Clothing and The Assembly Line Portrait

“Which blouse looks better? The Red one or the Blue one?” The customer says as she holds the two blouses up in front of her.

“I like the Red one.” I say with a shrug. “But it’s up to you.  It’s your portrait.”

“I know that, but which one will photograph better?”

Assembly Line Portrait Photographers are like all other photographers, they are supposed to be experts on Fashion as well as experts on photography.  The fact of the matter is that most people just want someone to make a decision for them.  Red or Black? Tie or no tie?  Shirt tucked in or left out?

This is just from the waist up, right?” Is the most common clothing question I get doing Directory Work.  They have an old directory, they look at it and they don’t see any full length shots.  So they come in wearing a suit jacket and a pair of shorts.   Which is fine, except that we might want to sell them a couple of full length shots.

My own clothing tends to be a pair of slacks and a long sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a necktie.  But I have shot wearing a golf shirt, and for several months my uniform was khaki pants and a Hawaiian shirt.  No one cares what The Photographer wears, except The Company.

The Company always has a Dress Code, which usually amounts to wearing causal business attire for both men and women.  I have never had a customer tell me they liked my clothing or hated my clothing.  I do get a few comments on my footwear, as I tend to wear slightly exotic shoes because I am on my feet all day.  These shoes may not be approved by The Company, but I really don’t care.

I have had people walk into my Assembly Line Portrait Studio wearing a coat in May, well into the Hot Season in Texas.  This is always a bit of a warning, these are often young women who are wearing very revealing formal wear that they are too embarrassed to be seen wearing in public, but they want a portrait taken while wearing it.  I have had people request Boudoir Photos-while we are sitting in the middle of a Big Box Store surround by people.  I had one man show me a set of nude portraits and asked if I could take similar photos-when I was in a church.

We used to do a shot called The Tub Pose, a guaranteed seller of a small child sitting in a washtub so that it looked like the child was taking a bath.  Add a little scrub board, an old fashioned bar of soap and a washcloth. Cute to the Max.

So I was setting up the shot one day and I asked the Mom to remove the top, as the shot looks best with the baby topless.  The Mom started to unbutton her blouse.  “No, the baby’s top, Mom.”

For the most part, people wear their everyday clothes to have their portrait taken.  Maybe it is a bit more formal than everyday, but maybe not.  I’ve taken portraits of mechanics that look as if they just pulled themselves out from under a car, gardeners with dirt on their faces, and teenagers in all manner of t-shirts and whatever is currently the hot and hip look.  I like the kids with blue and purple hair and black eyeshadow.

I’ve photographed people wearing next to nothing, women with their boobs pushed up till they looked like extras from Danger Liaisons and men flexing their pecs like the next Mr Universe.  I’ve seen formal families with that one teenage daughter wearing the diaphanous prom dress that leaves nothing to the imagination.  I try to ignore them all and just take their portrait.  Though I have a had a few times I felt like slipping a dollar bill into a g-string as they were leaving.

The worst of the lot are the people that wear clothes with powerful odors.   These can be people who don’t when to stop with the perfume or people who don’t when to start using deodorant.  It’s common to take Assembly Line Portraits of people who smell of moth balls.  It’s also common to see older men who have lost control of their bodily functions and have large wet spots on their clothes.  There are also a lot of people who are not familiar with the invention of soap and laundry detergent.

There are people who don’t appear to own calendars, they show up wearing the same clothes they wore in the last Directory five years ago.  They were Disco suits.  They were bold prints from the 1960s and 1970s.  They wear white patent leather belts and shoes that match.   A lot of people are really fond of purples and reds.

“So how do I look?”

“You look great.”

They smile and I take their portrait.

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