(Men) in (Suits)

February 6, 2009

So for the project portion of my current show I’m doing commissions, which is an interesting experience and as close as I’ll probably ever get to commercial photography.  (Not that I’m staying away on purpose; I just don’t have that set of skills.)

When you’re taking a picture of someone in hopes that they will like and therefore purchase it, and they have contacted you based on your pictures of other people in which money was not part of the equation, it’s hard to get a firm grasp on what to aim for in terms of wondering whether they’ll like it.   Or, more simply: do you stick to the routine of the prints they liked in the first place or do you make that secondary to making a flattering picture of your subject?

I’m curious about this precisely because I have chosen route 1, which has less to do with anything ethical or aesthetic consistency than with simply being concerned with the picture and not the person.  That sounds cold, but what I mean is that I don’t think I would know how to cater to a portrait subject anyway.  What does “flattering” mean?  And how do you achieve someone else’s idea of it?  There’s a whole gulf, I am beginning to realize, that lies between artists using photography and Professional Photographers that has a lot more going on than just different end results. 

When I started this series I was often told that it looked like Archiectural Digest photography and people didn’t like it when I took that as a compliment.   What that means to me is that they are stand-ins for commercial photography, and again, I’m not a photographer, I’m an artist, so to stae out territory in the (theoretical) commerical world is fascinating to me. 

The effect all of this is having on me lately is to free me up from the feeling that I have to filter everything through a photographic image (not that I previously did anyway).   I’m thinking of myself as the abovementioned artist who uses photography more and more, meaning I can also use any other tools at my disposal.  This is where folks get nervous because I’m not trained in sculpture, for example, but to me that’s moot because it’s about communicating an idea using whatever’s at hand, not about “skill.”

You could probably guess that I have a head cold because of what a hot mess this post is, and you would be right.  Here are some examples of new Men in Suits pics, though now they include women and the rules have softened a little to be more inclusive of people who liked the original work.  (Also the final picture’s house is the most amazingly decorated house I’ve ever seen.  I don’t even tend to notice stuff like that, but my jaw dropped.  That picture was taken in the master bedroom.)

menshow23xa

menshow24a

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2 Responses to “(Men) in (Suits)”


  1. I modeled for Viet Le series, Pictures of You. We sort of worked our way through the house, partly letting me go about my business and partly giving instruction. I remember looking at the proofs, and some he didn’t like because they came across as too commercial looking (or in my case, like gay porn).
    http://vietle.net/pictures.html

    There are elements that break with commercial tradition, like showing the forced air vents and the bits that fall into shadow (or wash out in the light). To me they seem more cinematic, where elements in the shot are supposed to give some clues about the character.

    What’s most interesting is that the idiosyncrasies of everyone’s decor choices seem to reveal the most about the people depicted, but when you look at the person inhabiting the environment, they’re wearing the most depersonalizing outfit, creating a formal, distancing effect. To get clues about the person I have to look at the furniture.

    This is a very different read than I had when you first showed this work. Being aware of your images of bondage gear, I read the suits as another fetish. The constraints of the series (going into people’s homes, having them suit up) was a surreptitious way to get them to participate in a paraphilia.

    Perhaps part of that reading comes from being at CalArts, where all art that involves other people is seen as manipulative on some level.

  2. Jesus Ali Says:

    Wow, Ben from LOST really does have a snazzy bedroom! Was that on or off the lsland? 😉


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