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PANDEMIC PHOTOGRAPHY TRENDS: #FACETIMESHOOT

"Invest in a good phone" was the advice internationally published photographer Loli Laboureau once gave me. She had agreed to sit with me for a coffee during a stormy afternoon in Buenos Aires. Apparently in her years photographing New York's Fashion Week she had learned celebrities reacted differently to having a phone vs a massive DSLR pointed at them. "And the quality is basically good enough" she added. The comment shocked me. It put into perspective a constant truth: time brings change, and it has a funny way of swallowing those who refuse to acknowledge him.


Photography evolves at the same rate technology does, and we shouldn't fear this natural process. Just last year Eugenio Recuenco went into history by being the first to add a phone photograph to a professional exhibition in his project 365. Nick Knight has for years referred to himself as an image creator, implying his constant experimentation with photoshop, 3D printing and other software are not quite contained in the term "photographer".


This art adapts itself to the tools and circumstances it's given, for which it is not a surprise the ongoing pandemic has caused it to evolve once more. For there is a way of still carrying out a photoshoot in a time in which all regular photography projects have to be cancelled. There is a way that respects the laws of self quarantine and social distance, in fact it doesn't even require one to leave the room. All you need is an electronic device, a video chat and a model to call.



I first came across the ISO photoshoot trend (or video-chat photoshoot) through Instagram. Some fashion photographer was copying another fashion photographer by screenshotting a model as she posed in front of a white wall. My first reaction was to admire the creativity, yet I immediately recognized the pointlessness of such a thing. What good could these photos be for? Their quality was too low to broadcast any products or to ever be a part of the model's portfolio. It also seemed as the model would be doing 99% of the work as a consequence of being in control of everything. Why not just take the final step and turn it into a self portrait session? Or why not just settle for a higher quality selfie? The whole thing just reminded me of myself as a teenager playing with the PhotoBooth app and I couldn't understand the role of a photographer in such a situation.


It might seem like I was being too harsh on something that was just a well executed attempt to create in a very confusing time. Now I realize that I actually was. Like many before me, I was clinging to the past. I was just another film photographer refusing to accept Photoshop into my reality.


ISO shoots are not "photography" in the terms that most of us refer to it: it's the way "art" is manifesting during a strange time in history. A time in which a deadly virus has forced humanity to shut its doors. They are an indisputable a downgrade from a regular photoshoot; but that is only if we measure them by the laws of a regular photoshoot. Quality in the detail, constant changes in camera angles, changes in aperture: these are tools we have to play with in regular circumstances. Demanding them is just a way of pretending you're still playing the same game, when the rules are completely different.


As March passed and isolation continued, these ISO photoshoots increased their popularity. Sometimes they were a joke, other times a genuine attempt to create art. Finally, in the first weeks of April, they received the ultimate stamp of approval: VOGUE Italia. Supermodel Bella Hadid was photographed using nothing but a webcam, and many were suddenly felt the need to try out the trend they had once dismissed.



Despite my skepticism, it turned out all it took for me to organize a photoshoot of such nature was for somebody to ask. Leo is a painter, model and a friend of mine who regularly stars in my personal projects. We've been looking for a way to create at a distance. We finally realized there was no harm in trying our own ISO Photoshoot, so we set up a date to schedule a call.


I normally take a lot of pride in the pre-planning, but I quickly realized the nature of this photoshoot was so different, my regular photography skills didn't apply. It's easy for me to walk into a room, scout the light choices and organize myself and my camera settings. What is one meant to do when that is not an option? I also found myself unable to pre-visualize what I wanted, so I concluded that at least for this first try there was no point in planning. I did the only sensible thing and left it all up to Leo. After all, we were setting the shoot in his house, his world; he knew it best. My only request was that he set us up next to a light source. I also asked him to look for props around his house, since from the few ISO shoots I had seen the ones with props always stood out.


Another issue we struggled with was choosing what app to use for our call. You might think there is no point in worrying about quality at this stage, but there is a big difference between being low quality and being completely pixelated. I instantly discarded Whatsapp, as I wished to call from my computer in order to obtain a bigger screenshot. Skype and Messenger (Facebook) always seemed to have a similar quality, and the internet articles seemed indecisive about which one was better. Leo suggested Facetime (Apple), and after a few tries there and on Messenger we both agreed it was the best.


The photoshoot was a lot more fun than I expected. I now realize I went into it with the pre-conception that it was not a real photoshoot, but I walked out learning it was just a completely different art form. Besides being a good creative outlet, it was also a great way to exercise my directing skills. I found myself wanting to jump into the frame and re arrange everything so many times, because my mind understands the image I wish to achieve before it can find ways to articulate it. This way of shooting leaves you no option than to be careful with your words to achieve it. Even though the model can see themselves, it's still your job to tell them how is the best way to position themselves and the camera.



Finally, when it came to editing these photos I realized part of their appeal was the continuity between them. That and their lack of detail, suggested the best way of showing them was by merging them into one final image. I had also seen some people choosing to not do any colour correcting, and even though there is no right or wrong answer, I believe one as an artist should try to make this creation still follow and respect your own personal aesthetic. I also chose to cut the box that showed myself in the video-call, which is a completely personal choice.


Flashing forward, lockdowns persisted here in Sydney during 2021. ISO or FaceTime Shoots became one of the only available methods to continue working with models. What I once saw as a joke was now the only way I could continue to do what I love the most, and I suddenly found myself having multiple remote photoshoots scheduled per week. That was about the time I decided to officially add Facetime Shoots to one of the many types of portraits my studio offers.


Now that social distancing is slowly decreasing as the pandemic dies down I find myself not dedicating as much time to this art form, but I still plan to continue perusing it. After all, art is constantly evolving, the best thing we can do as photographers and creators is make sure we don't get left behind.







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