What is it about staged photography? It’s such a polarizing thing, really it is.
Some people love it. They love it, they adore it, and they do it, oh, do they do it oh so well. And others? Others think that you are the anti-Christ for doing anything, even something simple, like moving a chair. I like to move chairs, especially when they are in the way. What’s wrong with moving chairs? Would somebody please tell me?
Another interesting thing about staged photography is that some people take to it right away. Like, they see somebody stage something, stage one single little thing, and it’s like a little light bulb goes off in their head, as they suddenly realize that they too can “stage” a shot. And, stage it they do. They go off and they move chairs, build sets, make models, sew things, get props, tear apart their homes, even throw down berries when they go out walking in the woods. “All the world’s a stage” and it’s like a fire’s been lit or a light has gone on inside of them and they’ve suddenly awoke to realize that they too can do this-that it’s not reserved for some “elite” class of “uber-photographer” but that they can do it too. “All the world’s a stage and they are merely players,” but play they do, and play they will, even if it’s with props they have to beg, borrow, or steal.
All this while other photographers, what do they do? Curse them. Yes, you read that right, some photographers think that “staged” equals “bad” and they just won’t do it. They are these sort of “purists” out there who don’t think it’s right. Even though almost every single frame that’s ever been shot has some sort of “staged” element to it (either the photographer waited for the right light, moved to the right vantage point, got the right angle, etc.) they still see “staged” as being outlawed. Maybe they just don’t get it? Maybe they are just jealous because they didn’t think of it first? Maybe they just don’t think in terms of “staged” because they are too preoccupied with being “reactionary” like hunters waiting for a kill or some such thing?
I don’t know about that, but I do know that I like staged photography. I think there’s nothing wrong with it. I do it all the time, and I’m proud of it. I think it’s great to build sets, to tear down curtains, to move chairs. Heck, I’d go so far as to say, if you don’t move chairs, you aren’t a “real” photographer. Get out a move a chair every once in a while, you purists. You’re not “purists” you’re lazy ass people who are so lazy you don’t even want to move a chair. Geesh. Get over yourselves.
I was very impressed when Scriber’s Web did her Utata project, how she quickly took to staging shots and working with staged compositions. She’s very good at it, even for somebody who got a new camera and isn’t quite comfortable yet with all of the buttons and knobs. Photography really isn’t about all of the buttons and knobs, but it’s easy for me to say that because, well, because I know what all of them do. To somebody just starting out, it can be daunting.
But, at the heart of it, once you get past all of the buttons and knobs, it’s not even about moving chairs that counts. It’s all about making an impact, about an emotional response, about lining things up, setting things up visually so somebody will respond. That can be done staged or not, depending on our vision. The staging parts of it don’t matter, it’s the results, the emotion, and the impact that count here.
I work sometimes with another photographer (one who shall remain nameless) who really hates staged photography. He’s one of those purists that thinks “[he] is the landscape.” Yeah, whatever. His work would be a whole lot better if he stopped yapping on, stroking his ego, took more time to line up his shots, and really “cleaned up” some of his compositions-to stage things a bit. He’s not sophisticated enough really to be a photographer, he’s just a mime with expensive equipment. Sure he has a great camera (if I had to say it, his camera is probably better than Scriber’s camera and most of my cameras and, Lord knows, he paid a lot more for it) but having a great camera doesn’t make one a great photographer. Being a “purist” and refusing to “stage” shots doesn’t help him either. He needs to go out, look at more art to really get a sense of who he is as an artist and then go off and do more creative stuff.
Creativity is the key here, folks. You can stage it, you can see it, you can snap it, you can wait for any kind of “decisive moment” crap shot, shoot from the hip, whatever you want but, if it’s not creative, if it’s not unique, it’s not you, and that, at the end of the day, that is what makes it bad.
In case you’re wondering, part of the title of this post comes from one of my favorite books on staged photography. Called The Architect’s Brother it’s a great book to have if you can still round up a copy.
Until next time…
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What a great post. I understand what you mean. It clears up a ton of topics about photography.
Thank you so much for all your help, advice, and guidance. You are a great mentor and a teacher. I couldn’t have done any of this without you.
BTW… Isn’t is so odd that I wrote something about you on my blog the exact same day? And we didn’t even plan it. Must be some ESP…