RICKY MARTIN PHOTOGRAPH WENT VIRAL
Ricky Martin posted one of the photographs that I shot of him and the internet liked it. They actually liked it a lot and so much so that it was on Billboard Magazine, People Magazine, Latina Magazine, Perez Hilton, iHeart Radio, Ryan Seacrest and more... but this wouldn't be a tutorial photography website if we didn't address the pros & cons of this. You might think, "What cons?... Ricky Martin posted your image and the internet loved it!".
Yes I understand your point, but I'm an artist. You're an artist, so we have to question WHY this image went viral (that's easy, it's nudity of a superstar) and how will this affect our future work. Is this what is required now? In order to be seen, heard, and liked it must involve lots of sex appeal? If you have a more subdued photo shoot, without the use of heavy skin do you stand a chance of being seen? Read below and let me know your thoughts in the comments...
WHY DID THIS SURPRISE ME? HE IS FAMOUS.
You'll probably think, "Why is Walid surprised at this!?". Ricky Martin is famous, handsome, in great shape and the picture is of him coming out of the shower. Do that math! Yes I get that on the most surface level and I did think this photograph would capture a bigger audience. I won't even deny that for a minute but I did not think countless messages would come in from peers & friends saying they saw my name on People Magazine, E! News, Billboard Magazine, etc...
My work in the past includes some interesting and iconic artists. I am one of the lucky ones, those that never stopped working and had the chance to capture the greats...not just the famous, but the GREATS! And having photographed people of such stature, none of my images blew up to that extent. Lets take away any magazine covers, album covers or large placement ads. Those are paid placements and don't count. I'm saying authentic, internet buzz...the kind which keeps people talking. That's what this photograph of Ricky did and I was surprised by it. I'm not star-struck, I've had enough stars to get over that part of it. I'm honored but not star struck. And some of the biggest artists that I shot didn't have this reaction from the public.
Also, in my opinion I have better images of Ricky, really introspective and thoughtful images. I have images that are dynamic and exciting, also raw and moody. I don't think he's every been photographed the way I shot him and I'm quite comfortable saying that statement. We saw a different side of Ricky Martin. Notice I didn't say better, I said different. My pictures are different than anything he's had in his career, guarantee you that and they'll stand the test of time. They won't expire, I promise.
So when the half-nude image got all the traction, I was taken back. What!? You guys didn't love the one of him hanging from the bar? You didn't die over the silhouette in front of the car? The galaxy circling around his head? That's why I was surprised because photographically speaking, I had other favorites.
WHAT DID I LEARN ABOUT THIS EXPERIENCE?
The lesson that I learned was "Skin is in". You'd think that was the first lesson in photography but I underestimated its commercial value. I knew that sexy gets attention but I relied more on other values. However, the internet loves to see the human body and that explains all the booty pictures by IG models.
COMMERCIAL SIDE OF ME: Hey this is awesome and I deserve the recognition for a long job, we shot so much and I'm happy that people are interested in the images.
ARTISTIC SIDE OF ME: What?! I have so many other images of Ricky that we've released slowly and some of them I'd frame in my home, I love them that much. He's never been photographed the way we did it and people loved them. You guys spread the nude image around and not one of my other favorites!? So, I guess we have to shoot lots of skin for Instagram people to appreciate it.
OK BUT WHAT NUDITY AM I OK WITH?
I OK with nudity when it fits the overall story. I am OK with nudity and violence if it tells a story. That is the ONLY reason why I even shared this image. Because it holds all the values I want in it. It's not in your face, it's tasteful. It's well framed, good lighting, shows an iconic person in a different space, doesn't dehumanize anyone, doesn't victimize the subject and it's fitting.
I have a distaste for nudity images for the sake of nakedness because it was to fill the creativity void. If you ever visited ModelMayhem, you know my exact point. There are some superb photographers and then some ... well....lets just say not my cup of tea photographers.
I don't want to put a woman dressed in lingerie, heals and crawling on an old car. That's boring and what the hell is she doing in an abandoned junk yard in lingerie anyways? She's probably had an appointment to be objectified. I don't want to photograph a guy in briefs, combat boots and laying on a car. Why are your shoes on when you're in your underwear!? It's out of place and screams "no creativity here, so lets show skin". For the image of Ricky we had a beautiful human in a perfect setting. THAT is the nudity I am OK with.
HOW WILL THIS EXPERIENCE CHANGE MY FUTURE PHOTOGRAPHS?
Are we supposed to show more skin, so that we get exposure as creatives? Again it's not about the nudity. It's why the nudity. We're showing skin now for Instagram likes, not because it's a beautiful image. Will I shoot more skin? I don't know...I have to think about this and I'm curious what everyone else thinks?
Have you changed your aesthetic because of what's happening on Instagram?
Have you photographed for Instagram instead of for your portfolio?
Ultimately it's up to you to photography any style that you want. Instagram isn't everything and a beautiful photograph is exactly that, a beautiful piece of work.
HOW SHOULD WE REACT AS A COMMUNITY TO SKIN IMAGES? SKIN IS IN BUT WHERE DO WE DRAW THE LINE?
As photographers I feel that we must seek the balance in this movement. It isn't a new concept to use skin/sex for selling. Some recording artists entire career is based on this and it works, still works quite well. The question is: Where do we draw the line? I'm still searching for the answer but currently this is where I'm at...
I understand that skin is in. I understand that with the ever increasing A.D.D. behavior within social media, you have to grab their eyes in 1/3 of a second. What works? Skin works and whether we like it or not, it's a fact. Where we as photographers must draw the line is the rest of the project, the body of it must contain depth and thought. I'm not saying you can't have a sexy image and have depth, but I'm speaking for social media attention only. There are gorgeous images of full nudity with incredible thought behind them. But getting back to the topic: If you must show something sexy to make them stop scrolling, then offer incredible depth with the rest of the images. Something has to pull them in, and when they do click the link give them something to think about.
That's no different than how a recording artist does it. They give that one smash hit, the one where radio plays on repeat. The rest of the album (if they're good) has the meatier songs, the ones they're probably attached to. Would you hear the album (core fans don't count) if they didn't give that one song to pull you in? Probably not! That's because we have so much content to sift through and you can't possibly ingest it all.
Maybe the sweet spot is, pull them in with a killer image. However, make the rest of the images about substance, something that makes them love your artistry.
Life is about balance. You can be an artist that only cares about emotion with zero business intentions. That's great and so many beautiful artists exist because of that thought. A good number of them perform in public and need only enough to eat. The other end of the spectrum has people calling themselves artists but they duplicate the latest trends and water them down. Is that art? Sure! It's as much art as warming something in your microwave is fine dining. You get my point?
To be a successful artist you have to put several hats on.
Managerial Hat: Because most photographers do not have a manager, you must get accustomed to thinking like it. It's awful, not because managers are awful but because it feels wrong to be incredibly calculated and think about the dollar vs. the art. However, life happens and you need to eat. As a manager, you must constant ask yourself what's best for your client? How can you benefit from the piece of work and what can it lead to? You must ask for artistic credit and proper name placement, limit the usage rights and look for money opportunity anyway possible. You must see every new work as a stepping stone to something bigger and take all emotions out of the work. It's a product (when you're wearing this hat!
Artist Hat: You sensitive little thing! This is your job to put all your emotions into your work, to be creative and expressive. It's your job to understand culture and have an opinion. Have you ever met an artist without an opinion? The answer is no because that's one of the main ingredients to be an artist! As an artist your job is battle your manager and question every decision. This is complicated because you're both roles and it's comedic from afar but essential for your career. It's the manager's job to make you the most money, but does that hurt your art? Your manager's job is to say no to free jobs and things that don't ruffle feathers. Your job is to make people stop and think, and possible ruffle feathers. It's a big contradiction and even with an official management this is the case. Somewhere in the middle is the perfect answer for each case.
Viewer/Public Hat: We say who cares what the public thinks, make yourself happy! Yes that's in the cards but lets be real...you have to be smart. This is part of the trinity, and it's part of the checks and balances. You must care what the public thinks for so many reasons. Are you offending anyone and is it worth that pain to get your point across? Listen to what the viewers say. Listen to them as thoughtfully as you want them to view your work with thoughtfulness. Where are they coming from and what type of taste level do they have?
Also look at the response. What part of your work garners great reception and which is ignored. This is where many artists freakout and block all future response. You are not one thing. You are many aspects, many thoughts, many emotions and opinions. They may respond well to one of your ideas and not the other. If you want commercial success, listen. Listen to what they want and give that. You can keep making the less popular idea, but they may not see the stage & lights. They'll be there in your book but the ones you put up for public consumption should recognize (even the smallest amount) what they like.
**I am not saying copy someone else's work. I'm saying, give more of what they like from YOUR work.