6 Photographic Guilty Pleasures, from FAIL to War Photography

Posted Monday, 31 August 2009 by Peter Alexander in Photography, Entertainment
Great photography can change the world. But who cares? These photographic guilty pleasures will make you laugh, make you gag and even turn you on. And let's just admit it; we all look, and then hate ourselves in the morning.

1. Paparazzi Photography

Paris Hilton Paparazzi shot

Photo by Celebboy

What is it?
It's un-staged or candid photographs of famous people. Once upon a time there was really only one place you could find the latest shots of pill-popping matinee idols– tabloid newspapers and magazines. Now you can't turn on your computer without seeing a shot up some starlet's miniskirt.

The Pleasure
We love celebrities: They're nice to look at, they're talented (well, except reality TV stars), they wear nice clothes and they spend a lot of time on yachts. Paparazzi photos give us a privileged look into a life that few of us will ever lead, but many of us dream of.

We love to hate celebrities: Paparazzi photos also let us peer behind the curtain of fame, to see that stars have beer bellies, shop for diapers and cheat on their spouses.

They can be incredibly compelling: Of course, sometimes paparazzi photography can also capture, in ultra slow motion, that thing that good photography strives to...a complete story. Over the course of days or months, we can watch, say, the downfall of a beloved celebrity, one snapshot at a time. The entire world was sucked into Britney's recent breakdown through the lenses of her paparazzi followers as she got drunk at Hollywood nightspots, shaved her head, went berserk and attacked a photographer and finally got taken to the pysch ward.

The Guilt
Celebrities are people too: Looking at photos of someone famous having a nervous breakdown may be compelling, but it's not nice. And imagine living with the fact that your every false step, mistake or bad hair day is entertainment for millions of people.

Paparazzi are annoying: Every time you or I visit TMZ or buy a copy of US Weekly we're putting money into the system that pays the paparazzi. And sure, those photographers may just be trying to earn a paycheque, but they do it in a pretty obnoxious way.

We care too much about famous people: There was a time when you'd only think about someone famous when she was up there on the screen or he was out there scoring goals. Now, in part because of the work of the paparazzi, I somehow know that Khloe Kardashian is the smart one and Kim Kardashian is the one with the ass and the sex tape.

2. Porn

Romantic young couple having sex

What is it?
Porn can be a lot of things. But for our purposes let's call it photos of people getting it on, either by themselves, or with a friend or ten. About 150 years ago someone took the first photograph. And about ten minutes later someone took the first pornographic photo (or so the joke goes).

The Pleasure
If you don't already know, go ask your mom.

The Guilt
It's terrible photography: Here you are, a lover of great photography, and you spend all this time huddled over pictures that are over-lit, poorly composed and severely lacking in visual variety.

It exploits people: There are surely many pornographic models who will retire rich, happy and herpes-free. But there are lots more who are forced into it, literally or by circumstance, and who would, all else being equal, probably choose a less fluid-filled profession.

It's kind of embarrassing: Obviously we all grew up with a different level of tolerance for porn. But even the most open-minded of us would probably be unhappy if, say, our Facebook profile suddenly started displaying our most-visited porn sites. Especially if you're a furry. (NSFW).


Train wreck at Montparnasse 1895

What is it?
You probably already know by now, what with Fail photos taking over as king of memes from the cheezburger-craving Lolcats. And even if you don't spent time searching them out, the odds are pretty good that the guy at the next desk has emailed one along to you at some point.

But just in case you fail at Fail, here's the scoop: they consist of a photo with a caption that reads “FAIL” or some variant. The photos are of anything or anyone that demonstrates failure. Some of the more popular genres fall into categories like failure at workmanship, agility, signage or parenting.

The Pleasure
They're funny as hell: Hey, comedy is subjective. Some people love Dane Cook. Others have actually watched him perform (insert rimshot here). But Fail photos got so ridiculously popular so ridiculously quickly that they must be hitting a lot of funny bones.

Schadenfreude: Pleasure derived from the misfortune of others ain't just for Germans any more. Most of us have enough inner cruelty that get a little bit of enjoyment when someone else fails either through stupidity, hubris or sheer incompetence. Especially if they do it in epic fashion.

The Guilt
It probably hurt: I think we can all enjoy a good Fail photo that demonstrates extreme stupidity. But what about the snowboarder eating rail? Sure it's funny but it probably cost the guy a few teeth.

It's juvenile: Not everything has to be season 3 of The Simpsons funny, but Fail pics are pretty much the photographic equivalent of watching Adam Sandler kick someone in the balls.

4. Celebrity Mug Shots

Nick Nolte Police mugshot

What is it?
A mug shot is that photo taken of you when you're brought downtown and booked for a crime. If you or I get arrested, ours is seen by a cop or two and then tucked away in some book forever. If a celebrity gets arrested, their mug shot gets shown on the news, in the newspaper and online at sites like The Smoking Gun.

The Pleasure
They're surprising: There's some magic surrounding celebrities. Objectively, we all know that some of them drive drunk, get high, brawl in bars and run dog-fighting rings. But it's still somehow shocking when that behaviour is proven by an arrest.

Schadenfreude: Hey, I'm noticing a theme here. It seems that the higher someone flies, the more satisfying it is to watch them crash and burn. And nothing says bottoming out like a good old-fashioned 2am booking and mug shot.

The Guilt
They could be innocent: Those mug shots go public way before any trial. And that means that bleary-eyed celebrity really might not have been snorting coke right before crashing his Range Rover into the Hollywood sign. They've been arrested, sure, but they aren't actually guilty yet.

We care too much: Again, what is wrong with us that we care that David Bowie once got busted for pot possession? Lots of people smoke pot. Lots of people reading this probably smoke pot. But when it's a celebrity, it's somehow big news.

5. War Photography

Battle of Hamo Village, Vietnam War

Battle of Hamo Village, Vietnam War. Photo from the US National Archives and Records Administration

What is it?
Pictures taken in the midst of war. Unlike everything else on this list, war photography is done by professional photo-journalists who are respected in their field. Many photographers have made names and careers out of the work they've done documenting wars. And some of the most important and iconic images ever committed to film are examples of war photography. But it's still a guilty pleasure, and here's why:

The Pleasure
It can look amazing: War photography often represents everything that great journalistic (and even artistic) photography is supposed to be. It can tell a story, be incredibly visually compelling and engage an audience like little else.

It captures emotion like little else: In times of extreme stress, emotions live very close to the surface. Good war photography can capture these extremes of hate, fear and even love and lay them bare and exposed for all of us to see.

War is photogenic: It's a strange truism that even those of us who hate the idea of war often still like to look at the photos. There's just something extremely visually dramatic about the tanks, fighter jets, guns, battleships and, especially, the soldiers who do battle.

The Guilt
War is hell: It may look interesting in a photograph, but it's obviously not a lot of fun when you're on the other side of the camera. Everything that makes war photography interesting is also what makes it terrible for the subjects of the photos. The imminent possibility of death may be dramatic to look at, but not so fun to live.

6. Crime Scene Photography

Pablu Escobar

Members of Colonel Martinez's Search Bloc celebrate over Colombian crime lord Pablo Escobar's body in a photograph taken by DEA agent Steve Murphy.

What is it?
These are pictures taken, usually by police or forensic investigators, at the scene of a crime. They're used in the investigation and eventual trial. So far that sounds neither pleasurable, nor guilt-inducing, right? Well, thanks to the internet, anyone and their twelve year old cousin can now go online and find absolutely horrific and gruesome photos of crime scenes that have been leaked from police departments and crime labs, and onto the web. I won't link to it, but you'll find all you can handle at Rotten.com (very, very NSFW or stomachs).

The Pleasure
Morbid curiosity: Hey, ever wondered what someone looks like when their brains are spilling out of their head from a shotgun blast? Or have you been curious to see what happens to a body that falls from thirty stories? Me neither, but there are lots of people who are.

Internet one-upmanship: There's a thing that happens to people on the internet, where they like to take things to the extreme. It's the "oh yeah? Well what about THIS!" syndrome. Crime scene photography seems to satisfy that yearning.

The Guilt
If you don't already know what's bad about this, go ask your dad.

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By firebrandphotography on Sunday, 6 September 2009 2:46 AM
#7: Celebrity Self-Porn: Young horny starlets + camera cell phones + Internet = millions of happy guys who've exhausted spankwire's teen section.
Very interesting
By Website buttons on Wednesday, 23 September 2009 12:18 PM
Very interesting!

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