A surprising number of the photos you see in big advertising campaigns are based upon simple Sharpie drawings, known as ‘scamps’. These drawings are created by a creative team at the ad agency in order to pre-visualise a concept, and easily get approval from the client, before the shoot is arranged.
It's easy to see the appeal: the client “sees” (with a little imagination) what they're signing up for. And the agency can make changes to these ideas where it's cheap, on paper.
Once you've seen this process in practice, though, all ad photography starts to look awkward in some way: normal enough, but somehow, a little too carefully put together. It’s a side-effect of this pre-drawn scamp approach to advertising photography, where things take on a simplistic, ‘iconic’ quality. Here, the happy customer; there, the set dressings: virtue signifiers of hipsterness, mindfulness, or social-progressiveness. And in the centre, the perfect product.
You’ve got to ask, what is the photographer’s role in this whole process, if the ‘shot’ is already composed ahead of time? Are they simply a camera operator, a technical consultant? Some of the greatest photos in popular culture come from uncontrollable, spontaneous moments that are only available to photography, and there’s little room in the scamp approach for this.
In addition, the prescriptive process of making scamps quickly brings all of the medium’s shortcomings to the fore: the dependence on environment, the awkwardness of composing a specific scene in the real world, and the prevalence of difficult little details which were never considered in the scamp stage. Days are spent (in time and an incredible amount of budget) in retouching to make up for these shortcomings.
What would happen if instead the process began with an exploration of what can be achieved with photography (what could only be achieved with it, even), rather than turning its unique attributes into problems to be Photoshopped away?