Recently I read an excerpt from an Interview Magazine chat with designer Tom Ford, in which he discussed why he now does much of his own advertising photography himself rather than hiring a known photographer in the industry.
“…Even in fashion, it’s become ridiculous—60 people to take a still photograph. I’ve started taking my own because I got so sick of all of that. I work with my one photo assistant, and a model, and hair and makeup, and that’s it. And, you know, I worked a good bit with Helmut Newton and with Richard Avedon, and the other day with David Bailey. For that whole school of photographers, it’s always been one assistant, one key light, one camera, one backdrop. And these guys worked on film. No one works on film anymore. I don’t shoot on film: That’s the only reason I can be a photographer. To be a photographer now, you just have to kind of catch a base image, and then you can rebuild it, rework it, recolor it. Those old guys like Newton and Avedon—and [Irving] Penn, who just died—were just incredible in the way they could pull off the images they did on film, with no retouching. They truly understood the mechanics of their craft. For most photographers today—I won’t necessarily mention names—you see a picture of 10 people in a magazine, and none of those people were shot together. They take the best head from here, stick it on the best body from that shot, move that over there, and you fill in, which is fine, but that’s a different kind of art—an impressionistic way of interpreting something. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, but it’s a different way of working.” -Tom Ford, Interview Magazine
So this got me thinking, because it really is true. Digital cameras of all types are so available to the masses, it often seems as though anyone who owns one thinks they’re an amazing photographer. I greatly respect and admire the work of the true originals, Penn, Avedon, etc. as Tom Ford does, because he’s exactly right. What they were able to do on film, at that time, is pretty incredible even by today’s standards. Additionally, and as Ford mentions, there is also a great deal of editing today that can often turn an average photo into a work of art.
The fact is, I believe there are two key elements in a really great photographer: one being technical skill. Personally, I don’t believe this to be the MOST important, but it can only improve one’s ability in photography if the craft is truly understood. Today, anyone can use a basic point-and-shoot digital camera. Everything is essentially pre-set and many produce decent quality results. But being a photographer isn’t just about taking a nice snapshot. There is a great deal to master, for example, when using a DSLR to produce really amazing results. The second, and I feel more important key, is simply having a good eye. A great photographer is observant, and will often notice things that others might not, an angle, a certain way the light is hitting, shadows, etc. Above all, I think this is important, because that is what sets apart a basic snapshot from a beautiful photo. A true, professional photographer is separated from the rest because of their unique vision, the way that they see things and bring various elements together.
In light of all of this, I find it quite interesting that so many designers have taken to doing their own photography, including Karl Lagerfeld.
You can check out the full interview with Ford here.