My Issue With 'Environmental Portraiture': Eight Syllables

I've made peace with a genre that best describes what I do. Problem is, environmental portraiture doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

Koli boys in fishing boat. Versova Beach, Mumbai.

Environmental portraiture is even longer than street photography - which clocks in at five syllables. At least with the latter genre, you can abbreviate it to just street. You can't do the same with environmental portraiture.

The though struck me today like an epiphany might, after editing another set of images which derived most of their visual strength, in my view, from the actual background, or environment. Have I been an environmental portraiture photographer without even knowing it?

I've referred to myself in the past as a street photographer. The problem with this is I don't always like being associated with a lot of the negative things which have come out of that culture. And technically speaking, apart from the "street" bit not always being present in my images, it really doesn't make any sense nor does it really describe what it is I do. The only reason why I like street photography and refer to it as a "thing" is because for me it describes a kind of public photography, where my own preference for candid shots neatly falls into many broad descriptions of that genre.

But there's a genre of photography that does describe what I do more accurately. Environmental portraiture seems to be the near perfect fit. It takes into consideration subjects who dwell both indoors and outdoors, and while it may be assumed by most that these kinds of images may not be necessarily candid, there are many examples of images out there which have the appearance of being candid. I'd certainly make use of it in my own photography when I don't have a model with me.

Speaking of which, another thought occurring to me about models is that I believe I've been going about it all wrong. In retrospect, it feels I've strayed off course in many of the shoots I'd done recently. In my recent moments of existential dread, I've been unsatisfied with the results, the lack of creativity on my part. When I peruse my shots over the past two years or so, I only see people against cardboard cutouts. I severely fucked up my own set of aesthetic values for the sake of getting people in front of me to photograph. Well sports fans, all I can say now is this part of my experimental journey has come to an end.

The challenge becomes, how to photograph models in a way that gives off the appearance of environmental portraiture, when in fact, such a visitor would be only a visitor, not an authentic, genre-related subject by definition. I think there's wiggle room here. Just as some photographers refer to their staged images as candid (candid in appearance) I believe I too have the right to inject a sense of belonging to the environment when I bring models to a location, interior or exterior. I'm sure there are examples out there. I'm only trying to find a legitimate route for myself that falls in line with the rest of my photography, no matter how close or how far off the mark of environmental portraiture.

In the meantime, I'll dwell on the fact that the genre of environmental portraiture will likely remain a ridiculously long syllable count. It doesn't roll off the tongue; it takes its own sweet time, like a lost little turtle.

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