After studying the direction of the light, the different methods of moulding the light, the different methods of making the light and being told that I’m quite good at it, I’ve come to realize this; all that matters is that there’s something real in front of my lens.
I can do a portrait of a person with a variety of lights, but in the end what makes it anything, is the person, and the story behind that person and that moment. That’s what makes it real, that’s what makes it magic. And those are the only photos that are worth looking at.
Here’s the portrait. It was a practice run, not a customer ordered job. I love the lighting and the composition, BUT… There’s a certain look in the model’s eyes, saying “I wanna be somewhere else.”
The Champions and the Copycats.
Before I made photography my occupation I was really into the barista thing – meaning I was there when the ”caffè latte –wave” hit Finland with Paulig’s Barista –trademark in 2000. I took part in the barista competitions and fell in love with the new, energetic way of being a bartender – a job I already was familiar with. Little did I know that I also met my wife to be in that competition, but that’s a different story.
After being introduced to the new-and-rising-industry of cappuccinos and latte art I spent the next almost ten years making it my occupation. In the beginning I’d travel to work shops and trade shows all over the world, learning new techniques and meeting the industry people, looking for anything interesting and developing myself. When there was a barista competition somewhere, there would be a chance to learn more.
What I realized very quickly was that the barista competitions were a bunch of copycats doing whatever someone else had done earlier. That included myself as well. Every year there would be a winner with a killer concept that would make everyone go ”wow, that’s so original!!!” and every following year there would be at least 5 competitors trying to do the same thing thinking ”this has got to be the winning concept, since it was the winning concept last year”. The copycats would go as far as choosing the same glass model or the same ingredients ”with a twist” – obviously they wouldn’t get very far. And I know what I’m talking about; I would be one of the competitors with no original ideas thinking that by doing the same thing someone else has done with a little twist I would be ”making new & original yet recognisable and easy to approach”.
It’s a good start to copy someone else’s work and learn by doing. But once you leave “your garage”, you should have something original, something real. Something to contribute to the world. There’s always the chance of saying “everything in this field has been done already”. But every single year a new guy comes along with a different approach.
One of my favourites. Esko Eerikäinen posing in a portrait at my studio. A copycat photo of Matthew Rolston’s picture of Johnny Depp. Then again, it was a school assignment “Choose a master of photography and try to make a photo so that it could be his/hers.”
The Champions and the Glazers.
The other way of trying to make it in the barista competitions was to “add glazing to the cake”. The most obvious example of this for me was in the World Championships in 2006 in Berne, Switzerland. The Italian barista Andrea Antonelli had brought to the 15-minute competition time a string quartet to play classical music, as he’d make the 12 competition coffee drinks. He’d ordered the day’s papers for the judges with courier service from different countries according to the judges’ nationalities – just to get the “café-atmosphere”, I suppose. He ended up 17th of total 38 competitors.
My point telling you this: You can’t fool people by making an average product look better, at least when you’re in a place where an instant comparison to competitors is made right away. When the product is good enough, you don’t need anything else. And today, any place with a network connection is a place where the instant comparison is made.
People love to be challenged
I mentioned the “easy to approach”. No one wants that. People LOVE to be challenged. People LOVE to disagree. People LOVE to hate! When you make it controversial enough, you make it. Just be sure that you stand behind your product 100%.
There’s always the chance that you cross the line if you don’t have the ability to judge what’s right and what’s not. But let’s face it; the great ones don’t get great by doing what’s safe and familiar.
This is just 5 minutes before taking the portrait above. The look in the eyes might still give you the finger, but it’s real. It’s what makes it better, worth looking at.
If you’re interested in the barista world, check out www.procoffee.fi