I read a piece recently that said professionally taken photos, no matter how skillfully done, can be disappointing because they are staged. The claim was that the viewer’s sense of wonder gets cut short when they learn that what happened behind the scenes of a shoot doesn’t match up to what the captured image led them to believe.
A staged photo might be fake in your eyes, but that doesn’t take away from the authentic experience that occurred to set up that shot. See, there’s your fantasy and there’s mine. Your fantasy is a result of my fantasy being lived. Your fantasy is that whatever I’m doing in the photo is real, whether I’m stripping for you or struggling in rope or wandering around topless or getting off. My fantasy is getting to travel, working with photographers and riggers I’ve followed, experimenting with wardrobe and props, and challenging myself with new poses. If everything clicks for me, then you get what you want. If I’m comfortable with a photographer and happy about the work we’re doing, then that will come through in the photo. I might not be doing what you think I’m doing, but I can tell you that what I’m doing is real.
I think of it like watching a someone perform a magic trick. You might learn the magician’s technique, their slight-of-hand, what they do to distract you from what’s really going on. Knowing this might make the performance less magical, but you can still watch it, accept it as a performance, and appreciate how the magician has honed their skills.
When you see a professionally taken photo, with obvious lighting setup, calculated angles, and obvious effort to make the subject look good, you are watching a performance. A ‘real life’ photo would be akin to secretly watching the magician practice. They’re concentrating on perfecting the trick. They don’t care about how they look or what’s in the background or that their makeup isn’t up to spec. Is the latter more authentic just because they aren’t catering to an audience?
All that said, perhaps I’m missing what it means for a photo to be ‘staged.’ I mean, I model rope a lot. The rope play I engage in isn’t fake. The presence of studio lights and a rigger who also knows how to operate a camera and use Photoshop doesn’t make the rope less risky. Was I actually suffering in that photo like the caption says? Possibly, but probably not. I was probably just chatting, checking in with my rigger about safety elements, or maybe talking about something completely unrelated to the shoot. Is that ruining your fantasy? Sorry but maybe you shouldn’t have asked. If you want to keep believing in the magic perhaps you shouldn’t ask the magician how they perform their tricks.