What started out as a bit of a joke has become a serious interest of mine.
Three years ago back in Canada I threw an ugly sweater party at my house and decided it would be awesome to set up a back drop and take some photos of my friends in their hideous garb. The party was fun, and the photos were hilarious and got a great response.
Two years later I threw another party, this time with the sole intent of taking bad portraits. That night, I laughed so hard that my entire midsection hurt for 2 days. (P.S. My friends are awesome.)
I didn't realise that the execution of intentionally bad portraiture was actually marketable until I was approached by the producer of Melbourne's Darebin Music Feast, Ciel Fuller, in August 2013. In keeping with the overall theme and aesthetic of the festival, she wanted a photo booth set up at the festival, and a photographer that could help festival-goers "channel Wes Anderson." I was a perfect candidate for the job. The resulting photographs from the event garnered tons of attention on Facebook, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
In light of the success of this little project of mine I had to ask myself: Why does my generation, a generation that is generally very picky about photos of themselves (to the point of "untagging" pictures on Facebook, for example) enjoy having BAD portraits taken so much? I've worked as a portrait photographer for over 5 years and the most common thing I hear is "I HATE having my picture taken, but I need it for this or that." In a world of social media "image crafting," Facebook, Instagram, online dating and smart phone selfies, where people share selectively and project an inflated version of their existence, why does our generation revel in the exact opposite? When you take the ego out of a portrait, what is left?
About a month after the Darebin Music Feast I was contacted by Frankie Magazine for an interview and photo spread in their January/February issue. Turns out, it's not just me who's fascinated by this phenomenon. They had seen the photos from the Feast and wanted to ask for my take on the willingness of people to "get their geek on" and have it immortalised in photographs. I was interviewed by a writer named Nicole Thomas, who enthusiastically agreed with a lot of my reasoning behind the portrait series.
We all have those photographs from our past that haunt us. I'm pretty sure everyone in the western world has gone through an awkward phase... or just happened to be alive in the 80s and 90s. And though they make us cringe in the present day, they also bring back fond memories of a simpler time.
Let's face it. Life is full of disappointment, uncertainty, and constant pressure to "be something," to be really good at something. Our generation has been raised to believe that we are special, that we can achieve anything, and when things don't work out exactly the way we imagined, we feel frustration and disappointment. Not only that, but our successes and failures are constantly on display on social media platforms. Our generation is social media obsessed, and it's created a monster.
Studies have shown that because of the image curating that happens, a lot of us are dissatisfied with our lives. I believe that deep down most of us dislike the fact that we're so addicted to such a fake existence.
When we stop trying so hard, when we stop taking ourselves so seriously, we allow ourselves to just BE, and that can be very liberating. The extreme of meticulous image crafting and projection of "cool" is momentarily swapped for the other extreme of goofy awkwardness. Somewhere in the middle, the extremes meet and present themselves as a genuine portrait that, I believe, captures a personality. And that is what this portrait series has allowed me to do. I feel like for one moment, when a person is goofing off in front of my camera, they're shedding the pressures and constraints of upholding an image and they're allowing themselves to be real.
And let's be honest. Sometimes we just need a good laugh.