Saturday, May 5, 2012

Commercial Photography

Artistically, commercial photography is mostly fad-following, not trend-setting, and tends to be about style over substance. Most clients (in any business at all, but certainly in the world of photography) want something like that other thing, only a little different.
A couple getting married wants, ultimately, some pretty snapshots. That is to say the couple wants some photographs which function as snapshots in that they serve as mementos of the wedding, as memory aids. The couple almost certainly has some ideas about what they want, and those ideas are almost certainly about a certain look they saw in someone else's wedding photos.
A fashion photographer is all about style over substance. What the client wants is something that looks very much the same as all the other fashion photography being done, but which is also distinctly different. They call this process of copying, but with a tweak, "finding your own unique vision."
And so on. This is not to say that commercial photographs are not evocative. They are, they must be in order to succeed. The point is that a successful commercial image evokes trivially, and typically on one note only. The product. The bride. The dress. Often, bowing to trends and fads, the image becomes itself a symbol. There are certain "looks" to an image in any era that says "fashion", applying this trope to a picture of a mushroom would evoke "fashion." By definition, though, a commercial photograph does not reward inspection, introspection, thought. It's all right there in the first impression.
So, while a commercial image is more interesting than someone else's snapshot, it's not good in the sense that I mean. They are essentially trivial, in a specific way. They must be trivial, it is a requirement of the field.
None of this is to suggest that commercial work is easy, or stupid, or worthless. None of those is true. The point is simply that commercial photography almost never produces powerful and lasting images.
As a corollary: You shouldn't pay much attention when a commercial photographer attempts to advise you on artistry in your photographs. Artistry is not their business, although some of them think it is. Obviously, you should get all your advice from me. Right?

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