A conceptual portrait is basically the art of creating a portrait that illustrates an idea. The idea behind creating conceptual portraits grew from my commercial photography. With commercial photography, the goal is to create an image that creates interest in the product. This is very often done by creating a story around the product that incite the viewer into some level of connectivity with the product. At the very least, the image of the product should not leave the viewer indifferent to the product. At the very best, the image would entice the viewer into wanting to own the product.
I once heard a photographer say, and if I could remember who it was I would give them credit, that there are two types of photographers. There first type of photographer goes out and finds the image. It is out there somewhere, they just need to find it. Street photographers would be a good example of this type of photographer. Let’s call this type of photographer the “hunter”.
The second type of photographer is the one that comes up with an idea and then sets out to create it. A good example of this type of photographer is a commercial photographer who, when doing a shot, has his studio filled with art directors, stylists, makeup artist, ad campaign managers, plus all sorts of drawings depicting what the final image will look like. Let’s call this type of photographer “conceptualists”.
Keep in mind that one approach is not better than the other. They are just opposite approaches.
I believe that there is a trend today toward the “hunter” style of photography. Consider wedding photography. In order to fulfill the expectations of todays bride and groom, the wedding photographer must be able to capture a huge variety of images. They need to be great at doing traditional portraits, yet be able to use photojournalistic styles to capture candid moments throughout the day. And on top of that, they need to do product images of the many details such as the rings and the cake that are present at the wedding. They need to be great hunters. They need to be able to find the shot within the parameters that they are given.
Why is the hunter style becoming popular? I believe it is because the increase in the quality of images that you can get in low light situations from newer digital cameras. It has opened up a place that photojournalistic images have never been able to go before, taking emphasis away from needing to learn and understand lighting techniques and moving it towards being able to use the light that exists.
On the other side, the “conceptualist” spends a lot of time learning to understand lighting and the tools needed in lighting, and then a lot more time leaning how to control them. Very often, what you will see in a conceptualist’s image does not, or can not, exist outside of that image.
The idea of the conceptual portrait has been around for a long time. Looking back I can remember photographing babies with bunny rabbits, or guys with their motorcycles, or girls in their Tutu’s showing off their favourite dance steps. By most measures, these are conceptual portraits, after all, they are portraits that are designed and created to tell a specific story or convey a message. Problem though, they all seem quite cliche. It was obvious to me that I needed a fresher, newer idea for my portraits.
My current trajectory on portraits is still conceptual portraits, but, with a deeper exploration into the idea around the portrait. For example, instead of the girl in a Tutu, why not on a marvellous stage with orchestra and sets. Instead of a guy sitting on the ground by his motorcycle, why not have images of him riding down a country road.
From this position, I am able to open up the concept even further. Why not do conceptual portraits around an idea! The image “Eternal Conflict” is one of my images built around this concept. I have been exploring the concept of spirituality through a series of images called “The Wooden Pew Project”. Eternal Conflict is one of the images from that collection. Click on this link http://thephotographerscode.com/wooden-pew-project/ if you would like to learn more about this project. As a side note, the church building that this image was photographed in was demolished the week after this image was taken.
I am currently creating a new body of work around this concept of conceptual portraiture. As the body of work grows, I will be adding examples to this web site. this is a very exciting project and would welcome any ideas that you may have around it. Give me a call at 604-307-4566 and lets see if we can turn your idea into a portrait.