My friends are smart, sensitive, culturally aware people. Painters and writers, musicians and actors. I adore them, and I like to think they return the sentiment. Some of the ones I love the most--and who knew me when I was a painter of gigantic canvases, back in the Paleolithic--have asked if I feel like I'm turning my back on my "true calling" by taking photographs of chocolate and lipstick.
Before I get to my answer, let me take a detour into the literary world for a moment.
If ever there was a poem for product photographers, it's Rilke's Ninth Elegy. Yes, it's long, confusing, and written in German (is that redundant?). But its heart is a spiritual celebration of the mundane, the visible world of things--exactly what can be captured in photographs.
Praise this world to the angel, not the unsayable one,
you can’t impress him with glorious emotion; in the universe
where he feels more powerfully, you are a novice. So show him
something simple which, formed over generations,
lives as our own, near our hand and within our gaze.
Tell him of Things.
So my answer to my friends is, I'm fully embracing my calling. I love shooting product. I would even say I feel a kind of joy doing commercial photography. Taking an interesting picture of candy, or shoes, or shampoo bottles requires spending time with them, and getting to know their physical properties: How they absorb and reflect light, what their smell and taste and texture is and how to convey that, how they're used in real life. And also what they mean to people: Their symbolic lives, their place in our dreams. Sure they're just objects, but they're brimming with purpose and meaning.
Rilke would get it. Superficially the work of the commercial photographer is to depict and sell products, but our real job is to astonish the angel by telling him of Things.