This weekend I am heading back to Montreal to photograph several people, all pretty female models. Some I have worked with before, others I’ll be meeting for the first time. Going into this weekend, I keep thinking about when I photographed Melanie last year (from which the above photo is from), and about what the pretty girl photo so often is versus what it could be.
I spend a lot of time looking at photos of pretty girls, mostly on Instagram – largely out of curiosity. I wonder how the images came to be. So many photographers seem to cycle through an endless roster of pretty girls, generating troves of images that begin to feel anonymous. I think a lot of these photographers shoot once with a girl, make some pretty girl photos, and move on. For most of them, that seems to be enough. Most of them also call themselves artists, and refer to their photos’ subjects as “muses” and use bits of song lyrics as captions. I realise I may be in the minority here, but I cannot help but feel that a lot of that is rubbish. It’s disposable, like the clips of internet porn people use to jerk off to. I wonder how often people return to such images, or if it’s just swipe, like, swipe – click, post, new model, click, post, new model.
I have always thought of myself as a documentarian. I want to meet interesting people, and photograph them, and continue to photograph that same person until I’ve been able to coax intimacy and meaning to the surface. Why, you might ask, am I drawn to young, attractive women? There’s two answers to that question.
First, I am not exclusively drawn to such people, it’s just that young, pretty girls seem to be the most comfortable in front of a camera. This is probably related to how the media has programmed us from a very early age to believe that the only people worth looking at are the (superficially) beautiful. (Don’t believe me? Ask yourself, why for the last 20 years hasn’t there been any unattractive popular musicians?)
Secondly, I admit I am drawn to women more so than men, especially younger women. I have remarked in the past that I often use my camera to relate to the world, and the people and things in it. I have an interest in youth and femininity. This interest likely stems from many sources, and as a heterosexual male I would be naive to deny that biology doesn’t play a role. The older I get, the more I realise just how much we are compelled by our biological mechanisms – hunger, fear of death, a desire to procreate.
Additionally, I have never felt comfortable with men. There are layers here too. Early ideas of men came from my mother, a gay misandrist who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of nearly every father figure she had. Then there was my effeminate father. In high school, being a large set male, I joined the football team in attempt to gain acceptance. There, I witnessed the cool, football guys terrorise weaker kids who they called “gay”, only to engage in homoerotic behaviour in the change room. I didn’t know what bothered me more, their cruelty or their hypocrisy. Ultimately, I quit football. I then focused on my art and English classes, including a high school photography class where I first learned to develop and print film. Throughout high school, my social circle was dominated by women, and today, every single one of my friends (in-laws and colleagues aside) is female.
I don’t know what kind of photographs I am going to come back from Montreal with, and I don’t truly know my motivation or goal (beyond making some good photographs), but it’s a genre I feel I need to explore. Maybe, after I am looking at the final images, I will be closer to having an answer.