Brigitte is one of the biggest and most popular publications for women in Germany. The magazine is a blend of fashion, beauty, health, family and lifestyle, less glossy and more organic than its international competitors.
Now, Brigitte has announced its “ohne Models” (without models) campaign. From next year, all their editorial photo shoots will use amateur models. Brigitte says that fashion has changed, women have changed, the world around us has changed and therefore they want to start a revolution. Something along the lines of real fashion and real beauty with real models for real people. It is hard to tell whether the campaign is a mere marketing stunt or indicates a genuine shift.
I suspect that the term “amateur” is being used as a concept for a more real look. New opportunities could open up to models, who up until now have found little work because they do not conform to today’s standard model proportions.
The announcement has been promptly criticised by some figures in the fashion industry for the simple reason that any item of clothing looks good on a barely three-dimensional model. One fashion insider claimed that women did not want to look at real women in magazines when, in fact, the most voiced criticisms from women concern body shape and age. The fashion industry’s fantasy body ideals are disrespectful to women, who do not (want to) conform to those artificially created ideals.
Many photographers, too, I suspect, will be less than enthusiastic. It is much easier to work with professional models of standard specifications. They are a known quantity and you know exactly what you get. With amateur models, you have to work much harder.
Ultimately, though, and from experience, working with amateur models is much more satisfying. I photograph people for a living. My clients come to me because they want to look good but remain themselves. I think that Brigitte’s announcement is really exciting, not just for women but for everybody. Women (men too, but not quite as much) are constantly expected to conform to ideals, which hardly anybody can match. Most annoyingly, looks seem to overrule personality, intellect and individuality.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Brigitte’s announcement is the fact that it promotes precisely the kind of individuality that commerce is trying to eliminate. To a greed based business community, which forms the basis of today’s society, only standardised products are profitable. A standard product with few variations means cheap production and high profits. Standard products, in turn, require standardised consumers, who are all content with buying the same or virtually indistinguishable products.
In my own work, I have always known that no one person is like another. My bespoke portraiture aims at expressing not someone’s looks but their personality. I believe that everybody is beautiful, it just depends on how you look at them.
In practise, this means that I have to work a bit harder than many photographers, who compete in the same market. To tailor a photo session to a client, I have to reject standard poses and set-ups, and I cannot re-use ideas over and over. I find out about my clients and their requirements and plan individual photo sessions accordingly.
Photographers need to show examples of their work to prospective clients. Nobody wants to commission a photographer, whose work they have not seen, nor should they. Around 80% of my work is for private clients. For clothed portraiture, I like to have examples of actual commissions in my portfolio. It is the only way of truthfully showing prospective clients what I am capable of doing for them. For lingerie and nude portraits, which accounts for nearly half of all my private client work, I have to use models in my portfolio. These models, too, are more often than not amateurs. When they are professional or part-time models, I like to use life models. So-called, because models pose – usually naked – for an artist to draw, paint, sculpt, etc., “from life”. In photography, life models are as close to “real” people as you can get without using amateurs.
One can only hope that Brigitte will also go easy on the digital retouching and the skin smoothing, which produces the ugly plastic skin effect that is so fashionable at the moment and faces far removed from reality.
Let us see the imperfections, too, and let us remember that imperfections are always only perceived. In any case, we all have them.