17.2.10

“I would just have this one little camera and show up at a shoot and people would be like: “where’s the equipment?”” - Terry Richardson (RM part 3)

The snapshot aesthetic is the best representation of the realness movement in the photography industry. It became a dominant form of photography in the 90s and continues to be popular today, especially amongst youth culture. Magazines such as Vice, The Face, i-D as well as clothing companies such as Marc Jacobs, Sisley and even American Apparel have all used this style of photography to promote their brands. Prior to the snapshot aesthetic's rise in popularity, photography was too impersonal and detached from everyday life. Photographers were depicting surreal models in unrealistic settings and situations. The point and shoot style of photography went against this trend by portraying subjects in a more intimate and personal manner. Terry Richardson, Juergen Teller, Wolfgang Tillmans, Diana Scheunemann and Ryan McGinley are all examples of photographers who have contributed to making this aesthetic more accepted in mainstream photography. They are the ones representing the realness movement in the photography industry.

For a long time the imagery found in advertisements, editorials and other visual media often depicted fantasy worlds. The models were portrayed as god-like creatures living in perfect environments. This advertising strategy was employed to create an aspirational image. In other words, by wearing a certain brand the consumer will be, in this case, seductive. This strategy is still used today however certain brands have decided to shift their image from a glamourous one to a more realistic one. Certain consumers got sick of constantly aspiring to own specific products that they could never actually own. They realized that they were never going to be like the models in the images they were being exposed to. These images ended up being perceived as unrealistic and unattainable by the average consumer. The point and shoot style of photography allows the consumer to relate to the images being shown. It is more immediate, more energetic and more personal. It brings accessibility into the equation since there's more interaction between the photograph and the viewer. The photographs don't seem like they have been retouched, the models' imperfections are noticeable and the settings are realistic. It's sexy, fun and raw. It's this intimacy that attracted and still attracts people to this sort of "natural" or "organic" photography.

When talking about the manifestations of the realness movement in photography there is no way of getting around Terry Richardson. He almost single handedly brought the snapshot aesthetic to the attention of the mainstream market during the 90s. However, it was difficult for him to launch his career. Showing up to a professional fashion photoshoot with a point and shoot Yashica T4 camera isn't exactly what you would expect from a photographer who was hired to oversee a campaign or editorial spread. He obviously got criticized for using amateur equipment but the visual results quickly shut his critics up. The snapshot aesthetic eventually caught on and Terry Richardson accurately describes the reasons for this in an interview during the Belvedere vodka campaign shoot:

"[With regards to] my aesthetic...it's much more immediate, and it has an energy to it...I think that that's what people, now more so, they look at a picture and if there's energy, there's some sexiness or something they like about it, it appeals to them...it's an energy people respond to, they want to be part of it or they like the way someone looks, and that's on a more human level, I think that advertising was really detached for a long time, it had nothing to do with how people see things, they sought to make it this fantasy, special, almost unobtainable object. To me, with the whole snapshot thing, it's just human, it's personal and I think people respond to it."

By following these beliefs his photographs have appeared on countless magazine covers, in editorials, in campaigns, on pop stars' album covers and in addition to shooting the previously mentioned Belvedere vodka campaign he has also recently shot the infamous Pirelli calendar, solidifying the point and shoot aesthetic's place as one of the dominant forms of photography.

Even American Apparel adopted Terry Richardson's style of photography. Their advertisements are directly influenced by the snapshot aesthetic. It's in large part due to their campaigns that the brand has become so successful. Consumers relate to the models in the shots because the pictures look like they could have been taken by the viewer. The models aren't even models, they're usually employees or so-called "real-life" models. Again, the pictures are personal, raw and usually sexy. They don't hide the subjects' flaws. They don't seem to have gone through hours of retouching in photoshop. American Apparel was one of the first mass market clothing brands to use this style of photography in its advertisements therefore it was new to consumers and helped them differentiate themselves from the competition.

The Marc Jacobs brand has also profited thanks to the snapshot aesthetic. Marc Jacobs' longtime collaboration with Juergen Teller has created unique advertisements that consumers can immediately recognize without even seeing the company's name. The photographs are fun, energetic and raw. Past campaigns have included Harmony Korine eating at a restaurant, Ryan McGinley taking a bath and Victoria Beckham’s legs popping out of a Marc Jacobs bag. They have chosen not to always use professional models. Yes, these subjects are famous in their respective industries but these images show them in a different light. In a way, the photographs bring them down to our level. The consumer can relate to them more since the campaigns make them look like everyday people by depicting them in banal/normal settings.

Prior to the likes of Terry Richardson and Juergen Teller entering the photography industry the snapshot aesthetic had never been valued highly. It was perceived as unprofessional and crude. However, it revolutionized the photography industry by incorporating elements of intimacy and reality and this, in a way, democratized it. The point and shoot aesthetic demonstrated that there wasn't one best kind of photography. These "realness movement" photographers made the photography world more accepting of their "natural" photography and showed that they also deserved artistic merit. The fact that this type of photography has remained quite popular during the last 15+ years attests to the fact that it has become an important part of the photography industry. Longevity is an important indicator of any true artistic movement and I don't see the snapshot aesthetic disappearing anytime soon.

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