Recently a photographer asked about whether or not “Fantasy” makeup or “Avant Garde” images should be included in a commercial photographer’s portfolio.

The work he was specifically asking about was a kind of shoot one sees a lot on Model Mayhem… multi-colored makeup covering most of the face. This seems like something a lot of photographers like to do, and it is quite prevalent in some circles.

While answering something like this is always tricky, it is also important to get everyone on the same page first. What comes below is MY response, and should be taken with the understanding that it is personal and comes from my viewpoint. Please seek additional viewpoints if you desire.

First of all, I didn’t see the work as Avant Garde at all. Avant Garde means on the bleeding edge, and this work is not even close to that. While it is good work, it is not bleeding edge.

A group active in the invention and application of new techniques in a given field, especially in the arts.
Of, relating to, or being part of an innovative group, especially one in the arts: avant-garde painters; an avant-garde theater piece.

The work was good, solid work with “fantasy” makeup as the feature. Fantasy makeup work is a staple of Model Mayhem shooters (Please do not read a negative into that, as it is not implied.) It has been around for a long time and shows no trend toward going away.

That’s fine.

The poster asked “if this kind of work in my portfolio would actually benefit me?”

Soaring to New Heights
Photograph: Joshua Gaede

My answer:
That depends. A book full of it? No, not really, I can’t see where that would work for you at all. I am not aware of any marketplace that uses this kind of work. Not fashion, not glamour, not beauty, not lifestyle… possibly a case could be made for doing it for a consumer client base. I do think it would be a pretty difficult marketing situation – as you stated, it is NOT the mainstream.

While there are some mainstream uses for edgy work, and

As something added TO your body of work, or an aside project, it would be fine.

My bottom line feeling is this: I simply am not aware of a market for this kind of work as an ’emerging’ photographer. In fact it may actually be a problem in some situations.

Showing this work to a magazine editor may create a lot of questions as to what you are thinking is fashion/beauty work. As a former art director, I would immediately think of MM and wonder who the client was. Since the work is so personal, it may not be something that could be used commercially… ask yourself what client would want this kind of work?

Not beauty products.
Not lifestyle products.
Not fashion or glamour.

So it is left as a photograph for the model / MUA / photographer.

Again, that is fine for a single portfolio shot, but as a group it has no commercial value. And it doesn’t show the three most important things you can show in a portfolio.

1. a unique vision
2. the ability to solve a problem
3. an understanding of what kind of work is marketable

There are others, for sure, but these things should always be in the fore of thought when working toward building a portfolio.


As something to do to hone your skills, or if you simply love to do it, then KNOCK YOURSELF OUT. Absolutely! Personal projects are whatever the photographer wants them to be. And if you LOVE this kind of work, then you absolutely should continue… just be mindful of some of the thoughts above.

Remember, this is only MY opinion. And I am not FotoGawd!!!!

However, I would ask if you could find this work being used commercially anywhere (and the handful of ‘editorial’ images in Vogue or Elle, really don’t count as they are fairly rare. And when assigned, are usually given to already known photographers who may not even have a ‘fantasy’ headshot in their book)?

That search will indeed be enlightening, whatever you find.

HOWEVER… shooting personal work is very very important. And shooting what you love is vitally important for not only creative reasons, but to keep the camera and the eye busy.

And work like this, or whatever YOU think is the edgy work that you do, is great for projects and a personal viewpoint to show clients what YOU think is cool. Creating a project of “Fantasy” makeup makes a lot of sense to me within the context of a ‘Set’ of images.

Remember that it is more important to shoot than it is to filter out because of what you THINK someone would want to see. Good work in any genre will lead to more good work in that – and other genres.

See you next time.

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