Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I Cut Off My Wife's Head (And Other Photographic Trends)

How to Become Trendy Without Even Meaning To

Last weekend my wife ran a race in Lone Pine, and while she was on the course, I did the important things, like paid the hotel bill and fed the dog sausage smuggled from the breakfast buffet. I intended to take my wife's picture at the end of the course and am well-prepared for this, since I own approximately 127 cameras --- none of which I had brought with me.

As the old joke goes, "What's the best model of camera?" Answer: "The one you have with you."

So I said, okay, dear, let me use your iPhone. The thing is, I am probably the last person in America who doesn't have an iPhone, and with the phone I do have, I don't take pictures. I don't even know how to turn on the camera feature that my phone does have (assuming it has a camera at all, which I am not sure about), and if I did take a picture, I wouldn't know how to send it to somebody. That's because I use phones for talking and cameras for making pictures: separate functions for separate tools. Even if Nikon offered a new model, the D-15,000 X, a camera that could send a fax, launch a weather balloon, and write haiku in four languages, I would not make use of all those features. Fuddy duddy that I am, I still would just use a phone to talk and a camera to take pictures.

That's fine, but ignorance has consequences. Later, when we got home, my wife said, "You dolt, you cut off my head!"

Hmm, well, nearly so. (Luckily, the next shot was better.)

But that made me think about the trend lately of headless bodies in fashion and editorial photography. National Geographic favors a "you are there" style now that loves to thrust the camera right into the middle of the action. That means bodies explode off the page in all directions, in a compositional style that makes me feel like I am in the middle of a rugby scrum. Look at this example from the current issue, May 2014, page 89.

It's hard to see in this blog format, but the implied action in the top shot is further reinforced by what's called a full-bleed layout. That means there's no white border: the image runs right up off the top of the page. These pictures were taken by Mike Hettwer, from an article called "The Ship-Breakers."

Here is another example, this time from a few issues ago. This is from National Geographic, June 2013, from an article about whalers in Norway.

The photo credit here goes to Marcus Bleasdale. Art classes still talk about the rule of thirds. In this style of photography, I guess that means "try to have at least a third of your subject jutting into the frame one way or another. Heads optional."

Fashion too now can dispense with a lot of the normal head-and-shoulders-ness of expected cropping. A magazine called PDN (Photo District News) runs award spreads of top images. Here is one they highlighted this week that first appeared in "The Cut," an online feature of New York magazine.

The caption on this is "scenes at Fashion Week"; photographer is Landon Nordeman. Here is another photo taken in New York, from a series titled "Skin on Parade in Central Park." This too was in New York magazine --- apparently, if you want to be in PDN, that's the place to start --- and the photographer was Christopher Anderson.

The caption notes that it was a day of 79-degree weather, which in New York must be so eagerly earned for after winter that if the thermometer reads anything north of 70, everybody flings off their clothes in joy. Should somebody tell them that here in the Antelope Valley it can be 80 degrees on Christmas morning?

With this photographic trend in mind, I pulled off the road in Acton to grab a shot of this billboard, shown below. It's by the train-themed restaurant, Vincent Hill Station, on the other side of the freeway from the Metrolink stop. Am I the only one who loves this? It just seems so refreshing.

When I took the picture a few days ago my sample ballot had not come, and I wondered if the billboard were a hoax. Near as I can tell, this is a shot of a real person, Navraj Singh, who is a 2014 Republican candidate seeking election to the U.S. House to represent the 25th Congressional District of California. He has run before (2012 and maybe 2008?), perhaps in other districts, and if he has a website up yet, I didn't find it. 

The photographer who took this is named John Milios and he assures me the "REAL" in the design is not irony. Here's what his email said: "The man on this billboard is a very kind, loving and caring man who came to this country with no money and built an empire.  He wants everyone to have the same opportunity he was afforded.  When elected, he has pledged to donate 100% of his salary to servicemen injured in Iraq."

John Milios also told me, "I spent years as a fashion/celebrity photographer where my subjects were staged as per corporate directive, thereby exposing only a small fraction of my talents.

By shooting REAL PEOPLE, it gives me the freedom to be creative and think outside the box."

I can admire that sensibility. Will it work in this case? Will it get the candidate elected? That I am less certain about, since I am not sure we can show any person in a turban and not have to address issues of ignorance and bias. As a society, America has been strangely slow in becoming able to distinguish between other religious traditions, be they Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, or any other faith. Personally, I think turbans are fabulous, and wish men wore them more often. Here is a photo I took in Rajasthan one winter morning. Pink never looked this good.

As for what all this means for the rest of us, I am sure we've all had that experience where you take a picture and it doesn't come out because one person has his or her eyes closed. There are bad hair days (we've all had them) and redeye from flash and expressions that make an otherwise sober person look drunk as a skunk.

Headless trends, carry on! What a relief not to need to get the face centered and smiling. 

A year ago, I had been trying to do a triggered-by-remote self-portrait in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada (home of Burning Man), and hadn't gotten the framing figured out at all. You can see the remote trigger in my hand, or you could, if it was in the picture better. Even my truck isn't centered well. I thought this should have been a reject shot, but instead, now I can add it to my portfolio to show National Geographic

Until they call, I have made a vow to my wife: "Next race you run, I promise to have my camera. In fact, just to make sure, I will bring four. Just don't ask me to use that fiendishly complicated iPhone again."


Photographs not credited to an outside source were taken by the blog curator, Charles Hood, Language Arts. He can be reached at This blog does not represent the views of the Board of Trustees nor the District as a whole. To leave comments, you need to be logged into some kind of blogspot or gmail account, or so it seems. Sorry about that: it's just how the system is set up. Hood also can forward comments through email.


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