I recently happened upon Joel Grimes website (a photographer that I had never heard of before) and was impressed with his work but at the same time thought to myself, "Oh -- yeah -- he is just another one of those photographers that does that "looK" and only that look." The look I am talking about is the highly stylized look that has been popular since around 2002 or so. Think Jim Fiscus, Tim Tadder and Dave Hill. It was, and still is a very cool "look" that I once admired and spent many hours trying to figure out how to get. But once I figured it out it didn't seem to be such a big deal to me anymore.
It basically is knowing some basic lighting tricks to get the contrast in lighting right, using a prime lens to get as much detail as possible, maybe deliberately under exposing the shot a little bit to allow for how you will push it in Photoshop etc. So there certainly is a lot of craft and know-how that goes behind getting a good base image to work with -- but after that it is all Photoshop know-how to really give it that 'look'. For a long time, not many people knew how to do it since it could involve a series of steps in Photoshop to get it -- high pass filters, blending modes etc. It wasn't easy for me to figure out, but I got pretty close in those days. These days though it is as easy as adjusting a few sliders in Lightroom once you have the base image right in camera. And here is the bad part: Some photographers want to do ONLY that now. They seem to have forgotten (or never have known) how beautiful an image can be just by itself with no Photoshop at all.
Make no mistake about it, I have much respect for all the photographers I have mentioned above. They are pretty amazing. The production value of their work, the locations, lighting, all of it. They know what they are doing for sure, and some of their stuff looks sooooo cool. So cool, in fact, that it seems to be a cancer eating away at other photographers' desires to create images, that stand on their own as great images, with no additional post production work other than what could be done in traditional processing and printing. Think Richard Avedon, Steve McCurry, Mark Seliger and Rodney Smith. All of these guys are heroes to me when it comes to photography. Their work is creative, so beautiful -- yet straightforward at the same time. It is all traditional photography sans all the mumbo-jumbo effects in Photoshop.
This brings me back to Joel Grimes website. I looked at each of the images in the "Sports", "Music" , "Portrait", and "Beauty/Fashion" categories and was impressed with most of them but really was just thinking that he was another photographer doing that 'look' for everything. Then I got to the "Polaroid" section on his site -- stuff that had been shot with Type 55 Polaroid film. This stuff blew me away, it was so much better (to me) than all the work I had seen in the sections before it. Simply beautiful portraits that may have been adjusted some in Photoshop -- but those adjustments seem to be something that could have been done in a traditional darkroom. These portraits reminded me of why I love photography. His other work impressed me, but these Polaroids captivated me. They are just so beautiful.
I went on to the "Everyday Life" section and loved some of what I saw there as well. Then I hit the "Desert Life" section and was once again captivated -- over a bunch of cacti -- something I find far less interesting than people. It was the photography itself that had me this time. The shots were just gorgeous on their own without the help of a bunch of Photoshop tricks. It appears to be just basic contrast filters, dodging, burning and toning. All of which are traditional darkroom techniques.
Anyway, kudos to Mr. Joel Grimes for putting work like this up in addition to the other stuff of his with that 'look' that likely scores him most of his work these days. All the images in his Polaroid and Desert Life section should remind anybody that visits his site that you don't have to do all the digital manipulation in order to get great images.
I should add that people like Joel Grimes and Jim Fiscus do a REALLY good job with that ever-so-popular 'look'. But I think it is sad that some younger and less experienced photographers feel like they have to give that 'look' to EVERYTHING they shoot due to being influenced by them. In an effort to not sound like a hypocrite myself, yes I have shot and processed a few things that have the look I am talking about -- but I by no means feel that I need to apply it to everything I shoot.
Joel's Polaroid work has given me an extra push to go ahead and get out with a 4x5 and do a series of portraits with it, like I have been wanting to do for several months now. I miss shooting with a 4x5 and I miss actually printing in a darkroom. Now I just need to let my ankle heal up and maybe I will. Anyway, Joel Grimes work inspires me to say the least, and I hope maybe it will inspire you too.