Friday, October 17, 2014

Tranformative "Fashion"

Right on the stilettoed heels of NY Fashion week, the Fall 2014 issue of Aperture Magazine was recently released. The issue is of particular note as it cast an eye onto, and attempts to critically explore, the art of fashion photography.

Interestingly the title of Aperture #216 is “Fashion” - with quotations included. The editors stated that: ‘Though this issue’s title appears in quotation marks, the intention is not to be ironic, or to suggest skepticism. Rather, the quotes allude to image quotation and reference, which are part and parcel of any creative act but are essential to the world of fashion.’ Of course, this is of great interest to ishotkatemoss for a variety of reasons.

A collage from pop artist Richard Hamilton’s Fashion-plate series – a 1969-70 pre-cursor to the ishotkatemoss collage - appears on the issue’s cover. iskm asked Paula Kupfer, Managing Editor of the magazine, why this particular image was utilized specifically in this context?
Paula Kupfer (PK): We chose the Richard Hamilton work for the cover because it deconstructs the apparatus of a fashion shoot through techniques of photography and collage, pointing towards the artifice, illusion, and transformation involved in fashion image making. Although it is part of a series, in a single image the work does something similar as the ishotkatemoss collage/animation, which reveals the model's myriad guises and thus points to the ways in which the different elements of a fashion shoot are arranged and combined to yield vastly different results, underscoring the artificiality and wondrous aspects of this sort of production. 

The magazine is guest edited by the famous “fashion” (that’s iskm quotations) photographers, Dutch couple Inez van Lamsweerde and & Vinoodh Matadin - most commonly referred to by the moniker: ‘Inez & Vinoodh’.

Inez & Vinoodh have collaborated for more than twenty-five
An Inez & Vinoodh image featured in #216
years, "creating an uncommon range of distinctive fashion imagery". Aperture states that their work is “marked by restlessness and curiosity about photography, a tension `between illusion and reality, the beautiful and the grotesque, and a desire to explore the medium’s generous flexibility”. Critic, Donatien Grau, continues this theme later in the issue: “They intervene heavily in the making of them [their pictures]: they very obviously use postproduction to manipulate the shape of bodies, the acuteness of light, the intensity of colors.

Through pages of glossy and striking images, plenty of rhapsodic text and of course a fill of advertisements (including notably for Inez & Vinoodh's latest big gallery show) the comment iskm found most notable defined the pair's need to markedly construct and cite - from Inez & Vinoodh themselves: "... in today’s professional climate, in which clients want to see their campaign images before they are even shot, you’re only as good as your references”.
Aperture’s editors argue that ‘Referencing is delicate, requiring thoughtful handling to avoid crossing the line into copying’, while curator Charlotte Cotton remarks in her contribution to the magazine that ‘fashion photography’s often transparent use of references may be one reason why the genre is criticized from other corners’.
iskm thinks that fashion photography, particularly since kate hit the scene, is rebelled against for far greater reasons than that (Questions as to body image? Image manipulation? Increased commercialization and consumerism? What about objectification, sexual identity or any other raft of criticisms?). Referencing just doesn’t seem like such a big deal in that context but of course, from an artistic stand point, it is something we attempt to address through the project. We here at iskm clearly embrace the references and furthermore promote appropriation, in a purely artistic sense. Reference (more subtly) and appropriation (directly), by our definition, need to transform – whether in actuality or through the dialogue with the idea.

Aperture states that 'transformation, in a broader sense, is a hallmark of Inez & Vinoodh’s work'. It was therefore of great interest, and certainly notable to iskm, that in introducing Inez & Vinoodh, a large, full page image of kate was placed side by side with the title (The Art of Transformation) page.

iskm: Was there a specific reason that an image - and one that could be argued is not confrontational, experimental or transformational - of kate moss was placed so prominently next to the title page for Inez & Vinoodh? Was the title of the piece in any way referential to their subjects, including and particularly kate?
PK: The title refers to the work of Inez & Vinoodh in general. They have worked extensively with Kate Moss, thus she’s been the subject of many such transformations. The placement of the image was a design and editorial decision - it’s a stunning photograph of someone whose visage has become iconic, in its chameleonic incarnations - a great way to open the cornerstone piece in the issue.

An Inez & Vinoodh image featured in #216
iskm found this comment particularly interesting as the vast majority, if not all, of Inez & Vinoodh's images of kate are straight shots without much apparent ‘transformation’ (google: "Inez & Vinoodh, kate moss" if you want to see further examples), particularly relative to the exoticness and eccentricity of much of their other work and certainly compared to the way in which the vast majority of other photographers turn her into something far from everyday reality.

The magazine articulates that ‘in the end what matters is how a reference is used: when adequately transformed, you may sense a quotation but won't recognize its course.
This is important as such a view only begins to cut to the heart of what iskm is doing and why. Yes, what matters is how the reference is used. We wholeheartedly agree. When 'transformed', sensing a quotation while not recognizing the course is however not nearly enough. By its definition, it must be transformational. It must not only alter the creative process and creation itself but ultimately it does so in order to change the viewer’s perception and understanding. Most importantly, we believe it must reshape the course of one’s thoughts and hopefully behavior (is that not the purpose of the 'art'?), and no, not by simply incentivizing you to go and purchase something.

iskm: Is it ‘art’ when the photographer has to work to satisfy commercial interests? Do the artists need to compromise due to an economic necessity?
PK: Everything depends on the type of client and commission, their vision for their product, the photographers. At best it will be a creative collaboration between everyone involved. While I can't speak for Inez & Vinoodh, their comments suggested that sometimes situations do arise where every aspect of a shoot or campaign is prescribed from the outset. On the other hand, other clients give photographers free range.

overseeing kate at an Aperture talk
Free range photography. Organic art. No undue influence. That is what we ask of the iskm collaborators, and that is the standard that we should expect from those that, in theory, independently critique.

In another piece in the magazine, fashion photographer Emmanuelle Alt, in response to the question "Wouldn't a client say "Oh Emmanuelle, remember that amazing shot you did of Kate [Moss] in the water with the bikini? Can we have that again?", stated: "Yeah, and sometimes I'd say, "Great, we haven't done that character in a long time; let's do it!" and other times, I'd be like, "I've done that too many times, and this girl's got nothing to do with that one - she's going to look stupid in this outfit."

Of course, iskm is not held to commercial pressures - from advertisers, funders and budgets - and the need to self-reinforce facets of industry, from creation to critic to collector.

iskm would certainly have found the analysis more legitimate without the paid fashion and perfume ads that mark the issue while also we question the validity of articles discussing the “extraordinary visual culture” associated with an international skin-care firm, with that firm's name smeared throughout.
While, we are not here to alienate those generating the conversation, we certainly attempt to push the boundary of the dialogue and the expression. So, we recommend that you check out the issue for yourself and make your own judgment.

And one last thing, Aperture's editors state that Inez & Vinoodh are "fashion's most iconic and imitated photographers" therefore, we believe, making them a wonderful reference point for an iskm submission. Maybe someone out there can specifically investigate and react to the lead image of kate and think about these ideas of transformation? If you do so, we promise that you will not hear from a single advertiser or get a commercial gig out of it!

Better yet, maybe we can get Inez & Vinoodh to 'appropriate' one of their own images and transform it for the iskm collage?

Dear Inez & Vinoodh: Observe. Slow Down. Shoot. Submit.

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