The nature of the beast

BY DOMINIQUE JAMES

I’ve worked with so many people these past 15 years, and I can say, with somewhat of an authority, that I know the nature of the beast. By this, I mean, the nature of almost all types of people that I work with, starting from the subjects of my pictorials then down to the anyone and everyone related to them by blood, by choice, by circumstance, or, by happenstance. It’s a galaxy of people that I have to relate to and to adapt to, if I were to be effective in dealing with everyone–from the highest of the high, to the lowest of the low.

This ability, the somewhat learned power of being able to interact, communicate, and get along well with practically anyone, is a necessary skill, and as some might even say, a talent, when it comes to the art and craft of doing what needs to be done. And in my case, it is photography. So, in order for me to be able to do my job, I must necessarily, at the same time, be able to talk to everybody, and to convince them (often times, to cajole them), into synchronizing with how I move in my world. And miracles of miracles, and by the power of whatever levels and layers of motivation that make each person agree to the synchronicity, it almost always works. For a few hours, I become the Lord of my photo studio, and I become the person who is in the middle of it all. It’s a nice feeling, for sure, and one that any photogapher can get used to.

But there is just one problem. The celebrity. The celebrity is used to being in the center of everyone’s attention, no matter where they go, no matter where they are, and no matter what they do. If we look at the dynamics of human interaction, whether a one-on-one encounter or a one-to-many situation, the center of the universe will be the celebrity. Media has worked its wonders on famous people, annointed them as interesting and worthy of public attention, and in most cases, endowed with almost miraculous beauty, that they naturally attract attention. Someone we know from watching TV shows or movies, or reading newspapers and magazines, will naturally capture our attention when we meet them in person. We are naturally curious of who they are, and what they are. In other words, we want to understand “the nature of the beast.”

And if we happen to have developed a certain degree of fondness over a popular personality who may be an actor, a politician, a model, a socialite, or an athlete, all the more we are drawn, and we naturally want to take the opportunity to express our “fondness” in real life whenever we get the chance, such as meeting them in person, with whom we’ve had developed a strong connection even though only previously through the impersonal medium of the mass media. We want to engage in an experience of being awe-struck by a media personality. We want the excitement of being star-struck. Imagine, young girls screaming their lungs off when they finally catch a glimpse of their idol.

But I’ve never been star-struck. And I don’t think I will ever be. In my line of work, I’ve met and photographed almost all kinds. From the up-and-coming to the over-the-hill. And, somehow, I’ve always been expecting to be star-struck, and yet, I never get to experience it. There was only one person whom I’ve felt closest to being “star-struck” but then again, it wasn’t really what I expected how the experience will be. It’s not just in my constitution to be awed by another person because of their celebrity status.

And that is where the tricky nature of my working relationship with celebrities come in. Because I am never star-struck, I treat celebrities as I would any other person. I do not, in anyway, try to be more accomodating just because he or she happens to be a big star. So, if a celebrity expects their photographer to be putting them in a pedestal, they learn soon enough that it will never happen in my photo shoot with them. That’s because I treat my job as a professional photographer as simply work. And while I love what I do, and while I enjoy what I do as a photographer, and while I love working with people who are nice to work with, I will not give celebrities any preferential treatment. I treat each and every subject whom I photograph the same way, as another human being whom I want to take pictures of.

This way of dealing with celebrities simplify a lot of things. Once this kind of working relationship and interaction has been established, understood and accepted, everything works just well. The pictorial session moves along just fine. And, the job gets done fast, and well. If everyone is in the right mood, and there are no hang-ups, then the magic of the photo shoot weaves itself to make it a fabulously memorable one.

But, not all celebrities are easy to work with. There are a lot of them who not only try to assert but to actually force the stature of celebrityhood on everyone, including me, in my photo shoot, and in my photo studio. This is when, I know, things will be difficult. Very difficult. While I understand that many people clamour for their attention, they have to realize that the industry that they operate in is only a constructed world, and all that “celebrity stature” is merely a manufactured goods. It is an illusion unleased to the public with the aim of economic gain. For every celebrity that has been created, the goal is to create a “product” that the public will buy. And part of the industry setup that creates that selling factor are the army of photographers, hair-and-makeup artists, fashion designers, stylists, managers, handlers, and staff of all sorts. The entire entertainment industry, of which the galaxy of stars move around in, is nothing but a legalized system of mafiadom.

And so, when a media personality assertively acts out a manifestation of “celebrity stature” to the people who has no need for it, such as a photographer, the element of delusion about the “character” that is supposed to be publicly portray becomes unacceptable. There is no need for it. We are not the market for that kind of product. We are the ones in the industry helping to create and produce a product that is embodied in a physical person. A photographer, a makeup artist, a hairdresser, a fashion designer, a stylist — these are people who work with typically ordinary persons, and then turn them into stars that is unleased to the general public. That’s how it operates, and that’s how the game is played.

So, the nature of the beast is that, it’s nothing but just work that needs to be done. It just so happen, that someone has to do it, and they are the ones doing it. Nothing more, nothing less.

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