Here's an intersting topic from Craig Feguson, Visual Peacemaker and a freelance cultural travel and environmental photographer based in Taipei, Taiwan. Craig was one of the early supporters of IGVP and we're pleased to finally have him on the blog. Enjoy!
The ease of creating new social connections worldwide coupled with the “Strobist” revolution has led an increasing number of photographers to set up photoshoots with models. Done at home, this is an easy enough thing to do as there shouldn't be any communication difficulties or cultural clashes. Done elsewhere though can give rise to situations that are unfamiliar with different ideas and practices in play. More and more photographers who travel are arranging sessions with a model in a different country before they leave and there are a few things to bear in mind.
Working with models, whether on location or in a studio environment, may need a different approach depending on the cultures involved. For the purposes of this post, I'm not going to discuss working with a model of the same culture. It may be something that few have considered but with it becoming easier than ever to set things up, especially between hobbyist photographers and new models, it's becoming a lot more common. Let me explain by way of a story.
A couple of years ago, I was photographing a Taiwanese-American model. She was Taiwan born but American-raised and was starting to get some quality modeling contracts in New York. While on vacation in Taiwan, we met up for an outdoor photo session. She'd been arranging a few different photoshoots during her time in Taiwan with a mixture of local Taiwanese and Western photographers. One of the things she mentioned was that Western photographers will often ask the model if she has any ideas that she wants to try (obviously, I'm not talking about commercial shoots here). In general, a western photographer will be open to new ideas and keen to try a few different things. It can become more of a mutual creative partnership between photographer and model. She contrasted that with the Taiwanese photographers that she'd worked with who would often have a very specific list of required poses to work through and would rarely be interested in input from the model. The differences between the two approaches are just that....differences. It's neither positive nor negative, good nor bad. And it's only the opinion of one person.
In some ways however, it can play out in the opposite way as well. Whenever I've worked with western-raised models, they've usually got a bunch of ideas. When I've worked with eastern-raised models, any ideas they offer come from a fairly standard set of poses with (seemingly) little creative thinking. If I had to guess, I'd say that stems from the general conditions and thinking in the society that the model spent their formative years. Western culture tends to encourage more independent thought whereas Eastern culture favors the Confucian ideal where straying too far out of group thought is often discouraged. Both systems have advantages and both have disadvantages.
One area that the biggest difference is often seen is when working with inexperienced models. This is worth noting for a lot of people because if you're trying to set up a TFP shoot with someone in another country during your travels, you'll more than likely be working with an inexperienced model. Here in Taiwan, it seems that even the newest model pretty much knows how to go into the basic series of poses. It makes a photo session flow fairly smoothly and can give the impression that the model is more experienced than they actually are. In addition, they are often great at taking direction. Inexperienced western models tend to be a bit more hit and miss for some reason but that's balanced out by the ideas they may bring to the session.
So what does all this mean? Really, it's nothing more than differences between cultures and places. Some do things one way and others do them other ways. I know a lot of vacationing photographers who will go to somewhere like Model Mayhem and set up a shoot before they jet off to the other side of the world. Keep in mind that the experience will likely be different in some way to what you may be used to and you'll do fine. Be flexible and open to the differences. If you try to insist on doing things in exactly the same manner as you do it home, it'll be a negative experience for everyone.
Question: Have you experienced anything like this? Is it okay to consider these "generalizations" before a photoshoot of this nature?
Learn more about Craig Ferguson here: www.craigfergusonimages.com
Disclaimer: While IGVP strives for unity and clarity of vision, each blog author is responsible for his or her own words, links, and references. They do not necessarily represent the many voices and opinions of individuals within the visual peacemakers movement, the Guild, or the IGVP Founders.