Essay on Escaping To Reality: Fashion Photography in the 1990s

Submitted By coko123
Words: 2995
Pages: 12

Escaping to Reality

Escaping to Reality
Escaping To Reality: Fashion Photography in the 1990s
Source: E. Smedley (2000) in S. Bruzzi & P. Church Gibson Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations & Analysis , London:
Routledge, pp. 147-156 Decisive moments and turning points in fashion photography have been identified as successive styles reflecting new moods. Fashion photography has constituted both techniques of representation and techniques of self formation. It has served as an index of changing ideas about fashion and gender and about body habitus relations. (Craik 1994: 93) As the history of fashion photography shows, it has developed the ability to reflect the spirit of its time rather than merely to showcase the preferred modes of the day. However, a number of photographers — often subversives within their field - have tried to reflect this mood as realistically as possible. Such endeavours, whilst still servicing the needs of fashion, have questioned preconceived ideals in a way that their conventional counterparts have not. These successive attempts paved the way for a photographic practice within the fashion arena that captures the reality of everyday life in a defiant and deliberate 'antiglamour'. This style, which has been labelled the 'school of London' (Muir 1997: 14), has stripped bare the fantasies and the superficial ideals that the fashion industry had formerly felt compelled to portray and disseminate. Iwona Blazwick (1998: 7) describes this 1990s style of realism: 'Constructed tableaux are rejected for a truth located in the artless, the unstaged, the semiconscious, the sexually indeterminate and the pubescent — the slippages between socially prescribed roles'. The photographers who worked in this way, although not strictly London-based,

1 of 8

2/3/10 12:01

Escaping to Reality

had surfaced from within the innovative style magazines currently centred there. Among the most prolific were Corinne Day, David Sims, Juergen Teller and Nigel Shafran. While thev each had their distinctive individual style, they all shared a similar aesthetic based around notions of realism. Their style had its roots in the insecure political climate of postThatcherism and global recession; there was a perceived platform for change. Fashion had reacted to this mood — designers presented expensive versions of the street style that the press quickly designated 'grunge'. In fashion photography, such a change was not just made manifest in its depiction of a particular reality, but also in its rejection of the precise photographic techniques which had helped to construct the ideal images of perfection of the past. Corinne Day, an ex-model turned photographer, was one of the first to define this change. She encompassed the mood of the new decade with a seemingly 'unprofessional' technique — exemplified by a series of photographs of Kate Moss (not then a 'supermodel') which appeared in The Face in 1990. On a denotative level, the series shows a young, free-spirited girl, happily playing on a beach, in simple relaxed clothes or in a state of near-nudity. Her semi-nakedness signifies not an eroticism but a natural quality that is also denoted by her surroundings, her lack of grooming and the daisy chain that she wears in one particular shot within the series. Her laughing expression, her squinting eyes and playful gestures hold connotations of innocence, immaturity and a teen spirit that is further signified by her under-developed body. In some ways Moss's 'ordinariness' and waifish appearance parallels that of models such as Twiggy in the 1960s. Where they differ is that although the 1960s images reflected the new, 'liberated' woman of that era, who owed much to the sexual revolution, the photographs themselves were taken by male photographers, invariably the 'Terrible Three', who infused the images with their own sexual desire. In contrast, Day's images neither empower nor undermine Moss's sexuality, which remains passive;