The ubiquitous beach portrait

I had an email this morning from a very nice woman who was responding to one of my craigslist ads. Long story short, she asked me to do some beach portraits of her kids. The ironic thing is this request comes at the culmination of a whole revolution in my thinking on this syle of portrait.

I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but here on the Gulf Coast it sometimes seems like every single family has a portrait where they’re all sitting (usually uncomfortably) on a sand dune. Now, I hate to be like this, but I really don’t like those pictures. I just don’t. I’d rather see something from Olan Mills. The truth is, when they first started getting popular, it was kind of cool. But once the novelty wore off, it just became a fad.

To be honest, it just doesn’t fit my style. I believe that every element of a portrait should say something about the personality of the individual. So here’s where it gets complicated – because who am I to say it doesn’t? Well… let’s just say I’ve known people who were about to go get their portraits done at the beach, who called to ask how to get out to the beach. Ok, so maybe it’s just a backdrop? I mean, I often do portraits at a nearby track or on my farm because of the beautiful backdrops they create. Am I a hypocrite because the track or the farm say nothing about these portrait subjects? I don’t think so… after all, a background of indistinguishable green trees is pretty neutral. The beach is the beach.

Ok, I seem to recall saying something about having had a revolution in my way of thinking on this subject. So I’d better start revolving. I guess what did it for me was going through the snapshots taken on my goddaughter’s last trip to Pensacola. We took her out to the beach, and of course I got some pictures. But some of them were really great. They said something about her personality – in one she was lying on the sand, shivering as the waves lapped her legs (she’s still a bit scared of the water). In another she’s laughing at her dad as he hunts for shells, with the sand and waves as… yes, a backdrop.

So I think my solution is this. I’m going to stop dismissing the idea of beach portraits out of hand. Instead, I’m just going to integrate the beach as a setting into my style. So I still won’t be doing the stereotypical sand dune photo that everyone has on the wall, but I won’t stay away from the beach any longer.

And how does this lead back into my email this morning? Well, the lady’s family is leaving Florida early next year. She wants some beautiful images of her children at the beach that they can have as a memory of their years growing up here. I can’t think of any other idea that better defines my idea of fine art portraiture.

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~ by David Cupp on June 27, 2008.

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