

Models and Reality by Marcus J Ranum

Written in 2007

I love the discussions about art. So here is a brilliant article by Marcus J Ranum about models... and reality.

In his way of writing I like so much, Marcus recalls us that Photography is Art, and Art is beyond all "personal" realities... Of course, I share the smallest word of everything he took the time to write to a strange person who need to learn really more about the artistic creation, but who gave us the luck to discover the fascinating points of view of an amazing talented artist on his own production :

" I photograph the one-in-a-million beauties for the same reason that Michelangelo didn't sculpt "David" with a pot belly and a hairy butt : it's how I want to see the world."

" I recently got a very thought-provoking note in my in-box... ... and I thought it'd make a good public discussion. So I asked the person who messaged me if I could make my answer public. This is a topic that comes up every so often and it's very interesting to me, since it has caused me a lot of grief in various ways. But - I'm getting ahead of myself.

I've edited the questions I was asked into a more direct and less personal form. For the sake of readability, I'll keep this in the form of a dialog. Here we go !

"Box Top"
Art Model Nerlande

" You only shoot models. I know that is work and everything - but knowing models only make up a small percentage of what real people look like, it is unrealistic expression of beauty."

"The Good Die Young"
Art Model Theda B.

There are a lot of issues hidden within your question, so I'm going to try to answer it obliquely, with your permission. The key to your question is the word "real" applied to people. "Real people" - what an interesting phrase ! Obviously, the implication is that the models I shoot aren't "real." I'll get to that when I answer your second question, but you're absolutely right - the models I shoot make up a small percentage of what people look like. That's why they're models, and that's why I photograph them.

I photograph beauty because that's what I'm searching for.

In my art I'm either trying to create images that are quirky, sexy, and interesting - or images that are a delicate mixture of emotional aloofness, eroticism, and beautiful smoothness. "Smoothness" is probably not the right word but it'll have to do ; as you've noticed I shoot for images that show off the clean curves and angles of my models - literally objectifying them like a still-life.

So, of course, I can't use "real people" for that.

I was in State College yesterday at the Target store with all the "real people" - the old, the young, the heavy, the slovenly, etc. If I were shooting a documentary of "american faces" I'd have had a field day. But that's not what I want to shoot. I want to shoot beauty - insane, over the top beauty.

Besides, Avedon already did the documentary of "american faces" to death in his book "In The American West." A book that was widely praised for its "unflinching look at ordinariness." That's bullshit. Avedon's book is a freak show executed as fine art. It's as much of a freak show as his photos of supermodels that he did for the Pirelli calendar.

You know what the problem with "real people" is, photographically ? They are boring unless you are able to bring something "special" or "interesting" out of them, visually.

It might be that they have a special smile, or it might be that they have a huge butt, or that they're missing all their teeth - but you have to "objectify" the subject, to make them interesting. The term "objectification" gets bandied around a lot in the political correctness circles - but, when you're photographing real people, "objectification" is all you've got to work with.

"Classic Pose"
Art Model Micki

Listen, my friend, I am perfectly aware that I am ignoring 99.999999% of the population in my quest for beauty to photograph. I'm also taking those one-in-a-million beauties and squashing them down to two dimensions, posing them unnaturally, and turning them grey. But I photograph the one-in-a-million beauties for the same reason that Michelangelo didn't sculpt "David" with a pot belly and a hairy butt : it's how I want to see the world.

Art Model Micky

That I prefer to photograph the beauties doesn't mean that I don't know "real people" exist, and it doesn't mean that I don't respect them. It's that interesting art cannot be about the quest for normalness. "Interesting" and "normal" are contradictory.

Now, here I must accuse you : perhaps by "real" what you're doing is speaking in code. Maybe what you're saying is "fat" or "ugly" or "big nosed" or "pimply" - perhaps "real" is code for something that my models aren't.

It would be just as cruel and unfair if I referred to the models as "fake" people, because they were too beautiful to count, somehow.

In other words, I completely reject your notion that there are "real people" - we are simultaneously unique and very very similar, depending on how closely you look. For the kind of art that I want to do (except for on my funny shots where personality comes through) I am so thoroughly divorcing my models emotionally from reality that what you're seeing in the pictures has nothing to do with the actual people I photograph.

"The Curves Pwn Joo"
Art Model Carly

"I can point out a good percentage of the women you photograph have the way-too-obviously-fake boobs."

... And there you'd be completely wrong !

"Tabletop II"
Art Model Iona Lynn

I just checked through my gallery here on DA and there is only one model in my gallery who has a boob job! Because I generally try to avoid shooting models with boob jobs ; I don't like the way they look.
The one model with the boob job slipped through because it was so well-done and tastefully small that it fooled me. (Although I do have a model with a boob job coming in a couple weeks)

What you've noticed, actually, is that the models that I photograph mostly have fantastic boobs. That's because that's one of the criteria that I pick my models for. I spend a lot of time looking at model portfolios and I'm really choosy.

"Balancing Act"
Art Model Amber G.

" I'd like to know if you'd rather shoot models than non-models."

I almost exclusively shoot models. For a lot of different reasons, to wit :
- I hate asking non-models to pose for me
- It's a lot easier
- I can be really choosy
- I don't have to put up with their "issues"

Asking non-models to pose is a big pain in the neck !!! I remember, back a jillion years ago, I was on an airplane flight from Salt Lake City to Denver, and there was this girl sitting across from me who had perfect features out of a Vermeer painting. I had my Hasselblad with me, and when we de-planed I caught her at the gate area and asked her if she'd be willing to let me shoot a quick portrait. Suddenly the air grew still and darkness gathered. Well, actually, it was the entire football team crowding around me, blotting out the light. Some creep was molesting their favorite cheerleader! I got the shot but I was worried about getting some holy mormon whupass for a second. I've had other bad experiences - one girl screamed "Pervert!" at me and threw a drink at my head - and I hadn't even asked her to pose nude.

"Submission III"
Art Model Violetta

It's a lot easier because if I recruit models from model sites, I know that I'm dealing with people who have at least expressed an interest in posing for photographers. That goes a long way toward cutting through all the bullshit and ego-stroking. With someone who's willing to model professionally, it's a question of "how much money ?" and "when ?" And, (at least in theory) I don't have to worry about jealous gun-toting boyfriends (although I've had that, too, on one memorable occasion...) etc.

Art Model Carly

I can be choosy - when I'm looking for a model I won't even contact her unless she's got the look that I like. This greatly reduces my chances of getting a girl in the studio and then being horrified - although that happens.

I had one model show up who weighed at least 30lbs more than she did in the pictures in her portfolio, and another who hadn't mentioned that she had horrible stretch-marks that every other photographer photoshopped out. Unfortunately, I was shooting film that day! But - by working with models that I screen off websites I'm able to reduce my occurrence of bad surprises down to 1 or 2 a year at most.

Lastly : I don't have to put up with their "issues." I have had a few models show up who start playing the "I don't like my butt, it's too big.." game with me. But - a model's not your girlfriend or your wife. You can say, "Listen I hired you because I thought your butt looked fine. I didn't drag you all the way here thinking 'I'm going to make this stranger look bad, by producing poor photos of her that make me look bad, too.'" I did have one model who complained about how she looked the whole time ; I cut the shoot short and haven't worked with her since. She quit modelling pretty quickly, too.

"Standing IV"
Art Model Amber Gangi

" I already know of your hesitation to photograph men."

Yeah. In fact, going through the list of what I like about models, above, made me realize a fair bit about why I'm reluctant to shoot guys.

First off - with the exception of Brad Pitt (I dunno why) - I don't find guys particularly interesting. It's not that I'm uncomfortable around guys, or scared of them, or have sexuality issues, or any of that - it's just that my 2 approaches to my art don't really work with guys, for me. I mean, sure, I should have a fat older guy laughing in my Art Frahm photos - but they work without it, and I don't have to sweat about having a model who'll work with another guy on the set. And from the fine art side, guys don't have the same cool withdrawn aloofness as a woman - we're aggressive ; that's how we're built. It's a whole different vibe.

So, thank you for asking that, because it's really helped me clarify something about myself that I've periodically wondered about.

"Seated IV"
Art Model Nerlande

" ... a number of occasions I can spot cleverness and maybe some perverted humor in the photographs. So it isn't all about business is it ?"

"1870's Porn"

Using the word "perverted" in my presence usually collects you a lecture that ends in tears.
It's a pejorative and it either snuck into your sentence unaware, or you were trying to subtly put me down or imply that my work is somehow dirty or obscene. "Some" cleverness ? "Some" humor ? Damn me with faint praises, will you ?

But here's the only part of that question that's worth responding to : "So it isn't all about business is it ?"

Indeed, it's not about business at all. This is what I do for fun. For me, "business" is running software companies (been there, done that, got the scars) and designing computer security technology (ever hear of this little thing called the "firewall" ?? yeah, that was one of mine...) and consulting for governments and big companies.
"Marcus J. Ranum is a world-renowned expert on security system design and implementation. He is recognized as the inventor of the proxy firewall, and the implementor of the first commercial firewall product. Since the late 1980's, he has designed a number of groundbreaking security products including the DEC SEAL, the TIS firewall toolkit, the Gauntlet firewall, and NFR's Network Flight Recorder intrusion detection system."
My job is one in which the customer is always right - even when they're wrong, and failure is not an option. In fact, making a single mistake could end my career. My job is one where I have to be so crazy precise and careful that being wild, free, goofy, and pervertedly humorous is all that keeps me sane.

"Tell me no lies"
Art Model Irina

"The Trash Problem"
Art Model Iona Lynn

Since photography is my hobby, I'm completely liberated to do what I want (as long as it's not illegal !) - if I wanted to stop shooting girls, tomorrow, and post nothing but fine-art photos of roadkill, I could (and would) do that. It's very empowering to feel that creative freedom running through my veins. And I've had people walk up to me at conferences and say things like "your picture of the girl with her panties falling down... weird !" and within about 10 minutes and some beer I've got a new Art Frahm fan.

Yes, it has sometimes cost me work. I lost a high-paying gig 2 years ago (testifying expert at a big court case) because the lawyers were afraid someone might impugn my morality because I shoot nudes. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences in my life to stand up, shake their hands, and say "fuck you.

"Taking Oneself Too Seriously"
Art Model Rael

I hope this helps answer some of your questions about me. Perhaps now you'll understand why I don't photograph "real" people, why my portfolio is so full of stunning beauties, no guys, and "perverted humor".

It's been great to have a chance to publicly clear the air about some of these topics, too.

I love you all, even those of you that are "real." I'm "real" too,

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