ArtBookGuy
  Art For All People®    Real Talk About Contemporary Art    May 2017
WHY POSED PORTRAITS SUCK

Whenever I see them, I cringe.

Unless they’re for a passport, driver’s license or resume, I just don’t understand why we have yet to evolve beyond them.

We put a man on the moon decades ago, but we’re still doing that “frigid posing” thing. Selfies included.

There’s something about them that I find so phony that they’re almost creepy. I mean, is THAT how you really want people to see you?

I really do think that most posed portraits look the same, regardless of the people or their cultural backgrounds. You know how the template works …

You sit or stand in front of the camera, you tilt your head ever so slightly, you paste the most plastic grin ever on your face as your eyes widen and venture into Stepford territory, and you freeze for those mere seconds that actually feel like an eternity as the photographer snaps the shutter and you see the flash go off. You’re always thrilled once the flash goes away because you know you can drop the charade and finally relax.

And then, God forbid you’re doing a full-body shot like at a wedding party. At this point, everything is under scrutiny and up for grabs. Everything has to be just “perfect” because the photographer is being paid a ton of money. In this case, perfect actually means plastic.

You know full well how those formidable, full body portraits are supposed to look … can’t you just hear the photographer?

“Okay folks! Let’s make this look great! Chin down, shoulders relaxed, arms folded or resting by your sides, chest up, stomach in, legs together and feet relaxed! One, two, three! Say ‘CHEESE!!!’ You’re beautiful!”

Is there anything more cheesy than actually saying “Cheese!”?

You know, I’ve seen many wedding photos – most of which are posed – and I don’t think I’ve ever seen any good ones. They’re all horrible. And yet everyone SWEARS theirs are the best ever. They have to say that because they cost a ton … plus there’s some narcissism involved.

In fact, do you know what I think happens to all of us when we look at those horribly plastic, wedding photos? We “buy into” them. We actually become those plastic, Stepford people while responding to the couple – though usually the bride – showing them because they’re fishing for compliments:

“OH! That’s niiiiccceee!” we often say when gazing at them with our best Stepford reaction grin.

You know the drill. Play along. Life is short. Trust me, I get it.

Do you know what I find so funny? The fact that we even insist that our pets sit and pose for portraits. It seems to me that dogs - and certainly cats - are far more evolved than we are when it comes to posed portraits.

I mean, imagine what your dog Fido the yellow Lab might be “thinking” as he’s posing for a picture …

“Really??? They’ve got me doing this again! These people are getting on my last nerve! I’m sitting here, posing like an idiot, looking like I never look with this ridiculous red collar around my neck! I HATE red collars! This is NOT me! This BLOWS!”

There’s something about taking and making portraits that causes us to slip into La La Land. We think we’re putting our best faces and our best selves forward when we “pose.” We trick ourselves into thinking that because we KNOW our portrait is being taken and we’ve had time to prep ourselves, that the resulting picture will be us at our “best.”

Wrong.

The problem with posed portraits is that in the photo, you can actually SEE the subject working hard at seeming formidable. You actually see the seams. No one wants to come off looking weak or vulnerable. In reel life as in real life, our efforts to appear formidable often fall short.

In the case of posed portraits, they just look fake. Even the "good" ones are bad … unless you’re a supermodel being photographed by a world famous photographer. However, most of us are neither and never will be.

I think the very best photos of people are the ones where they’re NOT posing. They’re not “presenting their best selves” to the camera.

A posed photograph is NOT your best self. It’s just not. I know you think it is, but it’s really not. How can it be when you’ve got your guard up and your fake face on? It's you at your most guarded. I'm convinced this is why a lot of people don't like their portraits; because they know they weren't being real. 

Have you ever posed for a picture and as you’re sitting there with that fake, frozen smile, your face starts to shake and you get sweaty while you’re waiting for the photographer to take the damn picture already?

Is THAT your best self? What’s real about that?

Do you know what your “best” self is? It’s when you’re actually BEING YOURSELF … flaws and all.

I’ve seen some devastatingly beautiful photos and even painted portraits of people who were simple going about their business and being relaxed in the picture. In other words, they were captured while being themselves.

Of course, even in these cases, the subjects knew they were being photographed or caught on canvas, which is fine, but here’s the thing …

They were NOT “posing.” They were not being phony. Posing means phony.

Again, if you’re taking a photo for the high school yearbook or profile page, then you have to pose. That’s simply how those things work, but for many other things, why do you have to pose? I think the practice should be frowned upon.

Posing is SO 1963. It's so antiquated. And yet, we’re still doing it.

Smile? Yes. Bright eyes? Yes. Makeup and hair? Sure.

But pose?

NO. Not unless you want to look like a Stepford person.

Stepford person. Is THAT really you at your best?

CHEESE! 



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