The 3 L's

Please People, Can We Stop Using The Term ‘Real Women’?

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It’s been a lovely afternoon for me, spent meeting with a friend over coffee. I couldn’t help but overhear, however, the conversation taking place between two bushy bearded men two tables away. It seems I have a hyper-sensitive radar in regards not only to the mention of my name, but any reference to me whatsoever – in this instance, I was simply ‘nah, mate, the other one’.

We were being assessed. Luckily, not with numbers (I hate that. Why do guys have to label us with a mark out of ten? Could their way of expression any attraction – or lack of – be any more degrading?) Instead, they were comparing us to the standards of beauty of today. That’s when that term came into use… ‘real woman’. According to Santa’s Hipster son 1# and Santa’s Hipster son 2#, I’m a ‘borderline real woman’ because I have a bum, but according to his friend.. ‘nah mate, she’s not a real woman, she’s too thin, mate, too thin, I like real women.’

Excuse me, I can vouch that I am a real woman, and I can also say, with confidence, that I am not hovering around an imaginary line between womanly and… whatever the alternative is. Boyish? Butch? Barbie? I see myself naked on a daily basis, and trust me, I’m all woman.

Of course, the bigger issue with this conversation was the fact that we were being so casually evaluated in the first place.. I’ve heard men hold similar conversations in front of the meat aisle in Tesco. ‘Mate, steak tonight? What d’ya think of this one?’ – ‘Nah mate, look at it, that’s barely a steak at all – it’s a borderline cold cut! The only thing that’s good for is being slapped on a sandwich!’

I’m not about to start complaining about being picked at by men, however. I frankly can’t even muster the energy to do so. But I can muster the energy to complain about that term, because this isn’t just a degrading term used by men who see woman as objects to be assessed, and used, and disposed of, but it’s a part of the forefront of our society. It’s used in our magazines and on our TV shows and in our day-to-day debates as we compare ourselves to others. Suddenly it seems that in the ‘quest’ to force the fashion world to accept ‘plus sized’ and curvier women rather than sticking so stubbornly to their size-zero ideals, everyone has in the process developed this obsession with what is and is not ‘real’ or ‘natural’. Is that not counter-productive? Everyone has been calling out for the fashion world to accept all shapes and sizes, and yet we’re all too willing to decide for ourselves what is natural. And that just makes it ok for guys to then do the same.

Is it not about time that we adopt a cultural attitude that is accepting of all shapes and sizes? Take me and my friends, for example. Yes, I’m thin, but I have a bum and boobs . Take a look at my friends: anonymous friend 1# is thinner than me, and she really doesn’t have any curves at all, while anonymous friend 2# would be described as curvy, anonymous friend 3# is a full time plus-sized model and anonymous friend 4# has a perfect hourglass figure the we all can’t help but envy. (PS, those friends may be anonymous, but they know who they are and they have agreed to be mentioned here… just in case the rest of my friends real this and wonder.)

These are our builds, our natural figures and regardless as to how well or how badly our diets are going, our shape never changes, the only thing that changes is how squidgy the top layer is. Equally, while we all know that most models work hard to keep in shape, working on every inch of themselves until they are a sculpted masterpiece of perfection, it’s ridiculous to say that they are not ‘real women’ either, because they are there, they exist – I’ve seen enough famous models pass me in the street here in London over the years; Kate Moss and Lily Cole and a strew of lingerie models, and I can tell you, Photoshop or no Photoshop, they still look as stunning and slender as in their expansive portfolios. They exist and therefore they are real.

So please, can we stop referring to women as ‘real’ or ‘not’? Because last time I checked, it was definition enough to be a real woman purely to exist in all our fleshy goodness and to have no dangly bits between our legs… etc.

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The 3 L's

Why ‘Meet-Ups’ Will Never Be My Thing

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This evening, with a rare moment of time of my hands, I decided to spend it well, strolling through Green Park, here in lovely London, reading Richard Branson’s Like a Virgin (which I highly recommend to anyone with a business.. or a future business.. or any job at all for that matter.. or no job at all.. so anyone, really!) I was happily minding my own business, absorbed in my book, and then quite possibly the only thing that could have dragged me out of my meditative read-and-walk state in that moment was the click of a shutter – or rather – the continuous click-click-click of about two hundred shutters.

I had stumbled across a Brooke Shaden ‘meet up’ group, here in London. For those of you who are unaware, Brooke Shaden is something of a Flickr celebrity, whose portfolio can be seen here. While her editing skills and her constant steam of ideas are both equally impressive, I must admit, I find her work too gloomy and ominous for my taste. I’m personally more of a lens-flare/light-and-airy style girl. Nevertheless, I can see why she has such a large fan following, and the figures certainly show just how popular she is: 382K likes on her Facebook page, 12.3K Twitter followers, each photo of her Flickr account is littered with hundreds of likes, favourites and comments. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that she can so easily convince a couple of hundred Londoners to gather in Green Park one cloudy evening for a ‘totally free’ meet up with ‘lots of hugs, models to photograph and the love of the craft’, with a single Facebook post as an invitation.

I lingered for a while, curious. I had my camera with me after all. Who doesn’t enjoy a spontaneous photo shoot, after all? What I saw, however, did not strike me as the polished, well organised workshops that I imagine when I see behind the scenes images from the various Facebook fan pages of the photographers I admire, complete with agency signed models, rails full of beautiful garments, and an amazing set that no one but the workshop-running photographer would ever otherwise be able to afford.

Instead, I can only describe the scene as being reminiscent of vultures picking at the same rotting corpse for hours on end. That is the big problem with meet ups and workshops – there is no privacy. In the short time that I lingered, watching from a park bench, I saw the same scene on loop: one photographer would tentatively approach one of the volunteer models, distinctive only from their wearing one of Brooke’s trademark vintage dresses. They would briefly discuss an idea, wander off to find a patch of grass to call a studio, and approximately five clicks of the shutter later, the vultures would flock.

Next thing you know, that one photographer’s idea has been photographed a thousand times by fifty other people from every possible angle. Those images will undoubtedly pop up on Flickr in a day or two – if some of them have not already – each edited with varying degrees of skill, yet all undoubtedly almost identical. Originality… obliterated.

That is why ‘creative meet ups’ will never be for me, she whose idea-sharing skills are fairly limited to my introvert evenings alone with my thoughts, or bouncing ideas around a room with a creative team of stylists, makeup artists, designers, etc etc etc. She who will tackle anyone who dares to photograph my idea over my shoulder. At meet ups, there is not idea bouncing, no collaboration. Instead it’s a silent, mutual agreement of, ‘whatever happens here, is ours for the taking’. One person will shout out instructions to the model, and everyone will begin to capture the same shot in a strange, almost zombie-like trance.

They’re not entirely negative experiences though; I can see the value of these meet ups to others; they can be a great place to network, make new friends, gain inspiration. Everyone looked to be having a wonderful time. But personally, I think it’s surely better to network over ‘portfolio sharing’ events rather than ‘photograph mimicking’ events’.

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Vanity Feed

The Row: Pre SS15

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The Row is one of those fashion houses that on paper can’t justify their prices for such basic items of clothing. Nevertheless, one sweeping eye across each increasingly intriguing collection and it takes the strongest of characters to keep a hold of all financial sense, and we’re left hanging precariously close to sacrificing our rent money for a t-shirt. As a childhood fan of the Olsen Twins, I have been eagerly watching their lines since they first announced the launch of The Row. They have not let me down, and long gone are the days of their tween fashion line for Walmart – and on this side of the pond, Asda. I’m sad to say that to date, my only Olsen fashion purchase is a long-gone pair of baggy jeans, complete with pink patches and two removable chains; one in pink, one in blue. Yes, we’ve all come a long way since those days, and I think the fact that I wore those shows just how long I’ve considered the twins to be fashion idols.

Of the celebrity-cum-designers of 2014, leave colour down to Victoria Beckham; the Olsens like their neutrals. The SS15 collection embodies Japanese influences, with kimono-esque coats, wraps and shawls, to the stiff, upturned collars of another era. The peasanty (yes, that is now a word), beige tones and coarse fabrics throw in a touch of that Olsen-made Granny-chic style that we have come to liken to the twins as much as we do their tween movies and their near-decade-long role on Full House (not that I’ve ever seen that aired on UK TV…), while the immaculate tailoring brings the collection together in a neatly tied, on-trend bow.

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The 3 L's

Photography Graduation

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A quick announcement… my graduation! Yes, I’m finally out of the education system after… wow, seventeen years! Even longer if we’re counting nursery. The vast majority of my life has been spent as a student, and now finally, I’m free. And I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.

I was so ready to leave last summer, when I was completing my exhibition, As I’ve mentioned before, I broke my foot in the lead up to my final deadline – on a photo shoot. Terrible, terrible timing on my part to break my first (and hopefully only – *touch wood*) bone. It left me feeling frustrated, bringing a grinding halt to my planned photo shoots. I made a few wobbly attempts, balancing on one leg, crutches stuffed under my armpits, camera firmly on a tripod, but it proved a nightmare. Luckily, I am not a last minute person when it comes to deadlines, and so I was organised, I had already shot several shoots for my final project, giving me a lot to choose from. I can’t imagine what would have happened had I broken my foot before having taken a single final-exhibition photograph.

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But, as I have also mentioned before, proudly, everything went well, and I came out of my three years as a student of Commercial Photography with a first. Yes, I am proud of myself for that. For once, that perfectionist streak is calmed. There is nothing more I can do to please her. In this matter, anyway.

Looking back, I do wish, however, that I had not cut down the number of images that I planned to display at the exhibition to just one, for practicality. Maybe I’m wrong to regret it, maybe it would have proven impossible, as I remember the difficulty I had in trying to squeeze my single A1/A0 (I can no longer recall quite how large it was) print into my friend’s tiny Smart Car. Correction. That suggests that it was me doing the squeezing… I remember watching, balanced on my crutches, on the pavement, while my friend tried single-handed to squeeze the huge, framed and well-wrapped image into her tiny car. It just about squeezed in, with some persuasion. I’m not sure that she, or any of my friends, would have agreed to a further two trips back and forth to the framing shop for the other two, had I gone ahead with my original three-image plan.

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None of that matters though. My change in opinion over the last year of my time at university is what matters. I left feeling, like most of us at graduation, I think, a little deflated, wondering whether it was worth the money that I would soon have to start paying back, or whether it’s a waste of time studying photography as a degree. I wondered if I’d chosen the wrong University, and wondered how different my life would be had I studied elsewhere. I’m a terrible ‘what if’ person.

Now, however, I look back and I don’t feel that way anymore. To any fellow photography students/graduates who ever feels that way, I suggest that you do the math, and calculate just how much money you would have spent on hired lighting, studio space, camera equipment for the various shoots and experiments of the past three years. Add to that an estimated cost for a photography workshop with your lecturer, rather than the ‘free’ (until we all reach that dreaded debt threshold) lessons they gave us. Because those are the equivalents to learning the trade sans degree. Personally, I may now be in debt, but I’ve saved a few thousand.

Yes, you could argue that most of my photo shoots would not have taken place were I not at university, surrounded by the exact inspiration and people and the opportunity to use free equipment and free studio space, because spending money can be stifling for the imagination when a poor, starving artist. Then again, how bare would my portfolio look without the free access to studios and equipment?

What if, what if, what if…

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Alfred Hitchcock. Undoubtedly one of my favourite directors, quavering on the top-spot with the equally amazing visual genius, Joe Wright. I feel its safe to say that Hitchcock bags the top spot for himself through reputation alone. If ever a Hitchcock appears on the TV schedule, you will find me, sat inches from the screen in a child-like awe, sucked into the colours, the shadows, the beautifully dense suspense that only he could master so well. My mind, you can guarantee, will be racing, nails digging into the carpet as I pick apart his use of each colour; the symbolism of the green light in Vertigo, the alternating red and green in Rope, the fireworks illuminating the darkened room in To Catch a Thief. I am aware of the general ‘Hitchcock colour theories’, but I can’t help but conjure up my own, as if its a code that only I can crack. I pick apart his lighting set ups, absorb every item that builds the carefully crafted sets, drool over the beautiful designs of Edith Head, envious of Grace Kelly or the various other Hitchcock blondes. Let’s face it, it’s generally Grace who ruffles my envious feathers more than anyone.

Frankly, if there’s a Hitchcock on TV, leave me be. (Rhyme not intended).

I am as enraptured as Hitchcock always intended for his audience to be, and before I know it, the notebook is in my lap, a pen in hand. Every creative needs a moleskine whenever they watch a Hitchcock, in my opinion. Regardless as to whether you’re a photographer, writer, graphic designer, stylist, artist… that man is gold, a portly ball of imagination-inducing energy. Caffeine is my usual go-to stimulant when I’m in my daily ‘idea development’ session, but Hitchcock is much more effective. Even if my ideas do need to at times wander a little further from the standard ‘blonde model’, ‘dramatic lighting’, ‘bold colours’ trio. Duly noted.

I’m not the only photographer who finds themselves constantly inspired by the great director, of course. I can spot a Hitchcock-esque editorial a mile away. They’re becoming something of a must-have for most young fashion photographers, a transition point between the mimicking and the inspired. However, just because Hitchcock’s lighting styles, dramatic shadows, bold colours and trademark locations (think motels, showers and trains), are so on-trend, doesn’t mean that I can’t have a go too, right?

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Model: Jessica Bailey

MUA & Hair: Emma Grant

Styling: Emma Styles

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Workaholic

Hitchcock Blonde

My mind, you can guarantee, will be racing, nails digging into the carpet as I pick apart his use of each colour; the symbolism of the green light in Vertigo, the alternating red and green in Rope, the fireworks illuminating the darkened room in To Catch a Thief. I am aware of the general 'Hitchcock colour theories', but I can't help but conjure up my own, as if its a code that only I can crack. I pick apart his lighting set ups, absorb every item that builds the carefully crafted sets, drool over the beautiful designs of Edith Head, envious of Grace Kelly or the various other Hitchcock blondes.

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Workaholic

Oddly Enough: Studio

People often think that the only people who ever get nervous before their first photo shoot is either the model or the photographer. No one seems to give any thought to how a new makeup artist, hair stylist, wardrobe stylist or designer might be feeling before their first photo shoot. I was recently approached by University of Derby fashion student, Erica Godfrey, of Oddly Enough designs, to photograph her final collection.

Erica admitted that she had never had a photo shoot for any of her work, and that she – as were a few of our models – was a little nervous. This was out of her comfort zone. We decided that we should hold three photo shoots – a studio test with a short video as a ‘casting’ for our models, as Erica wanted to see who would be best in front of the camera for the look she wanted, a lookbook, and the grand, main photo shoot at Wollaton Hall, the images of the latter being the one that would be prominently displayed during her final exhibition.

I don’t like that we live in a world that seems to expect everyone to be an expert at whatever is thrown their way. A lack of confidence does not equal to a lack of skill, an introvert is no worse than an extrovert, and I think that, while I enjoy learning new skills as much as the next person, its important not to spread our abilities too thinly across too wide an area. I’ve always believed that nerves equal to passion. We would not feel nervous about something that we did not care about, and so nerves are just another powerful emotion that can be channeled into something wonderful, such as our creativity. After all, powerful emotions, be them negative or positive, are always the best stimulant for the imagination.

This shoot in particular consisted of a great team of people – anyone who felt a little nervous or unsure as to the process of a photo shoot, was welcomed with open arms and made to feel ‘at home’. Everything was organised meticulously, and we came away with a clear vision for the main shoot and lookbook in mind.

The video produced by Ben Bransbury-Hare can be seen here.

(Update* my other two photo shoots with Oddly Enough can be seen here and here.)

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Models: Jessie Jing & Jessica Bailey

Video: Ben Bransbury-Hare

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