Have you ever taken a photograph that was too appealing?
Apparently, it is possible.
A few weeks ago, I was talking with TJ Crowe about the photographs I had taken for a new website promoting his farm’s high-end pork range. His deep voice resonated with a rolling chuckle as he told me that some of the photographs were too good. “Nobody’d eat our meat if they saw it came from those cute guys,” he said.
He had a point.
Could you eat this fellow?
You’d have to have a heart of stone, or so the marketeers thought*. Inevitably, this little piglet didn’t go to market – or at least not on to the web.
Yet the photograph does tell the story. The pigs that TJ’s brother John Paul is raising for the farm’s premium brand are happy, contented, and well looked after. John Paul speaks eloquently about conscientious pig farming and about his ambitions. He wants to do the right thing for the pigs, the farm and the consumer. The picture helps show that. How happy does that piglet look?
The story of the shoot itself will appear on the blog at some point. I have to wait a while until the new Crowe’s Farm website goes live.
Meanwhile, the conversation around piglet reminded me of this photograph from a series taken in the kitchens at Fota Island Resort a couple of years ago:
It’s almost too perfect to be a documentary picture. There is a suggestion that it was set up, yet it wasn’t. It shows a real order being made up for diners out in the bar. The only hint that it isn’t a fabrication is the splat of mushy peas in the shadows next to one of the plates of fish and chips – a speck that pleases me. It suggests reality.
I think this photograph tells the story of Fota Island Resort in a single frame. Looking at it, you know all you need to know about how the staff at the hotel relate to their work. They care. The ethos of an entire body of staff is reflected in one picture.
It’s let down by one thing only. In the same way that piglet’s picture is too appealing to be of use to the client, I wonder whether this one is too perfect to be effective as a documentary photograph. Should documentary photographers strive for imperfection? Can a photograph be too good to be true?
*Ironically, similar thinking has only this week disrupted a book project I’m working on. The publisher has reservations about linking meat too closely to its origins. I think differently. For a start, I eat meat, so I have to face up to the facts about where it comes from. Also, I remember having my kneecaps chewed by some of Anthony Creswell’s sows while visiting his smokehouse a couple of years ago. I hold grudges.