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High concepts, low budgets, no concepts, fix it in Photoshop

December 3, 2009

Complex keeps things interesting

When I get drunk and talk about the death of magazines, every Wednesday, I’m mostly lamenting the death of the job market and the PR-approved pap that we’ve come to punch John Lahr in the face with and call profile pieces. But what can I say. I’ve written the shit myself. Mostly because I’m green, but also because I’m easy. You pick your battles so you can pick up your groceries. But the other side of the editorial/production coin is that mags nowadays, those stalwart print survivors still holding it down at your local magazine rack, aren’t just always saying something lame or late, they’re getting kind of uglier too, aren’t they?

This is not an across the board criticism, but really — aside from the consistently lively Complex (above), and I guess maybe Vanity Fair — where have all the exciting photoshoots gone? Is Nylon what we have? (And that’s not a snarky rhetorical, if I’m ignoring the obvious answers let me know.) I saw the Monnaie’s David Lachapelle exhibit earlier this year and I guess yeah, his kind of fully conceived and lushly executed celebrity snapshots have become the territory of retrospectives. “The apocalypse is sold to us on television,” said Lachapelle, and maybe that’s what’s missing — photographers as artists, as pop theorists, as pretentious blowhards, as megalomanical personalities who will sit Tupac fucking Shakur in a goddamn bubblebath, or make Courtney Love hold a Kurt Cobain lookalike in a dead Christ pose; where every inch of the frame is bursting with inspired mise-en-scene and genuine oh shit moments. Someone who doesn’t just snap shots of celebrities, but captures and even crafts pop culture.

I’m maybe asking too much. Naturally, budget slashes in the print world, in the whole world, make these shoots near impossible (we all know how liberal Annie Leibovitz was with her budgets) and these photographers too expensive. Also, the New World Order of iron-fisted PR grips the photographer’s hands as they do the writer’s, and who are they to have to fight that battle for everyone else, I guess. And maybe all the wonderful up-and-coming shutterbugs have either revolted against our tabloid culture and opted to follow around politicians or some shit, can you blame them? Or they just gave in and became full-blown papparozzos. But I can’t let everyone off the hook here though, because really, you can do it with a camera and an idea. With a face. The faces are always there. What are we to do with some of these photoshoots that take genuinely beautiful people and make them plastic and computer-generated? The non-artistic Photoshopping has got to stop, people, because if you can’t stir even a semi with your half-naked Leighton Meester photos, you’ve failed. Epic fail.

How did we let Maxim change things so thoroughly?

We can’t do much about all that up there, and perhaps it’s not even worth it to. But what we can do is call for more creativity. For more giving a shit. I don’t mean to pick on Empire here, but can we? Let’s take a look at Empire. For the mag’s 20th anniversary they got a bunch of stars to revisit their most iconic performances. Which sounds great. Awesome concept. But it’s all concept and no execution. Which I suppose is fitting for today’s film landscape, where Hollywood is all about the fucking pitch and the opening weekend numbers and damn everything else. Pitch, pitch, pitch. Films about boardgames. Photos about movies.

Here is Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. Bored ol’ Jason Bourne. Nice little plug for the magazine. Nice little fly-swatter, really.

And here’s Jack Nicholson’s most iconic movie role. You know, that one where he smiles like Jack Nicholson.

Even Morgan Freeman hates this.

I guess you don’t have to try to channel their most iconic performances, because they only have one. So fuck even painting a lightning bolt on the kid, let’s just sit them on a bench. Then again, Radcliffe does mystery, Grint does affable, and Watson does that thing you don’t like to talk about — perfect summary of the franchise. I guess.

Hey, remember that time Christian Bale glowered? That was an awesome movie. What was it called. No, the other one.

Oh, this one I actually quite like!

Hat’s off to Gibson for being apparently the only game one in town. Unless that’s Photoshop. That’s not Photoshop, is it?

All it takes is a pout?

I think you see where I’m going. And I didn’t even mention the dreary backdrops, not even once. There are more here, some of them not that bad. But none of them great. Where was I? Let’s start giving a shit again. I will with my writing — I’m all about that from this point on. But so much of our new media landscape navel-gazing already happens on the editorial side. Pretty pages are about the only thing keeping magazines vital and exciting, and a nice package that can be sold as a commodity itself might be the only thing that keeps them interesting in the future. Without the pictures, what’s the point anymore?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Simon permalink*
    December 4, 2009 12:40 pm

    I find Jonah Hill is the subject of many unflattering photoshoots.

    This may or may not be a coincidence.

  2. Anupa permalink*
    December 4, 2009 3:08 pm

    Not that they are of the same calibre as Lachappellle (who I love and I”m jealous you got to see that exhibit) but I actually really love the way Report on Business/Small Business magazines (that come with the Globe & Mail) shoot what would normally be realllllllly boring subjects and stories in creative and humanizing ways. They almost borrow that absurdist quality from LaChappelle.

    Nylon fucking sucks and has turned into the hipster standard. But there are a lot of beautiful fashion spreads in magazine’s around the world. Vogue Nippon does amazing stuff, as does 10, iD and Numero Tokyo. is an awesome site for viewing global editorials.

    Also, this was a gold line: “Watson does that thing you don’t like to talk about”

    • Simon permalink*
      December 4, 2009 5:08 pm

      You’re not supposed to talk about that.

  3. chocolatesandwich permalink
    December 7, 2009 8:33 pm

    Great article. Same thoughts here dude.

    I do appreciate the art of image manipulation through photoshop. I just don’t like when it takes over the original idea.

    I think photography is coming back to a more organic state now. The plastic look is no longer the standard but just another effect.

  4. December 8, 2009 7:59 pm

    Yes, more suggestions people, thanks Anupa. I clearly just don’t know where to look anymore. Chocolatesammich: thanks man.

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