Fine Art Photography

Fashion and Fine Art Photography by John Joseph Dowling Jr.

While I might usually start off an issue in a new year about my new year’s resolutions, politics, COVID-19, and many other topics that the world is very passionate about (especially in light of the world we are living in now) I thought I might just kick back in this issue and chat about what I love. My passion for telling people’s stories came from my fashion and fine art photography roots. I started fashion and fitness modeling when I was just about 19 years old. My father’s cousin was a professional photographer and used me for a few shoots, soon after the photographers that he shot with from the Corbis Stock Market stock photo agency started to photograph me as well. It just came naturally like a part-time job. However, my passion was more for creating and taking photographs than modeling. I did learn a ton by modeling but fashion and fine art photography are really only as good as your imagination, and the time you are willing to spend learning how to use light. Not just to look at people but to see them, and to see into them.

Most people do not realize that a huge part of the creative process takes place between the artist and the subject. That rapport translates in the eyes of your subject and his/her facial expressions, and overall body language. These days most artists use Photoshop or they’re on camera settings to stylize the image (or both). Color grading and retouching are just part of the process. Even smartphones have extensive tools now for immediate gratification. Many fine artists have a vision for the final image but along the way truly creative fine artists can manipulate an image a thousand times before getting the exact composition they were envisioning at the onset. Finishing, grading, and manipulating the image has become an art form in and of itself. This is where fine artists become unique, when their style of photography, finishing, and color grading takes the finished images well beyond commercial photography and become individual works of art.

Most who start taking photographs on their smartphones or pocket cameras realize that the options are limited with regards to lenses and lighting so they start on the path of buying professional gear. That is a great step as being able to control light and see how that light is interacting with your subject is just as important as the chemistry between you and your subject. Once you have professional gear and lenses, get lenses, and get the pro lenses as glass is as important as your imagination and your creativity. Great glass /lenses are the difference between a good tool kit and a great tool kit. Lenses for professional photographers are tools, not toys. And of course, realize that for every hour that you shoot, you will spend a day editing, retouching, color grading, and retouching those photographs to create world-class fine art images. The same types of images you will always see throughout Model Citizens Magazine as we only allow fine art photographs in our magazine.

So what does it mean to be a fashion or fine art photographer? That is a very complex question but most photographers who have shot fashion and fine art photography will share similar thoughts on what it means to be a fashion/fine art photographer. For me, it means first off that you are using the human body &, wardrobe, themes, colors, and backgrounds to convey a message that is consistent with the designers’ artistic vision. Similar to fine art photography where the image is consistent with the artist’s creative vision and style, so much so that it defines the artist and becomes recognizable. Viewers start to recognize photographers’ art simply by the consistency of the lighting and imagery. Even now with this magazine, you can see that the light is always clean and faces, eyes, hands, the connection you see to every photograph is similar. Eye contact and love show through every photograph I ever publish. The connection, that human connection to my subjects is what makes my photographs fine art. The human connection between the model and the viewer, as well as the third-party connection back to me.

Even when it comes to sharing photographs of myself these days I choose the same style of photographs, those that convey a story, a style, a message, and always a connection back to the subject and the viewer, even when I am the subject. As you read this story about fashion and fine art photography further into this issue of Model Citizens Magazine and look at the photographs throughout you will see that the human connection between myself and my subjects is real. I do not know how photographers take photographs of people they have never seen before unless they are strictly photojournalistic candid photographs. Of course, every photographer takes candid photographs and photographs that tell a “bigger picture” story than just the expression on a subject’s face when they are photojournalistic. Photojournalist photographs are called photojournalistic because they tell a news story. It is now usually understood to refer only to still images, but in some cases, the term also refers to video used in broadcast journalism. In either medium, the subject’s wardrobe and connection to the photographer are less important than capturing the circumstances at the time of the capture, video, or photography.

When you look at these photographs of Madison what do you see? You see a beautiful woman sitting in the same room (the library at the Oheka Castle) in two different outfits. One is a Sculptura little black dress and the other is in a black bikini swimsuit with a book from the library as a prop.

Both photographs are consistent and have clean light and the same rather shadow-less light, or at least soft shadows. The fashion and fine art photographer chooses the wardrobe or frames the wardrobe and the model with the rooms’ furniture, where the model is positioned in the room, and the distance the photograph will be in focus from the face of the model to the objects both behind her and in front of her to create a story.

The story is further told by the expression on the model’s face. In this case, Madison looks alluring and inviting. Since she is alone and looking at you the audience with love and direct eye contact there is a direct connection that is created between the viewer and the subject as well. The viewer as a third party to the fashion photograph or fine art photograph is intimate because of the connection that existed at the moment the photograph was taken. In both shots. Look in Madison’s eyes and you will feel the connection

I started writing songs, poems, and essays about my photographs in high school as well. As much as women have been a motivation for my photography, so to has my passion for fine art – spending most of my life behind one camera or another. I even wrote about my life as a fitness model and fashion photographer in the 80’s and through 2018 in my first novel Chapters Of Love Chasing Sunrise.

Trust me the novel is heartfelt but equally as naughty as it is heartfelt. The 80’s just like most generations I have lived through creatively have always been very heavily influenced by sexuality and sensuality using both to tell stories. Love is almost always the motivation for my fine art and I will admit that I got caught up in the fashion industry in the ’80s and truly lived a life of passion. I pay tribute to many of the love stories and chapters of love that photography and being a fine artist allowed me to experience. But be forewarned, that shooting with carefree and creative minds often lent itself to sexual rendezvous of many different varieties. As with most relationships that start with lust and desire they took a toll on my heart, but I do still search for my soulmate and hope to find her. That being said, an emotional or romantic connection to your subject and your subject back to you is a great way to get authentic expressions from your model or muse. Creating a moment of creative collaboration that translates into art, is a very challenging task, but as you will see…. is possible when you approach every photo with love in your heart and positive energy.

Celine is one of the original model citizens and of course one of my favorite models of all time. Celine and I have great rapport. Just look into Celine’s eyes, don’t you see it? I used to think that I was the only one who could see it, or that certain models could inspire the feeling of love from any photographer. What I have learned recently by listening to everyone who gives me feedback on my photographs is the same. They see the love too, and they feel love when we shoot. Now of course that is the most beautiful thing anyone has ever told me, but I hear it often. So it is good to be loved for sure.

However, even here with this self-portrait at the airport in Naples Florida, Celine has genuine love in her heart, as do I. We shot together on her birthday every year for over eight years. We created masterpieces together. Photographs that I will share in my first fine art photography exhibition in over 20 years. I just did not have the opportunity to print my work for a while. Others do, they always do, but now I print my own as well again… and when you see this exhibition you will see life-size photographs of subjects who feel and project love.

Of course, it is not always the love that I have in my heart for the model citizens, models, and subjects that I photograph that drives the rapport in a photograph. Other times, many other times it is the love that is felt between the two people I am photographing or those that they are thinking about. Yes, I use the power of suggestion often and have people feel safe to connect with each other. Even people who never met before can “method act” their way into role-playing characters in a scene, or photograph, just like actors in a movie. I use method acting myself when I put myself into a role, just like when I was on the other side of the camera. I always found the best fashion photographers and fine art photographers truly get to know their subjects and teach them how to method act for modeling. Basically taking on a role or part in your imagination and playing the scene out for the camera. In those cases, I am the choreographer of love, a director.

When a photographer tells you “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” you know that he/she is going to ask you to take your clothes off, or he is going to take you to a place that you have probably never explored before. Especially when he is paying tribute to the female figure in his soon to be announced fine art photography exhibition. But not only for the sake of paying tribute to the female figure but also because throughout history art is used to share what was important to society and the culture of different communities in this little slice of time. In my heart, I am paying tribute to this time in history where it seems that with the integration of all of the races and genetically different looking people, I get to show how we feel love to our generation and to the next generations. So depicting love has always been and will always be my choice of subject matter. Especially because up and above all labels I give myself for different marketing and business ventures, I am and will always be a fine artist at heart. It’s also why so many people look amazing in our photographs.

It is in no way a “one-way street” most models are also actors or have studied method acting themselves and are wildly creative free spirits. They live for the time they get to create and roll play in front of the camera and what woman doesn’t fantasize about something? And I do realize that many of the women who may be reading this right now, and guys, maybe thinking “well what about when you photograph men?” I have a method for that as well, I never photograph men alone. I always have gorgeous model citizens around me when I photograph them, or their significant other. Even for boudoir photographs when there is a naked dude in front of me or for fine art photographs of a man…… I have never done them without the partner or a “fantasy” woman present. The one time I did actually the shots were ok but nothing like when I facilitate romantic moments and “scenes” between men and women. Men also react the same way… Everyone does. There is simply a connection that develops when you look into another person’s heart.

But as I started out saying, photography is not only about rapport with a subject but also the wardrobe body language, and the backgrounds just to give a few examples. Here for instance, Greggory is walking on the water’s edge creating a mirrored affect as his image reflects in the sunset light. He is wearing sunglasses so we do not see his eyes but we do see his confident smile, and he has a gate or body position that is inviting. His face is directed at the camera and he is connecting to the viewer. In this case his fiance.

As I am sure you noticed already Nataliya has a unique ability to make connections with her amazing eyes. She just has that “always love” look as I call it. Or maybe just because we create fine art together so frequently she can turn it on very quickly. In this case quite possibly because I have her laughing in between photographs. Often you have to inspire your model or muse (or in this case Model Citizen) to want to feel love and feel good. Nataliya likes when I sing love songs, so it is easy to create with Nataliya.

Look at this photograph or me and how the photographer (David Gordon) was able to use a reflector to create what is called a catch light in my eyes. The reflection is not there by chance, the reflection was created intentionally to show the transparency of my eyes. It also hides a shadow from the light coming from above us (the sun) that creates shadows from the bridge of our eyes, under our eyes. Using fill light and reflectors, even a flash to fill that shadow in is imperative in many lighting choices, while in other shots shadows on a person’s face are done intentionally to create a more defined look on a person’s face. Often even significantly highlighting the bone structure, cheekbones, and chin of a subject. Of course, it is always an honor when I am asked to photograph a legendary entertainer and athlete like Hulk Hogan.

The left side of Model Citizen Heather’s face is being lit naturally by the sun. You can see the shadows on the right side of Heather’s face and you can even see that her dress is considerably darker in the shadow of her own body. Using a flash outdoors to fill in these shadows is a great way of reducing the contrast between the lights and the darks, as well as making sure you can see details in the shadows without over-lighting or overexposing the colors that are facing the sun. Also, you can not see it but often photographers will use very large fold-able or collapsible reflectors that are coated with shiny surfaces to reflect light from the sun and the flash back at the model.

Same day different time of day you can see the sunset behind Heather and her entire body is really back-lit and the front of her body was in complete shadow. When you want to capture the human figure in a fine art photograph when the subject is between you and the sun, use a powerful flash or large silver or gold reflector (at least 4’ round) and fill the shadow in with light. Lighting a subject this way gives that back-lit halo effect or a ring of light around the object that creates depth. Make sure not to look directly into your viewfinder if you have a HDSLR as the light can burn your retina even coming through the camera.

You would never know it but this was a very cloudy and windy day. We were shooting at the Oheka Castle for John Pappas furs and Eva’s of Sayville and the light was perfect. Often models thin that when it rains or after it rains when it is still cloudy and wet outside that we can not shoot, but it is just the opposite. Cloudy days even rainy days produce great soft light almost shadow-less like in this shot of Nataliya. The lack of shadows reduces the amount of black abstract shapes in the photograph and makes for what we refer to as soft lighting. Make sure when shooting outside with filtered sunlight to adjust your white balance for the color of the light. Remember light has more than the angel that it hits your subject with and intensity, it has color. Remember the kelvin scale? Light is warmer at sunrise and sunset and cooler or bluer during the day. Light when filtered through clouds is still blue during the day. Adjust your white balance accordingly and be careful with flash as it is different than daylight.

Lighting can make or break your photograph, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money on professional lighting gear. For most of my photos, I use just one light source the sun, and a gold or silver reflector. A common mistake beginners make is to get bogged down in trying to create very complicated lighting schemes, with lots of flashes everywhere. If anything, this only makes the picture worse. Think simple: choose your location, see what you have to work with, then think about how to light it. I like to bring one on-camera flash for fill flash bouncing it off of one of the reflectors, and other times for a stronger more structured look a portable strobe light, just one with a powerful head and diffuse the light with a white shoot-through umbrella. There are so many unique light sources both during the day and night that you do not have to burden yourself or the set with a ton of strobes. Of course, at times light may be perfectly reflected off of water or a skyscraper like in this shot of Morgan where a nearby glass structure was reflecting super soft light.

Fitness modeling was not always a walk in the park as sometimes you would be standing still for hours or wearing swimsuits in the winter and freezing your ass off in the snow. Here I am modeling leather jackets in the Hampton’s but as usual, swimsuits were a good part of the shoot. Often for fashion editorial designers combine their products with associate’s products to cover the cost of the ads or editorial space. I did get the leather jackets for that shoot as compensation was often barter, a way models barter for high-end designers clothing that was well beyond their normal budget. It helped to keep costs down for the designer, but still, provide value back to models.

I prefer to use a constant studio light like an Arri 300 or a Zoom 600 studio strobe, but a window with diffused light can be just as beautiful. Lighting accessories, such as soft-boxes, umbrellas and reflectors, affect the look and intensity of the light.
Another useful technique is to play with the direction of the light and the distance between the light and the model. All of these choices affect the character of the light that you create – and the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t is to experiment. For soft light, I position large soft boxes close to the model; for hard light, I use standard reflectors, 5-10 inches in diameter, or a bare bulb strobe – although that can be harder to work with because it casts harsh shadows. The larger the soft box, the softer the light will be; the smaller the area, the harsher the light.

Over the three decades I have been shooting and creating fine art, many of my assignments were one time events. When you are shooting events you have to be mobile and be able to voyeuristically “stalk” your subjects so that you capture them in both a photo-journalistic natural setting as well as be prepared to take formal group portraits. Lighting for shooting events is very tricky. Sometimes best to use wireless strobe lights when you need the power, and other times running and gunning with an on camera flash.

Many of the models who are in model citizens magazine are actually creative minded people themselves. In fact, standing on the front of my sailboat is Lydian who is an avid dancer, fashion model, and interior designer herself This page, Nataliya is a clothing designer who makes much of the clothing that you actually see in Model Citizens Magazine or she tailors it with Robert Bartol and Mark Macaluso who both also style many of the mens fashion shoots you see in Model Citizens Magazine including the cover shot of Model Citizen Man of the Year Robert Zabbia. Nataliya even creates clothing for herself and for her friends. So when you see some of the model citizens in Model Citizens Magazine know that you are actually looking at some of the leading creative minds on Long Island. Believe me when I share that they are responsible for helping make my images even better.

Here you can see the difference between a commercial portrait of me on the left, and a fine art photograph of me from when I was a fitness model in the eighties. Trust me it has been one too many White Castles since then but I am working on it. Give me six months lol. That being said, Fine Art photographs like this one by Ken Haak (R.I.P. kind of world-famous fashion photographer and art director in his day) One from a collection he shot of me in his New York City Midtown brownstone (4 floors) studio.

I did my best when I was being photographed and followed directions to give the artist what they wanted. In this case, since I was an All American Apple Pie kind of looking model, Ken wanted to make me look fierce. I was not good at looking fierce as I would much rather be laughing, but with his direction, I pulled it off. More importantly, I gained ken’s respect and trust and later went on to manage his darkroom and photofinishing at New York Film Works where I printed for the largest agencies and world-famous photographers like Ken. So for me now being a fine artist master photographer myself, I can only describe fine art photography as self-defining. When you look at ART you feel it, you see it or you hear it, or all of the above. My photographs typically impact people emotionally and they get a feeling. That feeling is love, and that is the theme of all of my fine art photography.

Many really talented fine art photographers started out on the other side of the camera learning from the photographers they shot with. In the 80’s or really always the model who knows photography can learn the lighting techniques of the pros just by observing how they light you during modeling assignments. I learned a ton from fitness modeling. I say fitness but it was fashion fitness in some cases and real fine art modeling other times.

I often modeled swimsuits and I found out later on that the photographs were just the interim step, many photographers take photographs only so they can paint or sculpt the photo into other forms of art later on. I personally print my photographs on canvas like fine art and most of them are taken with fine art canvas printing in mind. Many people are shocked when they see my fine art photographs and even more so when they see themselves in life size canvas prints.

Look at the light on Nataliya in these two photographs. Do you see how soft Nataliya’s skin looks and how bright the details are? That is the type of light we often get after a snow storm when there is a large blanket of snow over the ground. The light bounces off of the ground covered with snow this acts like a giant softbox reflecting bright light right into Nataliya’s face. That along with a camera-mounted flash for a little catch light and Nataliya looks amazing. Of course, it does not hurt that she is wearing a mink coat from John Pappas furs and she is amazingly beautiful. Nataliya is one of the models who is going to be featured in my fine art exhibition on February 2nd.

Backlighting is a great way to add highlights to shadowed areas. In the self-portrait above I used a flash bounced off of the seamless background to create the highlight on my cheek that was in the shadows. I often use myself and a remote trigger or self-timer to set up lights for fine art photo sessions. I first set the lighting up for me and then covert it to the height and dimensions of the model once they show up.

Back-lighting is not only something you need to make with studio lights, you can use natural light filtered through things like windows, even through sails on sailboats where the object you are photographing is in shadow or diffused light. Look at my cheek in that photograph, you will see a really nice highlight there caused by the back-lighting from the sail itself being transparent or translucent.

Fitness and fine art modeling taught me the tips and tricks of the master fashion and fine art photographers from the ’80s and I have used that knowledge to build a solid foundation in fine art before I started to even think about event photography or commercial photography. My roots are firmly in fashion and fine art.

When you balance light properly the viewer does not pay attention to it unless the light is part of the composition. Even in this close-up portrait of Nataliya in the snow, you do not know that I was shooting with a camera-mounted flash, but you do see it in her pupil as a small reflection just at the top of her eyes. Now, this shot is a fashion fine art portrait as Nataliya’s wardrobe is playing a huge role in the composition. Her coat, gloves, and her eyes all work together framed by her hair to create a very intimate connection to the viewer. All of the model’s eyes play a huge role in the rapport with the viewer and as part of the fashion statement being made with this great gatsby style wardrobe for a private party at the Oheka Castle. Also, notice how the background depth is compressed by using a telephoto lens to capture this shot. So many factors influence the composition of fine art and fashion photographs.

If you look in my eyes you will see that the photographer used a rectangular light box with a modeling light to create this unique reflection in my eyes. Remember what you shoot with shows in the eyes. Since I was a young man I have used photography and art to moderate a genetic mutation that affected my life greatly. I walked eight to ten hours a day with my camera in order to grow new arteries. I started walking at charity events after I volunteered for Mohammad Ali’s charity. Later in life I met countless celebrities and photographed them for one charity event or another. All important to my spiritual self, paying it forward.

In this shot of Becky, I used an on-camera flash and a white card to bounce the light off of a wall and then back onto Becky. You can see the harder shadow under Becky’s chin on the left side of the photograph. The bounce flash softened the light but also strengthened the structure of her jawline. The light was balanced so it was no stronger than the ambient room light so the colored lights from the evening show in the background and as a purplish highlight on Becky’s black hair.

Christina Lentini wore this striking red dress to compliment the fall colors in and around this dock and the adjacent pond. The photograph is for the most part neutral and has some earth tones in the colors but red is the color that is predominant in this photograph. This color combination uses complementary colors to create an overall fall feel to the photograph while allowing Christina to stand out against the neutral dock at the same time.

Here is a perfect example of how different a person can look based on a fashion shot that uses light to first show off the wardrobe in its best light and then taking into consideration the model. There is a trade off as the light that is best for the garment is not always the best light for skin. You can see on the left the photo with sunset light where the light is warm and friendly to creating robust geometric patterns out of Michaels face makes him look older and gives him a more chiseled appearance. Many photographers like to shoot during the “Golden Hours” when light is the warmest and golden. Also when the angel of the light is low in the sky and therefor frames your subjects face perfectly. Typically about an hour to fifteen minutes before sunset or after sunrise works the best for this type of “Golden Hour” lighting and look.

Photographing 80’s super model Kim Alexis was great. I setup a get together for the 80’s models at my friend Charles Ferri’s place in New York City. Pretty much two hundred or so famous models from the decades attended and Kim Alexis and Ron Duguay and I hung out most of the night together talking about the 80’s and the “good old days” when models were well known before most models were replaced by celebrities in ad campaigns. Especially in the 80’s models were celebrities.

Robert Bartol and Mark Macaluso are totally two of Long Island’s most notable Fashionista’s when it comes to men’s fashion. Robert, Mark, and I collaborate throughout this issue on the mens fashion shots, including Robert Yeganeh’s wardrobe, my wardrobe, Alan Schwartz wardrobe and of course model citizens magazine man of the year Robert Zabbias Wardrobe.

Again light is very important in every photograph and as you can see by the plethora of photographs I used of myself in this story as well as the models, fashion photography mainly features the wardrobe as it interacts with the viewer and the model themselves. Each photograph shares the original vision of the designer or a fresh look and mood for an existing line of clothes looked at in an entirely new way.

Finally I hope that I have shed some light (ha-ha) on just how much detail goes into my photographs, the care and the love. I am very proud of Model Citizens Magazine and my role in telling all of these incredible model citizens stories. I do give photography lessons by the way and again I look forward to sharing some of my fine art photography, implied nudes, and nudes in my fine art photography exhibition starting on February second. The third anniversary of my successful open heart surgery. I am sure you will be as impressed as I am by the sheer beauty of all of the models who are featured, including Celine Morel shown here as she is and the fine art version of her I took for this exhibition.

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