It is easily one of the most vilified and stigma'd genres in photography, and the one genre that provokes the most ire from its critics. Difficult to define and even harder to describe to someone accurately, one could also argue that it's the one photography category with the most people, mostly men, who are involved "for all the wrong reasons". In short, some people loathe glamour photography. But, is the reputation deserved? And what the heck is this glamour photography thing anyway?
For one thing, there are some nationally recognized glamour photographers who don't even like the term, such as Colorado's top shooter Don Hales, who states clearly "Fashion sells a product, glamour sells the model. When you're looking at Maxim, you don't care what kind of bikini she is wearing, you care about the girl." which is in strong contrast to, say, Vogue magazine, where the wardrobe is (more or less) the primary focus.
This is all confusing already, so let's start of with an attempt to define glamour - literally that is - from a formal source like Dictionary.com:
1. the quality of fascinating, alluring, or attracting, especially by a combination of charm and good looks.
2. excitement, adventure, and unusual activity: the glamour of being an explorer.
3. magic or enchantment; spell; witchery.
4. suggestive or full of glamour; glamorous: a glamour job in television; glamour stocks.
That's well stated and all that, but what does it mean for the photography genre? Honestly, definition #1 covers it, spot on. But how so? Let's take a look at it while we try to avoid the obvious assessment of "Men like hot women" because, frankly, that's only a small part of it.
"Fascinating, Alluring, Attracting, Charm, Good Looks"
Who finds glamour fascinating? In my experience as a glamour photographer over the years, I have noticed that, curiously, a unexpected number of women from all walks of life are fascinated and intrigued by the idea of being a glamour model. And sure, why not? Glamour models are often regarded as celebrities (even minor ones), for better or worse, and there has never been a shortage of people who find being a celebrity fascinating. For every woman that I have met that blanketedly dismissed glamour models as "wrong" (or whatever critical term they care to use), I've met 10 other women who tell me they fantasize casually about being one at times. My own wife included, which is why she has modeled "for fun" since 1999.
There is a mystique behind this, a certain perception of strength and power about being a celebrity or semi-celebrity, and the title of glamour model sits squarely in that perception. Mind you, I am fully aware that there are very important people in this world doing very important things for society and humanity in the realms of science, medicine, philosophy and education, and I applaud them all. In fact, I'm a huge fanatic and supporter of those subjects and those working to expand them. But glamour models provide both men and women with a fantasy escape, if you will, that more people find fascinating than they are usually willing to admit.
Ok, so, is glamour charming? In my opinion, it definitely is. To me, being charming is having an appealing sense of friendliness, confidence and a sense of humor. The latter being the key element in glamour. You see, although this may not be how some feel about it, to me, glamour has to always have a small sense of humor in order for it to work. Glamour, and those who work in it, cannot take themselves too seriously if they intend to create imagery that conveys sexuality, beauty, style and confidence in a universally appealing manner. Once you take yourself too seriously in glamour, you can accidentally jump firmly into arrogance, whether you mean to or not, in a genre that shouldn't be taken too seriously to begin with - and that is another stigma that can be hard to live down.
But let's not mince words here: Glamour photography is also wrought with far too many perverted "photographers", seedy "agents" and a host of other questionable people, all trying to exploit anything they can out of anyone trying to work in the genre. I freely admit it, there are way too many trashy photographers in glamour. And more than likely you or someone you know has had a bad experience with one or more of these unfortunately prevalent predators. One of the most staggeringly annoying aspects of this problem is when these ridiculous perverts trying to shoot glamour approach me as if I think just like they do. And before I can stop them, they are spewing forth their, let's call them philosophies, on why they work in this genre. I usually need a shower immediately after these barrages of garbage spew forth from some wannabe glamour photographer's mouth.
The worst part is, the photographers, models and other industry professionals with integrity have to live this stigma down, daily. As social media is used so often these days, a glamour photographer or model is never too far away from the next criticism or condemnation from a random commenter.
So, ok, more people get a kick out of glamour photography than they will admit, but glamour photography is also not for everyone. If you're a self-described prude or find that viewing glamour images go against your set of ethics and morals, then glamour isn't for you. And that's, of course, perfectly ok. I can relate to this because of my disinterest in, for example, the horror, or macabre, genre of model photography. Sure, there is a time and place for it (namely, on commercial horror movie posters), but it is not a style I like, let alone strive for. I've no interest in it, but yet may photographers and models and creative individuals are quite passionate about it. And that is, again, perfectly ok.
But back to glamour. I've been working in this genre for a few years now, and have met many in the industry with very interesting outlooks and opinions on this whole "glam" thing. Playboy model Elsa Day remarked recently during a chat of ours "To me, glamour modeling is about seducing the camera. A good glamour model commands attention or a jaw drop with her goddess like qualities and confidence" she says, "Being a glamour model you are more of a classy tease, the stunning woman a man might check out in a grocery store but in her lingerie and with blowing hair." What Day is basically saying here, to me, is that glamour creates fantasy, which is not unlike other genres of photography. She also spoke to those who criticize the genre, stating "[If a photographer or client] puts a model in Wal-Mart undies, spread her legs and have her suck on a lollipop, that turns trashy real quick. But if you put a model in Agent Provocateur or Victoria's Secret with amazing hair & make-up and a fancy hotel suite, and she knows how to pose sensually, then [can be] classy." There is a fine line here, as she describes, and it all comes down to intent and dignity.
Michigan based professional touring model Aneta Kowal describes glamour in her own succinct manner, declaring "Glamour modeling is expressing my sexuality in the form of a photograph."
Professional glamour photography stalwart, James Gurdine, who has shot for every men's magazine you have ever heard of for almost 20 years, told me recently "I've made a big chunk of my living shooting glamour and, for the last 7+ of those years, writing about it as well. For me, glamour photography celebrates - you might even say worships - the feminine mystique, as well as the beauty, allure, and sensuality of the women in front of my camera, and the cameras of others who either work at or enjoy shooting the genre." Gurdine also commented on the criticisms glamour receives, saying "I try to keep an open mind to glamour photography's detractors, that is, those who judge it as smut, filth, sinful, whatever. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. I do, however, take exception when the people who embrace those opinions attempt to force their personal sense of morality on others by shaming them, judging them, even condemning them."
The feedback I get from the industry reminds me that very real human beings work in glamour despite the critics who may declare otherwise.
Glamour photography is all about fantasy, as I've stated, and specifically sexual fantasy. That said, glamour is not - let me say it again - is not like pornography. Rather than go on some thousand word diatribe about why it is not like porn, I will just say that, if you're unsure, hit up Google and search for some. If that doesn't show you the profound difference between the images in this article and the images the Google gods will throw at you for searching "porn", then I can't help you. Pornographic images and videos, if I'm honest, scare the hell out of me a lot of the time. The vulgarity, disrespect, even violence. Just awful. However, a delightfully pointless shot of Chicago model Amanda Paris wearing an electric pink mini dress sitting in a Porsche 911 GT3 is not scary at all. And it depicts the fantasy of maybe, just maybe, what it would be like to be married to such a woman and own such a car - a fantasy common among quite a few men I am sure you know in your life. And I am certain which one is sexy (Amanda & Porsche), and which one isn't (porn).
Exploring sexuality in art is nothing new, and at times it can be a very serious exploration. But with glamour, I think it should be approached with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and just allow yourself to be in the moment of it, however brief, and smile. After all, there are plenty of other things in life we need to take very seriously, and pay attention to.
And if you're in glamour or wanting to be in glamour, remember what Kowal says, quoting composer Jean Sibelius, "Never pay attention to what critics say. Remember, a statue has never been set up in honor of a critic."