Image: Ronald Fischer, Beekeeper, by Richard Avedon, 1981
This image is very near and dear to my heart. First of all, I went to school for photography, so I am partial to all things photo-related (or, I should say MOST things—there is some photography I just can’t stand).
However, I never really enjoyed studio photography. I really only ever preferred to photograph things using natural light, which meant I shot my film out in the real world, rather than in a room with artificial lighting. I always thought natural light was more beautiful and easier to work with. I’m also not very technical (which is strange because photography is SUCH a technical craft), and working in a studio is quite technical. The photographer is in control of everything, and everything is mechanized. Because of this, I never felt like there was much room to create and expand. I felt trapped, having to rely on equipment, and having to stay confined within a certain space.
I’m sure many, if not all, studio photographers feel the exact opposite. To them, they have ALL the control, so they can create fantasy worlds within four walls, and have the creative freedom to do whatever they want. I totally get it and it makes perfect sense. But for me, I just felt limited by technology and uninspired by all of the metallic apparatus needed to work within a studio setting. Au nautrale was and always will be the preferred photographic path for this goddess.
To each his own, absolutely.
In my mind, this incredible image falls under two categories of photography: PORTRAIT and STUDIO. I find both of these photographic realms incredibly challenging, but this was Richard Avedon’s bread and butter. Photographers, as with all artists, must find their unique style of expression. They can’t force it and they shouldn’t pretend that another way is better than their own natural way. The mature creators know that the distinctive style that is trying to make its way out into the world through them, should not be resisted. It’s the soul’s way of trying to push forward and make itself known. The best artists are those who honor that natural style, without question, and follow their own path, regardless of what everyone else thinks.
Coming from a photographer’s perspective, I have to say, it is SO difficult to shoot a compelling portrait with such simplicity. There’s nothing to work with really, no sexy background, no off-the-wall angles, no lighting variation. Avedon just had a person, and a camera (and bees of course), and he made it work. He made the image excel and go beyond the ordinary. He didn’t even really take composition into consideration. He obviously wasn’t very concerned with that, but it doesn’t even really matter. Who needs a complex composition when you have a shirtless bald man covered in honey bees, gazing straight at you with tranquilly romantic eyes? But a brilliant photographer also knows that he or she cannot rely on subject matter alone. There has to be more. The viewer is too sophisticated not to notice that there is something lacking.
The best part about this photograph is that it’s actually kind of creepy and horrific. It’s startling. Avedon was not just photographing a man in front of a white screen. He was photographing a man with his shirt off (vulnerability). He was photographing a man staring straight into the camera (disarming). He was photographing a man with creatures crawling all over him (wild). He was photographing a man using black and white film (direct). All of these components come together to create this utterly bizarre picture.
A photograph that is vulnerable, and disarming, and wild, and direct, is the kind of photograph I want to display in my home. I will never get bored with this image. I actually had a poster version (read my post about ART ON YOUR WALLS for more info) of this photograph and kept it with me until I lost it during some move. When I had it, I hung it in the most brilliantly fantastical location in my house, if I do say so myself. I mounted it above the toilet in my bathroom, and it definitely had an effect on people. But isn’t that what all good art invokes—an effect of some kind? For you the viewer, I say it’s okay to let yourself feel a bit uncomfortable around art. That is its purpose in a way. And a successful artist can make you uncomfortable while still enticing you to move intimately closer towards its treasures. It’s a good thing to get closer to the uncomfortable. It helps you to open. So relax and allow that discomfort to skulk all over the surface of your skin, until you finally surrender to it, gazing romantically ahead with clear and softly tranquil eyes.