Fashion Photography: The Naked Body as Glamorous Image

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Fashion Photography: The Naked Body as Glamorous Image

Fashion photography can be a hit or miss. Some images reel you in while others make you quickly turn the page. Alexander Wang recently launched his highly anticipated denim line, ‘Denim x Alexander Wang’. Of course the launch wouldn’t be complete with a provocative ad campaign. The honors are for German model, Anna Ewers. Fashion photography is such an odd art form.

It’s a hybrid branch of photography. It rose as mere illustration shape and then grew into a full-fledged art form. By now I’m used to the sexual intrusiveness of most fashion editorials and that’s a shame, really.

Fashion Photography: The Naked Body as Glamorous Image

The denim ad almost feels like a throwback to the raunchy ads of Tom Ford for Gucci in the ‘90s. Sure I get it. In essence, fashion photography is characterized by its imperative character: fashion ads need to stand out in the constant stream of images one sees daily, either to be that one perfect pixelated image or by searching the limits of acceptability. Many avant-garde photographers affect the limits on their work by using violent or pornographic codes – see the work of Bruce Weber or Guy Bourdin. This gives their image a subversive character since public opinion is not limitless tolerant herein – though I must admit that Weber and Bourdin make it work. Yet there is a certain authority of a fashion photograph as a picture of his time, as an interpretation of what it means, even now. Thus, a masturbatory selfie is all right people (cough).

Ah, to be the glamorous image. The ad is shaped in this ideal with which the viewer can enter into a narcissistic identification, the model must therefore also get rid of her own subjectivity. This involves getting rid of their own sexuality. The erotic undertone in fashion photography is often strict and neatly outlined. The male gaze enables the sexualization of the female body that is accompanied by objectification, to lay the power completely in the hands of the viewer. However, even when sexuality is less explicit present in fashion photographs, it still continues to put the erotic tension in the person of the model.

To quote Marion de Beaupré: “female sexuality is evoked not in coital terms but as a narcissistic self-embrace.”

The image strategies used by Alexander Wang are not new. The male gaze is to this day – how oppressive and restrictive it may be – still used. The strategies are also utilized by the model just to get control over the look and exercise reversed power on the viewer.

Fashion Photography: The Naked Body as Glamorous Image

Fashion photography involves a total devotion to beauty and this will continue in the ideas of the body. The model rises above the crowd, she’s is revered, but so that they must focus that the image represents nothing else. The body loses its vital function, the person his/her subjectivity. The sexual dialogue between model and viewer is replaced by a platonic relationship of the viewer to the image. The surface in these glamorous fashion photos are the most important factor for the identity.

In the Alexander Wang ads, we see Ewers casually lounging in the chair with the perfect pair of denim jeans on her ankles and her body merely function as static prop. It’s basically a sublimation of her physical image, and this comes at the expense of subjectivity. The narcissistic identification can therefore not totally penetrate the viewer, there is in fact much distance kept with the person of the model that blocks the identification. Becoming the other can only continue to the level of the image because the model actually represents just that. Ewers appears to have the ideal body image, as in fashion photography, sexuality and beauty are central to the surface. Our own subjectivity is then pushed back to be this ideal.

The click bait campaign of Wang did cause a small fashion frenzy. Oh well, mission accomplished in the overcrowded denim market. After all, fashion photography is a timeless way of storytelling and seeking the limits of acceptability is just a part of it – see 15 year old Brooke Shields for Calvin Klein back in the day. The ads are a tad too revealing but I doubt that it will put a damper on the sales.

Fashion Photography: The Naked Body as Glamorous Image


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Written by Giselle Dafares

Giselle is a freelance writer with a penchant for fashion (law) and pop culture. She enjoys googling random things, late night conversations, and can’t stray far from the impulse to write it all down

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