All images and text by Xavier D. Buendia.
There seems to be a trend in photography that sees street photographers and others flirting with portraiture and fashion photography. I’ll cover that at the end but for now, let’s focus on why I’m one of those photographers. If business is steady as a food photographer, it might sound silly to get into other areas of photography but the reason I got into portrait and fashion photography is for sheer fun and pleasure; For curiosity, to explore a different aspect of the creative process that doesn’t apply to my every-day photography routine; to learn something new, to do something because I want to, as a hobby!
But why portraiture? I have this personal challenge of expressing my visual ideas into a photograph and having the interaction with people as a tool. I’ve tried landscape and it bored me to death, long exposures and HDRs didn’t excite me, I don’t have the time and patience for wildlife photography and street photography gets repetitive and cliché more often.I have this alchemical vibe for portraiture and exploring it takes me to very different levels as a creative.
The time was right to start exploring portraiture more in detail when recently, The Chap Magazine pitched a project which involved a Peaky Blinders-inspired fashion shoot; I’ve covered a few of their events during the summer and have done some editorial work for them in the past. I guess they like my work ethic and the results so we do a couple of shoots a year. We have friends in common who recommended me as a photographer years ago; we share the same sense of humor, I love their retro style and motto! But back to the shoot, Peaky Blinders is a tv-show dramatizing gangsters in the streets of Birmingham in the 1920s. The fashion and style has had a heavy influence here in the UK especially with retro-lovers.
“I’ve tried landscape and it bored me to death, long exposures and HDRs didn’t excite me…street photography gets repetitive and cliché more often”
At the same time, I did some jewelry shots for a friend and got in touch with a couple of models to collaborate on some ideas, so in the last couple of months, I started to get a feel for what it is to do portraiture. Until recently, portraiture was somehow intimidating–you’re meant to take someone’s photograph and try to make them look half decent but doing it for a few times now at work, made me realize it’s not that bad and it’s quite pleasing to be in front of someone and having the honour of taking their photograph. Not very different from food though. But, I have this idea that to able to be a good portrait photographer, one needs certain maturity of the eye and the soul, the ability to catch that split moment when someone’s personality shines through their eye and the right light hits the subject. I’m a natural light shooter so I gamble with the conditions. Many portrait photographers are naturally talented so half the job is done there but for the rest of us, we need a mix of technical and interpersonal skills, we need to certain degree, a good understanding of light, angles, poses, lenses, perspective, locations and backgrounds; there’s the difference of taking a photo of someone and making a portrait. I consider portraiture to be the enlightenment of a photographer and an artist. hence the maturity or experience required.
My series on Cosplay was my first approach to portraiture and that made me fall back in love with people after years in the service industry. it helped me with my confidence and social skills while street photography taught me the technical and artistic aspects of photography. There is no transition to and from a street photographer /portrait photographer/food photographer but something like a path to become a more rounded and complete photographer.
“Until recently, portraiture was somehow intimidating–you’re meant to take someone’s photograph and try to make them look half decent but doing it for a few times now at work, made me realize it’s not that bad and it’s quite pleasing to be in front of someone and having the honour of taking their photograph.”
If you’d like to know how my professional work compares to my personal, let me tell you that I like to explore and experiment with my personal projects. The Peaky Blinders inspired shoot was considered a personal project and taught me a few editing and lighting techniques that I started using on my commercial work. I try to be a bit more conservative when shooting for clients but sometimes taking risks pays off and end up with amazed clients.
I’m relatively new to shooting portraiture so I haven’t discovered many photographers but I know what style I like. My bare basic source of inspiration is Helmut Newton, freaking love his work and his philosophy! Then there is David Bailey, Sally Mann and Annie Leibovitz. There are a few fellas I follow on Instagram too, a Mexican photographer called Hector Paris or Elizaveta Porodina from Russia for example. Cinema and comic vignettes are something that influence my portraiture as well; I’m crazy about cinematic photography, how they use light and compose a scene to express an idea or emotion. I often have to see a movie several times because I can’t listen to the dialogue, I’m too immersed in the photography that my brain blocks out everything else. Same with comic books, I look at the drawings instead of reading the dialogues. I also spend some time on Pinterest creating boards like this one for collaborations with models or this one for the Peaky Blinders shoot where I look for inspiration on poses and backgrounds.
For example with models, I’m after an aesthetic appeal. This is hard to explain because I’m not into fashion or glamour, I’m after that aesthetical sense of beauty and a pleasing photograph with a gentle provocation. Screaming colours, grainy-film like black and whites, cinematic angles, I’m exploring and discovering so pretty much anything goes. So… I get in touch with a model and ask if they’ll be interested in collaborating on a project about them as models and what I think would get the best out of them. I’d share a Pinterest boards and then we arrange for a shoot, locations are already in the back of my head so the process is simple. It’s all for fun and for the love of the craft so I’m pretty chilled about these shoots and I want the models to have fun too but know that they’re collaborating with a professional. Afterwards, I share the photos with them and everyone’s happy.
For the Peaky Blinders-inspired fashion shoot, I found out about the subject the same morning of the shoot. I just grabbed my gear and headed to the meeting point, there and then while the editor and models were dressing up I prepared that Pinterest board and read as much as I could about Peaky Blinders, the tv show and the real gang from Birmingham. The locations were already scouted by the editorial team. We had about two hours to get everything done and it was pretty straightforward relating the models to the tv characters.
As I stated above, there’s this trend of street and other photographers shifting to portraiture, It might be because they find portraiture and fashion more profitable or commercially viable; that’s fair considering how “competitive” the industry is or because they want to explore different areas of photography like myself. Let me finish by saying that not having the commercial pressure of producing a photograph is a real luxury!