photo prose: gary rabenko

New gear, old style

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Change has been occurring on three fronts that will work together to revert the look of simcha photography to a more dramatic style of the 1980s. I predict that in a few years a popular style will be more crafted than candid. Many now realize that a good photographer can use a candid style to tell stories that are more photo-journalistically powerful specifically due to the skill advantage these photographers have over photojournalists.

New photographers, emboldened by the confidence of digital, are eager to find ways to stand out. Many realize they should be learning, and want to explore where skill can be applied.

An abundance of Chinese-made high-tech lighting products are being pushed by the big name photo dealers as well as countless small online retailers who know that everyone is a photographer just itching to buy something to make their work more professional – whatever that means.

After decades of the public thinking that unskilled snapshots are superior to the sculpted imagery classically trained photographer had been aspiring to, much of the public has been underwhelmed. They now want to see differences between pros they have hired and their uncle Joe already invited! Which aligns with today’s not-so-new-anymore photographer trying to be competitive by being different.

In photojournalism, we saw an abandonment of the skilled use of light to produce the meaningful shadows that can make people look like artistic sculptures. Simultaneously, subjects were not finessed into powerful and inspiring poses, but left to sloppier naturalness where people could often look more like potato heads and sad sacks.

Recently came a bright style – as minimally skilled and uninspired photographers placed lights everywhere so that group and individual portraits are lit from all directions and backgrounds are bright and shadowless. This is how cheap product photography is done by dropping the product into a light tent. But applying this to people who have individuality and personality is akin to them having the same hairstyle, clothing, and pose. It is the photo version of wearing a uniform and marching in lockstep.

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