When I found out that Anna Kuperberg was going to be at Imaging USA, I literally fell off of my seat. To say that Trish and I are huge fans of her work would be a major understatement. Anna is not so much of a person (i.e. noun) in our office, but more of a verb. For instance, "Did you see that photo I just took? I totally Kuped it." Or, "I love that shot, it's so Kupe-ish," (in which case she would be an adjective). There is just something magical about Anna's photos.
Anna began her talk with the simple phrase, "Perfection kills life." The magic in her photography is that she doesn't try to hide the imperfections of her subjects, but rather celebrates them. She welcomes them to center stage and presents them with an award for being themselves. The genius of her vision is that it gives people permission to expose themselves to her camera. Her clients adore her because she captures the essence of their true selves like no one else can.
As she was talking, I wrote in my notebook, "Pretty vs. Real". Lately I have felt pressure, exacerbated by blogs like Style Me Pretty and Pinterest, to sanitize my photos with a "Pretty Purell" as if my wedding clients should look like they are part of an editorial shoot instead of real people. Overwhelmingly, STUFF seems to be preferred over SUBSTANCE.
I can trace the origins of my confusion back to its original source - The Coopers. A few weeks after the Cooper wedding, I posted a sampling of my favorite photos on our blog. Within a few hours we had three frantic phone calls from the bride and one darn angry voicemail from the groom.
The Coopers freaked out about one photo I had chosen to include on the blog. The picture was of the bride in profile, her maid of honor shoving the comb of her veil into her hair. In the photo, the bride is making a face like, "EEE-OUCH!"
It was a funny shot, but also poignant because what bride hasn't suffered a little pain for beauty? In my opinion, it was a great shot. Unfortunately the Coopers did not feel the same way. The groom was outraged. He couldn't believe that I would be so insensitive. He angrily asked, "Who in the world would want a photo of themselves like that?"
Then the bride said something to me that caused a long-lasting shift in my thinking and a crack of doubt in my photographic voice. She said through tears, "I want to look like ANGELIC PERFECTION! Every bride does. I don't want anyone to see a photo of me in which I look less than perfect."
Unbeknownst to them, the Coopers were saying this to a girl who recently posted a photo of herself on Facebook wearing mustache remover cream. Even so, I removed the photo and began to wonder if I had things backwards. Do people want to look like themselves or do they simply want to look unflawed and well, picture-perfect? From that point I focused on what the Coopers wanted, striving to create angelic perfection where it didn't exist and filtering out any photo that showed too much of that revolting "realness". Then an odd thing happened--I started to get bored. Very bored. You know what? Perfect is boring. I was sanitizing the fun right out of what I do. Fun is messy and so is life. The Coopers had killed my photographic buzz. Hearing Anna talk about the virtues of the imperfect gave me permission to move past the trauma the Coopers inflicted on us and get back to our perfectly flawed roots.
Thank you, Anna, for being the champion of the imperfect and offering an alternative to the unattainable ideal of seamless beauty. My confidence in the value of emotion over the exquisite has been restored. There's a place for lovely, splendid, and graceful. But lovely isn't always rainbows and lollipops. Sometimes it's your grandmother's hands with wrinkles and ages spots. Splendid can be a well-set table or laughter as you fumble with the cake knife. Exquisite may be a couture gown hanging daintily on an armoire or it may be the gentle rain that starts to fall just as you take the first step down the aisle toward your new life. Who's to say what's perfect?
Viva la imperfection!