Ugly Photography: A response to Jenna Martin

Courtesy of Jenna Martin

Jenna Martin is not your ordinary white girl photographer. Jenna is a cool girl. She doesn’t want to be seen as the type of girl who takes boring pictures of pretty things, so Jenna takes pretty pictures of “ugly” things. And apparently, there are few things uglier than a Lowe’s home repair shop. So what does Jenna do? She goes into a Lowe’s with her pretty blonde model, Rachelle. And they proceed to have a “fun little photo shoot” right in the middle of a hardware store.

Introducing, Ugly Places, Pretty Portraits: I Did a Photo Shoot in Lowe’s.

To spare you the headache of reading the article and contributing to the readership (it’s been shared 49,743 times and counting!), these photos include Rachelle in the following classic poses: lounging on a dolly, frolicking amongst artificial Christmas trees, and (my personal favorite) touching her chin in the middle of the paint samples.

Instead of searching out the usual beautiful locations around where we live, I had the idea to do just the opposite. I wanted to go somewhere “ugly” by all conventional photography standards and then see what we could do with it. Lowe’s seemed like the perfect option.

Can you imagine being a low-wage worker at Lowe’s during this photoshoot? You’re just going about your daily business when all of a sudden this blonde girl in a gold sequined dress named Rachelle shows up with a whole bunch of photography equipment and you have to accommodate her because she “just wants 1 pic!!!” and Lowe’s customer relations policy means you could get fired if you don’t comply?

Yet the hundreds of workers in that Lowe’s are conspicuously absent from the photographs. In fact, the only person who appears is Rachelle, the overdressed model. So this, apparently, is the key to turning Lowe’s from an “ugly” space into a “pretty” space. Take out the workers. Take out the customers, too, to get rid of any hints of a labour relationship. Insert, instead, the picture of beauty: a young, blonde, white woman in a barbie-at-the-gala dress.

Now, the tools and equipment of the warehouse no longer seem ugly and threatening, but rather, quaint and homey.

This is what’s wrong with (most) urban photography. It’s white people entering industrial spaces in order to find the beauty within, as if the intrinsic beauty is buried beneath the filth of the hundreds of workers who actually occupy these spaces. (Usually these photographers have the tact not to explicitly call these spaces ugly, but Jenna does not appear to have learned such tact.)

The irony is that these ugly spaces only exist because of the unsustainable consumerism of the privileged class — for Lowe’s, we’re talking cookie-cutter homes and gardens in suburban communities. Privileged white people have created a strict division in the United States; now that the sanctified halls of whiteness have become stifling and mundane, we colonize industrial spaces and demean their laborers.

Because let’s be honest, home repair stores aren’t just considered “ugly” because of the work supplies. If Instagram is any indication, a DIY workbench is not considered ugly, a lumberjack wannabe is not considered ugly, and the bespoke goods of Etsy are not considered ugly. Lowe’s is ugly because of its association with the working class and middle America.

But you know what’s really ugly? These comments, courtesy of photographer Jenna, straight from her article.

“Also, yes, we know you aren’t allowed to sit on the carts. An employee was there and gave us permission to keep shooting. Like I mentioned earlier, we were in a pretty big hurry, so she was sitting on that cart for a total of maybe 6 minutes, so calm the hell down, it’s not like we were dancing on them. And yes, we know there has probably been something pretty disgusting spilled on them at some point, but we really couldn’t care less. Rachelle and I have shot nude in abandoned buildings full of spiders, bats and bird shit, a dry cart really isn’t much of an issue.”
“Overall, this was a really fun challenge! Not that I’d invite an actual client to ever do a Lowe’s photo shoot (I mean, never say never), but I was pretty happy with the result! Horrible location for the win! Next time you see an awful spot, maybe give it a chance, you never know what you might end up with.”

Not cool, Jenna. Not cool.