Realness as an Antidote for Cuteness
I've never been interested in 'cute.' I'm an artist. When I was little, everyone had TrapperKeepers with 'cute' things on them like fake ponies, cartoon puppies, super heros drawn like babies, etc. My TrapperKeep had a serious photograph of a fighter jet, maybe something realistic having to do with a sport. I never understood why someone would prefer a caricature of something over a realistic portrayal. But, I've been called 'overly serious' many a time. The amazing thing about photography is that you are limited to representing things that exist in reality only. You really can't exaggerate. Your camera will only show what is actually physically in front of your lens- you can't turn a photograph of a pony into a pink, bubbly unicorn with stars coming out of it's eyes. At least you couldn't before digital photography and extreme digital processing took over the photography market.
Now, with digital cameras and things like Photoshop and Lightroom and Instagram anyone can exaggerate their photographs to the point of distortion with the click of a button. Worst of all- you don't even need to know what that button really is doing to your image. You can buy "actions" - digital processes developed to give your digital image a specific feel or filter- and be completely removed from the creative process of intentionally and purposefully editing your images. To me, this is like turning your photographs into cartoons. It's just no good. Who wants a cartoon photograph? If you want a cartoon, go read some comic books.
Artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Keith Haring revolutionized our understanding of representation and portraiture. Though their works blurred the line between photographic image and illustration, there was never an abandonment of thoughtfulness in their creation process. They were creating their art by hand- whether one at a time or 100 at a time- never losing any of the weight or intention of their artistry. This slowness and purpose-driven portraiture is very meaningful to my own work. To avoid relying on 'cuteness' as content, I simply focus on what is real and what is physically in front of me. That is the realness of your dog's smirk, the physicality of your dog's textured coat, the moving and deep connection shared between my clients and their companions. There is a true weight and grit to these elements, and making my images by hand simply enlarges and expands and highlights all of this. Which is why my clients never even say the word 'cute' when they come to my studio. They say things like 'character', 'personality,' 'history,' 'family,' and 'forever.' And, these are all words that I love.