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The Face Of Awkwardness: Or How I Stopped Hiding Behind Social Media & Learned To Love The Shoot

Professionalism. A nebulous concept. Meaning different things to different people. The variability of multiple factors make pinning the concept down tricky. Some equate it to mean insincerity, to others politeness, reverence, or disingenuousness. A tailored approach to fit the individual and situation, digital or otherwise, is a no brainer. 

Yet impatience — switch impatience for desperation — eats into the basic principle of just being nice. Desperate for my Instagram numbers to climb, I attended a class run by a self-styled social media guru, a mediocre photographer who shot art nudes in an East London flat. I felt convinced he had something to say by the sheer volume of followers he amassed weekly.

After three hours of unedifying oration, two bits of advice surfaced. Post regularly (fine) and follow en masse people that may like your style. And yes, my numbers did creep up. I was getting more hits, likes, follow back and shout outs than you can wave a stylus at, but the cynicism was too much to stomach. Mostly sycophantic comments bubbled up to my notification screen and arrived with its own agenda. The central conceit a cynical ploy to make yourself look good.

The ability to amass a following needn't be a bulldozer approach. And this is where professionalism comes in.

Since shooting fashion photography, courteous emails, reliability, competence and projecting my personality in a considered manner, have all helped me to build a contact list of industry professionals. It’s small, but growing, growing in the real world, and translating to my social media. Apply this to models and bookers to continue shooting fashion. After all, without bookers, you’ll struggle to find models. And without models, fashion becomes a dull, static experience.

Notwithstanding the obvious creep-factor, a photographer can easily hide behind a camera. Reversed for the model, they are exposed in the scene set by the photographer. Through your lens the model will look you directly in the eye. I found this shocking at first. Ill prepared, I found my vocal cords constrict, dry up and refuse the passage of air for me to intonate audible directions. Persistence was key. 

I discovered that I felt out of my depth. Across the lens stood the model, behind me a supporting cast with vested interest in me snapping my shutter at the right moment; to frame the picture correctly; get my angles right. I felt the pressure to keep developing the rapport and hopefully not alienate anyone. 

The sound of silence was intolerable, causing a growing awkwardness with every missed opportunity to say, ‘move left a bit, try tilting your head up’. You can’t be crippled by it; silence reveals your beginner status. If you want to survive, you have to speak up. Besides, you have stuck yourself into an unfamiliar situation already, going a step further and speaking instruction will not expose you — it’s the opposite.

But there are other factors that can help.

I discovered that when cast correctly, the model better reflected the shoot’s concept, and with their movement and facial expressions, emoted like silent movie stars to tell the story. I realised their creativity is within these nuances, and is built on trust. You don't get that immediately, and if you do, that level of fearlessness is rare. 

Over time the model will open up, relax facial muscles, go bolder with their poses, and just occasionally reveal something completely intimate. Knock that with too much criticism, and you knock the trust and you lose the shoot.

I wanting to reach out, to break the awkwardness and silence, but you risk losing face and trust. Yet you cannot hide behind your social media in the real world, the need for social skills inevitably surfaces. Really, what I am telling you is to be nice, polite, not cynical, and the rest will follow. And yes, I did say the wrong things, and I did end up misplacing jokes, but like the first bunch of your photos, you need to get them out before you start to be good. 

In time, you will move with your model and create art together.


Mehmet Hassan