Art, or artlessness? Beauty considered as a craft

This week, I’d like to write about beautiful women.

Well, not just that. I also have serious questions I want to ask.

How do we try to control how others see us? Is the image we project really so important? Is a portrait art, or a reflection of the subject’s soul? Fiona Moran is a broadcasting student that I got to know on a on a long road trip to Washington State University last week. She is depicted top left and bottom right.

I was taking photos of my fellow passengers and the scenery. On a whim, I pointed the camera at Moran and popped a picture. She flashed me a
very nice, natural smile, as you can see in the top left photo.

A second later, though, she complained that she looked bad, and that she didn’t want any ugly photos taken of her. She seemed a little upset about it.

I was shocked enough by her complaint to blurt out, “But you are a beautiful woman! I don’t think I could take an ugly picture of you!” I showed her the image and told her how much I liked her smile in it. I could tell it still bothered her, but she reluctantly let me keep it.

Moran got out her laptop to show me the kind of photos she prefers. She’s a good photographer; I saw some gorgeous photos of her youthful and lovely mother, and a brilliant picture of herself wearing a sundress, at a market in a tropical Chinese village.

I think Moran was gently hinting that my camera skills left something to be desired. She likes to control the aesthetic of her photos, leaving nothing to chance, crafting the perfect, beautiful image.

From a technical standpoint, there is no question that her photos are better than mine.

I still like mine better. My photograph captures something the more polished photo does not. In my photo, Moran is not a perfect work of art. Instead, she is a person, a laughing young woman, with a unique personality. I prefer the woman to the work of art.

The next day, I took the second photo of Moran, shown on the bottom right. I asked her to make sure that she was happy with her appearance and her smile. I think she looks great in this photo. Yet, I still like the first photograph better.

After I returned to Bellevue College, I asked Moran what she thought about the contrasting shots. She was still not impressed by the candid photograph.

“[The casual] picture is just so random, and I wear casual stuff,” she said. “Whenever I take a picture I just want it to look nice. I don’t want to have some random picture,” she said.

Moran definitely prefers art to artlessness. “Photography is my hobby, and I do a lot of Photoshop. I take a lot of photos for fun, so I want my photo to look artistic,” she said.

I asked Joel, our staff photographer, to find a second subject for this column. He recruited Jonika Melcher, a business student at Bellevue College, She works as a hairdresser at Bellevue Square. She likes her work, in part because she likes to create things, rather than control things. Her candid shot is on the top right, her posed shot is on the bottom left.

Melcher sees a purpose for both posed and candid photographs. She said, “The benefits of having a posed shot … is that you can create it into something that’s a little more — I want to say, elegant, or something that’s a little more aesthetically pleasing.”

“A candid photo is offering something that is a little more personal,” she said. “Candid shots are wonderful. Unfortunately, they’re not always the best pictures of you.”

Melcher sometimes gives free hair styling to people living in homeless shelters. Her clients are usually looking for jobs, and they know employers judge by appearances.

According to Melcher, this first impression is formed very quickly. People who look like they take pride in their appearance, she says, make a better impression than those who don’t. She thinks this is more important than what your particular style is.

Both women were quick to point out that inner beauty was more important and more profound than loveliness of form. Moran said that charming, funny, nice people have the most appeal. “I think that’s the beauty that we are looking for, that I think everybody is looking for,” she said.

Some people just hold an instant, magnetic fascination for us, according to Melcher. “It’s like, ‘I have no idea why I want to know you , but let’s be best friends!’” she said.

Personally, I want to know and understand others. That’s why I love the casual photograph.

I don’t care if the photograph is polished. I want to capture something of the subject inside the magic box, a reflection of the soul. I want the image to make me care.

I often try to catch my subjects unawares. Some people hate this, and I don’t blame them, but I do it anyway.

Both women had advice for people being photographed. Melcher believes you ought to try to find an emotion, as an actor would. “You should be feeling something, because that always comes through with the way that you look,” she said.

Moran believes confidence is the key. “You’ve got to relax! Just smile, no matter what you wear; [if] you don’t have three eyes, four noses, you’re fine!”