Writing on Culture
Writing on Film
Writing on Travel
The Counterfeit Body: Fashion Photography and the Deceptions
of Femininity, Sexuality, Authenticity and Self in the 1950s, 60s and 70s [Page 3]
The two most notable manifestations of advertising in fashion photography are specific fashion brand and general editorial images. While there are discrepancies between ‘pure’ fashion photography consisting of editorial spreads and more commercialized image conception in particular designer advertisements, both are fundamentally about selling. The editorial spread is, without a doubt, an ad in its own right, differing only in the increasingly subtle changes in modes of representation of the garments. Typically, clothing is more deliberately and clearly displayed in official corporate advertisements. In editorial spreads, all the viewer may see is the intimation of a garment—a single strap of a dress obscured by dramatic lighting. Editorials often attempt to create more depth and meaning by presenting a narrative flow. And yet, conventions in corporate advertising fashion photography are changing and assuming similar qualities. Such advertisements are increasingly becoming either narrative in representation, with multi-page spreads for the same brand, such as Anne Klein [Fig. 1]), or not showing the garment at all, and instead relying on the cultural capital that their name carries by simply presenting the corporate logo, such as Helmut Lang. Entwistle remarks that Baudrillard once noted, “the thing consumed is the image, not the commodity” (225). At this point, there has yet to be a real change in the presentation of garments in editorial spreads, however. Regardless of the disparities between these two forms, both offer the gift of access to the fashionable and the fabulous to the average consumer.
While the exclusivity of haute couture fashion shows as well as the limited number of those able to afford the items presented there persists, the prevalence and prominence of photography capturing this realm allows its reportage and accessibility to a wide audience. Few are offered first row at Chanel’s runway shows, but most anyone can pick up the latest issue of Vogue. Through fashion photography, access is granted to the general public and culture is continually renewed and reformed. With the democratic dispersal of high fashion through such publications, fashion itself retains a sense of universality. Finkelstein writes, “[It] is made universal through its ubiquity” (13). Saturation of the market with these elitist images makes high fashion more homogenous and mainstream; it is vulgarized by accessibility. Valerie Steel emphasizes the profound role of the media in regulating access in Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now, “New media and increased fashion coverage [have] made previously elite fashion accessible to a mass audience, but only as image, never as object” (97). Through developments in mass media and subsequent growth in the consumption, popularity and influence of the form, the pervasive coverage and exposure of fashion to this larger audience has incurred some repercussions in culture and in individuals’ notions of self and worth.
The formation, expression and conception of the self vary in relation to historical context. Each period of fashion determines a particular and seemingly unique aesthetic. These differences manifest significantly more in certain periods than others. Fashion photography periodizes significantly during the decades of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Yet, even within this defined framework, the exact periods are difficult to delineate absolutely. As with any new mode or style, representation or interpretation, there are aspects and developments that lead up to a recognizable emergence. No new genre is spontaneous or immediate. Indeed, the transitional periods between eras are not so cleanly defined, but a general aesthetic and character of presentation can be gleaned from each selected time.
In the 1980s, 90s and the contemporary fashion world, trends and conventions have become far more fractured and de-centered. No singular feeling or ambiance has emerged for these times; nothing fits easily into a bound category. There seems to be less and less sincere or honest innovation and more and more desperate envelope pushing, as can be witnessed in contemporary fashion photography and in the fashion themselves. This drive and rush to shock and break ground are flagrantly overcompensatory gestures that deny a sense of validity for fashion today. For an industry and art form already on tenuous ground, these flailings for meaning increase the transparency of the enterprise and continue to compromise fashion’s quest for validation beyond a mere trivial aesthetic in both social and academic discourse.
The decades of the 1950s, 60s and 70s may be regarded as the most profoundly transitional periods in fashion photography, and thus, in fashion culture at large. For each era, a new ideal of feminine beauty was constructed, introduced and marketed to the public. In the mid to late 1950s, this model woman was loosed into the outdoors, beyond the previously conventional passive and restrictive posturing. The new figure of fashionability in the 1960s was granted greater independence and realized sexual identity with increased activity and dynamism. In the 1970s, the ideal was less clearly defined, although this ‘woman’ possessed the quality of cool, alien detachment, an overt sexuality and implicit violence. Diana Crane recognizes these periods of transition in fashion photography, specifically in the landmark fashion publication, Vogue, in her book, Fashion and Its Social Agendas. Highlighting the sometimes subtle and sometimes overt changes in certain aspects of the magazine’s fashion photography, she tracks this process of evolution. Crane notes that by 1957, models were often photographed looking directly at the camera, indicating their inferior status through expressions of vulnerability rather than defiance. During this time, the major focus of the photographs remained the clothing. A decade later, the magazine was showing close-ups of models in bathing suits and there was an increasing emphasis on their youthfulness.
The supermodel rather than the society woman was becoming the role model. By 1977…Both advertisements and editorial pages appeared to be oriented toward a male gaze. Men were more likely to be included in the photographs, along with pairs or groups of women. Models generally looked directly at the camera and often assumed childlike or contorted positions. Most photographs were not contextualized. The vantagepoint of the camera was less likely to be at eye level and more likely to be looking down or looking up at its subject. (Ibid. 211)
The expressions and postures of the models from these periods clearly reflect Crane’s observations about Vogue classifications. What is more, these qualities of presentation transfer to film.
In Funny Face, Audrey Hepburn peers demurely at the camera, her body well covered, the camera focusing predominantly on her clothing. Her real world ‘colleagues,’ Suzy Parker and Dorian Leigh, for example, are pictured the same way in their photographic images. The overt and vampy sexiness of the model Verushka is unmistakably illustrated in the shoots constructed for Blowup and her real fashion work. In the images of working photographers from the 60s such as Brian Duffy, the models are similarly presented—scantily clad and pushing at the limits of propriety. The models in Eyes of Laura Mars are dually erotic and violent in their photographic renderings. They closely mirror the visual qualities of Helmut Newton’s photographed women. In addition to outlining the shifts in the presentations, and subsequently, the conceptions of femininity, Crane also introduces the notion of the gaze and the act of gazing at the photographic subject, a topic of continuous examination and debate.