I have a love-hate relationship with photography and being a photographer. I love the ways in which photographers express ourselves, and that we’re able to capture moments that last beyond our lifetimes. I love taking something that appears mundane and turning it into something magical, and that I can tell a story with just one image and have it speak differently to so many people. I love what I do, but am growing increasingly uncomfortable with one aspect of photography: I’m starting to despise the homogeneity within this industry that I love so dear.
I’m in so many photography groups and read so many publications, and it’s all the same — same poses, same aesthetic, same themes… same bodies. No matter the magazine, blog, or social media post it’s all the same: generally young, thin, conventionally attractive couples posed in amazing scenery. The worlds created by the photography community are beautiful, yes, but they are not real life. Even attempts to mimic real life have provided us with just more of the same, and it’s getting old.
A few years ago, I tried to find a photographer while my other half and I were traveling on the West Coast. I like to get photos of us taken every couple of years — that are not selfies — and being in the Pacific Northwest was the perfect chance for us to take one of those breathtaking photos you always see — those ones where a couple is standing in front of a mountain top or on a deserted beach somewhere.
I asked around in a couple of photography groups and got so many responses from people wanting to take photos of us. I wrote down names and sites and started the search for our perfect match. Looking at their sites, however, I was confronted again and again with so much of this… sameness. Their portfolios were, across the board, full of straight, white, thin couples with model-perfect good looks. It made my heart sink, because while I loved the work I was seeing I had no clue if these individuals would be able to capture us, or would even want to work with us, as we were not in any way represented in their aesthetics. Out of the dozen or so portfolios I looked at I saw maybe two that were even close to being diverse. I convinced myself that I should keep looking and devised a letter to send to the photographers that I was interested in, asking to see if they would even want to work with us.
As a couple, Andrew and I are a lot of different things: we are mixed size (I’m taller and plus-sized), have a certain aesthetic with respect to how we dress and what we do, and are not all that into PDA. Based on discussions I’ve seen over the years, in groups and in private, just one of the above aspects of our pairing is enough to confound even the most experienced photographer. I’m sure a combination of such elements would make many heads explode.
In the message, I laid out all the ways in which we are different and asked the selected photographers if they would still be willing to work with us. But after sending it out, I realized how ridiculous it was that I was asking permission from a professional photographer to show off our love, simply because we differ from what’s normally thought of and/or portrayed as being conventional or “the norm.”.”. Most of the time all I see are couples the opposite of us, who represent the one-and-only desired aesthetic. Since that experience, I’ve often found myself thinking of the ways in which we as photographers fail potential clients by not showing them something different, something other than just “more of the same.”
A couple of years ago, in a group chat with a bunch of other photographers, this exact topic came up — this problem of sameness. Because of what I went through trying to find someone to work with Andrew and myself, I’d been dying to know the answer to just one question: Why? Why do we aspire for this sameness and ignore entire segments of our population? Comments passed back and forth, with a lot of people unsure of the answer and some who had never thought about it because they’d never had to. One photographer did speak up and was quite honest. His reasoning was simple: while he might work with couples that more resemble himself or his friends, that was not where the money was. He wanted his work to have a certain aesthetic and, as such, only wanted to show people — and prospective clients — what was deemed more socially attractive. He added that he would not want to see someone who looked like himself, an average twenty-something with a dad-bod, kissing and in love. I was both surprised by this and also not surprised at all.
In general, this line of thinking is not uncommon. We maintain a degree of sameness in our imagery because it’s safe: we don’t have to think about what we’re shooting before we shoot. In reality, though, we are perpetuating the notion that love is only reserved for certain people, and that when we decide that we can’t, won’t, or don’t want to see other types of couples experiencing something so transformative as falling in love we are perpetuating a stereotype — and one that’s just not true. Everyone, and every body, falls in love, and as image creators we get a chance to capture that magic. That’s a gift, no matter the couple.
We have to do better by our potential clients. We need to have images in our portfolios that don’t just reflect what we see all the time but also reflect our friendship circles and communities. All these people, those who look like us and those who don’t, fall in love and get married every day. We should want to capture and show off that joy, because no matter the aesthetic it’s all beautiful and lovely. What we do is not relegated to just one type of person, and our portfolios need to reflect that. If your portfolio doesn’t then you need to start asking yourself hard questions. Ask why your portfolio looks the same throughout, and then push yourself to change that.
Add photos of your fat clients, your Black clients, your Asian clients, and your LGBTQ+ clients. If you don’t have those images, start shooting them. If you don’t have those types of people in your life, start making friends outside of your normal aesthetic and community, and then learn from them, photograph them, and share them with the world. Everyone deserves a great portrait, but it has to start with us.
Jaime Patterson is the photographer behind Hidden Exposure Photography: Hi, my name's Jaime and I'm a body-positive lifestyle, family, boudoir, wedding, and portrait photographer based out of Richmond Va. I believe everyone has a unique story to tell, and I want to be on hand to hear it, capture it, and share it with the world! I love those moments that you may miss — that shy smile from your partner when you think they're not looking, how your hand rests on your belly when your baby kicks, the way your eyes sparkle when you see your person walk down the aisle, and the way you embrace your whole self when wearing your best outfit and truly looking as sexy as you feel. I think every body, every relationship, and every family deserves to be seen.