Friday, 27 November 2009

Photographing People

An odd thing happened at work two days ago. I had to shoot a CEO of a large TV company, for an editorial client (magazine). The CEO turned up with one of his marketing staff. (I thought he was the bodyguard.) We set off into the street for three locations I had recce'd earlier. The first one was a plain white wall. The marketing/bodyguard type vetoed the location as being 'too public'. I was so bemused and taken aback I just pressed on to location two, which was equally public, as was location three. No veto followed. I've since turned this event over in my mind, and agree with what my assistant told me after the shoot. This was that the veto was a way of marketing/bodyguard man justifying his existence on the shoot. We agreed that in future we'd have a couple of dummy locations to test this out. Then I thought about it further and decided it just wasn't on, and now regret not taking marketing man to task. But that's not really practical in the middle of a shoot. In hindsight, I think it was just rather discourteous of him to interfere in such a way. A couple of weeks ago I met Terry O'Neill, and we had a long discussion about what photographing people is like today, compared with how it was in his day. Then, you got a fortnight on set with Frank Sinatra. He wasn't in any doubt it was the intervention of the PR crowd that has reduced photography to the 'you've only got ten minutes with him/her' that is the current scene. "They've ruined it." he said. I'm not always against the quick shoot. It is obviously spontaneous, and I've evolved a system to cope with such a short time slot. Still, these fast shoots can be a tad ridiculous at times. The most absurd, in any number of ways, was an eight day trip for seven minutes shooting. Still, I wouldn't have swapped the experience for any other shoot I've ever done: It was a unique and wonderful experience, one which I doubt will be bettered, and I count myself lucky beyond description. There were no marketing people present, just one lovely silent abbott.

Yesterday was taken up with a shoot of the writer Elizabeth Speller. She was a dream to photograph, even though at the end she said that it wasn't as bad as she thought it was going to be. Is being photographed so ghastly, or are photographers awful, or is it both?
I think the British protest too much. I can't imagine that anyone wants a bad photo to be taken of them.

They may well take a leaf out of the book from the Americans. Generalisations apart, Americans seem to have a very positive attitude towards being photographed.
Americans have no shame (why should they?) in wanting to look good, and no coyness about you the photographer knowing that.

The opposite seems to be the case with the Brits, who would shudder at the thought that one knew they were trying hard to look good for the camera. "I hate being photographed" is almost always the opening line with someone from this island. It's never followed by "could you tell me how I can look good in the photo?" I wonder why not? Maybe it's because they don't want to be seen to want to look nice in the results. Odd when you think about it. And a bit silly too.

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