Back in law school, in my legal ethics class (Yes, they taught ethics in law school; we will pause here briefly for anyone who wishes to make any clever jokes, or clean up from their spit-take. Done now? Good. Let us proceed.), I had a professor who was fond of using the analogy that a lawyer was a taxi not a bus. A taxi, he would say, doesn’t have to stop, and doesn’t have to take a fare. A bus, on the other hand, stops at established points and anybody who has a token or a card or a dollar or whatever it takes to get on board can, well, get on board. Lawyers, like cab drivers, can choose their clients, was his point. I guess that also means that lawyers can scam tourists for inflated fares.

At this stage in my photography career, however, I am a bus.

When it comes to an utterly untalented actor who wants me to do a headshot or the hideous and massively delusional person who wants sexy nude boudoir portraits, or the friends who ask me to photograph their vile-tempered child’s awful wedding, I am not in a position to say No. After all, I have a portfolio to build.

Ideally, my portfolio would be full of talented actors and attractive nude studies and perfect events, but life, I’m finding, is not that way (although I hasten to point out, and will repeat later on, that the models whom I’ve included in my portrait portfolio are without exception attractive and talented people.) When I recently advertised for models on a time-for-pictures basis, my immediate responses were from, well, not just the most beautiful people.

However, the world is full of not entirely beautiful, self-confident people who love having their picture taken. In fact, the world is mostly populated by those of us who are, or who think we are, somewhat less-than-modeltastic,  and whose faces freeze into a horrible rictus of faux-smiling terror when we are confronted by a camera-wielding fiend (such as the self). It is those people, however, who are clamoring to get on my bus at the moment. They are attracted no doubt as much by my reasonable pricing terms (um, like, free under standard time-for-photos arrangements) as by my eclectic portfolio and genial, comfortable, reassuring manner. Possibly moreso. Perhaps in spite of.

In any case, my point here is that a photographer’s role is to be, as Emerson wrote in Nature, an “attentive eye” that finds how “each moment of the year has its own beauty, and…beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before and which shall never be seen again.” And not just each moment of the year, but each individual who inhabits those moments. There is beauty somewhere in all of us (this would be where I would start singing, were this a popular Broadway musical rather than a spectacularly un-read blog) and it’s my role to find that — at least until I have the luxury of being able to pick and choose my clients. At which point, of course, to hell with the fat, unattractive, and unpleasant.

(This would probably be a good point at which to remind my reader (hello, you) that I tend to be sarcastic and snarky at times, but only in pursuit of what I may at the time perceive to be a good joke. No offense is intended toward the Weighty Community nor the Unconventionally Attractive Community, nor the Socially Irksome Community, all of which are objects of my immeasurable respect, celebration, and, dare I say, admiration. Thank you for being you so very thoroughly.)

Back to my point. The challenge in finding aesthetic beauty in unexpected places is really pretty cool. I tell everyone all the time (and may have mentioned it here someplace) that I really enjoy the challenge of finding the aesthetic prettiness in a pile of rusted boat chains or a greasy gear or old piece of wood,Nude male model with black censoring bars so why should it be any different with the myriad of human types abounding in the world?

It’s easy to take photos of an athletic young man, for instance, in which light and shadow play all sorts of pretty games across the planes and slabs of his torso, to have him bend in highly uncomfortable ways that reduce his lean, masculine form to a series of geometric patterns. It’s a simple matter to create accessible, amusing nude studies when the model is as comfortable in his skin as in a suit. It’s no problem at all to create a photographic portrait that captures the subject’s wry wit and ironic comprehension of life’s comedies and tragedies when the subject has a dry wit and sense of irony and knows how to convey those traits with just a few facial muscles.

But those people, for the most part, are not knocking at my door, because they can afford to seek the services of established talented professional photographers, who have actual artistic and technical skills honed through training and time. I, who have nothing of those, need the experience. This is neither a surprising nor a sad thing, and I’m really not complaining.

What I’m doing is learning. I’m learning to talk to my models, to gauge their self-confidence, to build (in a relatively short time) a sense of trust and comfort with me staring at them through a Nikon. I’m learning to celebrate them as they are, not as I’d prefer them to be or as they envision themselves in their deluded minds. Through placing the emphasis of the photo on something other than the model’s inarguably enormous and hirsute derriere via clever cropping or a distracting object is a vastly better approach than trying to somehow veil that undeniable fact with pretty drapings or casting the whole subject into squinty shadow. It’s a big, hairy butt: Celebrate it! The model knows full well that he’s not a slim little sylph; better to show what he is, in all his curvaceousness. A face that’s not “conventionally beautiful” can of course be interesting, compelling, and uniquely appealing; my role is to help the nonprofessional model be comfortable enough with me to let those qualities show. I just have to be fast enough to capture it when it happens.

Obviously, I can’t in good conscience include sample photos of unappealing models in this blog: that would be unnecessarily cruel and  mean-spirited, even for me.  Plus, of course, what’s unappealing to me might be quite someone else’s dreamy dreamcake, and then they’d wonder what I was going on about, and it would confuse whatever little point it was that I was so intent on making here. So I leave it to my reader to fill in the photographic blanks. However, my more successful portrait work, with individuals who were all highly attractive and talented, can be checked out here if you’re interested, which I hope you will be.

As for me, if any of this comes off sounding like a whine, it’s seriously not meant to be. I’m doing now what many photographers no doubt have done in their early days; my early days are just a bit…later than most. In any case, this is all new and interesting and exciting for me, so please excuse any excess or simple stating of the patently obvious. And if anyone has anything helpful to suggest, other than that I should stop being such a smug and judgmental old poo, please feel free to let me know!