The Mistaken Idea of Beauty

[youtube]http://youtu.be/xPAat-T1uhE[/youtube]»…on a party I would never have talked to a charakter like her, because she doesn’t fulfill physically the demands that we’re brought up to think that women have to have … and I say there’s too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed.« Dustin Hoffman about his famous movie character »Tootsie«.

As a photographer I focus on people, no matter if in street photography, reportage or portraiture. And nearly every assignment starts with a conversation: I’m interested in body language, in the way somebody laughs, talks and behaves. A similar »wavelength«, mutual respect and confidence are fundamental for my work. I look at facial expressions and gestures, the small changes in faces during those conversations – in order to feel and experience what a person’s character and personality are about. Essentials of my photography, which always begin with the human being; prior to any photography work, my personal perceptions become ideas and a visual concept.

Quite a number of people I’ve worked with considered themselves as unphotogenic, even unattractive. I completely disagree with these self-concepts: Yvel Hyppolite, my former teacher in portraiture, used to say »There aren’t any unphotogenic people – but plenty of awkward photographers!« I remember and appreciate his wise words very much; what I once considered to be a rather idealistic perspective, reflects today – after years in photography – my personal experiences. I completely agree to Yvel’s concept and could tell a lot of stories about very personal encounters. In fact, they are too personal to be told publicly; it’s a matter of respect for the individual in front of my camera. But many of these situations were very touching and sometimes so intense that I had tears in my eyes.

What could be more impressing than the moment somebody discovers him- or herself in my photographs, completely perplexed by an unknown, new perspective, asking me: »…is that really me? But I’m beautiful?!« Frankly, I’m sure that everybody is beautiful; not in the common sense of a completely mistaken ideal of beauty, but in his or her individual, special way. Beyond that stupid »brainwash« (Dustin Hoffman), all you need to do is to feel and see it.

  3 comments for “The Mistaken Idea of Beauty

  1. 11. Juli 2013 at 23:30

    Beautifully written, Heike, and so true…

    And the most interesting thing, from a photographer’s perspective, is the question: how do (all of you) successful portraitists get *that moment*? The moment when it all comes together, and you’ll most likely think: „Yes! That’s him/her!“? HCB called this the decisive moment, it lasts less than a second, then it’s gone forever – his words were somewhere along these lines IIRC. But after knowing the sitter for only a brief period, how do you decide that *this* is the moment, *this* is him/her? I guess that is the secret, and that a successful people photographer is at least as much of a psychologist as also a person who learned to really see. Beyond physical features and superficial thoughts of what „beauty“ means.

    Once I’ve read some words from another photographer – he wrote: „Don’t mix a photo of a beautiful girl with a beautiful photo!“ – and that changed the way I look at the photos I’ve taken forever since.

    I think for a photographer it gets interesting also if you don’t really like someone. Think of Karsh and Nabokov for instance. Tho he absolutely didn’t think good of the man, he still was enough professional to deliver a stunning portrait. Maybe it’s just about finding what makes people „tick“ as they say – even if you don’t like it at all?

    Thanks for getting those thoughts back into my head.

    • HeikeRost
      12. Juli 2013 at 11:00

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Wolfgang! The »decisive moment« as described by HCB is one interesting perspective. The „vibrations“ and non-verbal communication between photographer and »model« are for me the more important aspect on photography – as »you cannot NOT communicate«. Psychology and seeing play a great role, but most of all a photographer’s intuition, which needs to be trained constantly.

      I consider the question whether I »like« or »dislike« somebody in front of my camera not as a major problem – in both cases there is a lot of energy between photographer and model. Think of a corrida, think of martial arts … and sometimes tango, a pas de deux, consider sensuality, mutual attraction, interesting conversations as a real strong element of any portraiture. Even … without words, by the way. And don’t forget to add a dash of Shakespeare, though: »There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.« 🙂

  2. 25. November 2013 at 10:46

    Those faces with the map of the world in their countenance have more depth, more meaning, more beauty than all the symmetrical portraits could ever hope to convey. Perfect beauty is boring, stylized, and no more or less valuable than a template. Photography helps individuals understand their eccentricity is beautiful, essential, and tells a rich story about the sovereignty of life. As the 60± muscles in the face compete to convey the layers of emotion to the world, the photographer (and the camera) documents this tug-of-war. The most enchanting faces are those with conflicting emotions locked in detente on the face of each of us.

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