Lately I've been in a creative tug of war with myself. Pulling on one end of the rope is dynamic, illustrative, conceptual portraiture which people in advertising seem to like lately. Opposing lighting, posed, energetic. I'd put much of my own Drabbles project in this camp. On the other end is what I would consider a 'true' portrait. Simple, elegant, stripped down. Simple light, involved subject. Distilled. I've been doing both for a while and the disharmony is getting confusing. Both have their place and their problems. Some would say that the modern stuff is overlit, overly dramatic, pandering to a society which wants everything delivered in small bite sized chunks ready for digestion. Processed and man-handled, often they end up being half photograph, half illustration by the time you get done with them. Even though I've created this kind of stuff, I try to back off a bit to give them at least the semblance of life.
Of course the more traditional stuff has the problem that not everyone makes an interesting simple portrait. It takes a certain kind of subject, in a certain mood, in a certain setting. We all see the classic portraits Irving Penn took, but we are only seeing the ones he liked. I'd be interested in the ones that weren't so successful. In fact I've got a sign up next to my computer which says "No more boring pictures" then in tiny type beneath it, "Unless they are sublime". And I think that's it really. Simple can be, but doesn't have to be boring. In some ways it's much more difficult to take a good simple portrait than it is to setup 4 lights around a subject and sculpt the whole thing in Photoshop. And has the added benefit of not having to carry as much gear around.
All of the above doesn't take into account the commercial potential of each. Arguably, the first is more commercial at the moment, the problem being that everyone's shooting stuff like that so you can get lost in the noise. If it were up to me I'd probably shoot mostly the later. It definitely involves more interaction with the subject. More intimacy. More reward.
I'm not entirely sure what I'm saying here, but I wanted to get my thoughts down on paper as it's been on my mind. Feel free to chime in with your own opinions below.