Photographs of the honest & real
My main objective and aim throughout this investigation was to look at the snapshot aesthetic and domestic narrative within photographic practise, and its relationship with Fashion Photography. Through what Charlotte Cotton describes as “Intimate Life”, a “private experience” is shown to the viewer through inconsistent framing, uneven flash and out of focus photographs. These are all elements used within the snapshot aesthetic by photographers who have inspired me within my own practise. In retrospect of the photographers and techniques I have studied over the past few months I have realised that at the time when this style of photography started receiving recognition in both the art and fashion worlds, I was just entering my teen years and should have been photographing my own “intimate life”.
My methods of research have spanned from written theoretical texts by scholars such as Charlotte Cotton and Susan Sontag, fashion films showing interviews with models talking about their experiences, along with photographic archives, and even an original copy of vogue from June 1993 with the first shoot of Kate Moss shot by Corrine Day which was to be the start of what is now referred to as Heroin Chic.
Using these methods, my approach to this investigation started looking in depth at these photographers who were shooting their own “intimate life” documentary photographs. American photographer Nan Goldin has been one of the main influences on photography of intimate lives along with Juergen Teller, Wolfgang Tillmans and Corinne Day.
In Goldin’s early work you see her growing up, her hair cuts and fashion styles change, “...got to know her friends and her lovers. We have seen them laughing, crying, fighting, partying, marrying, masturbating, making love, making up, getting dressed, getting high, getting sober. We've seen them naked, not just physically but emotionally...” (Garratt).
Her repeated capture of these moments with her friends and family over such a long period of time insures the viewer feels a certain intimacy which is very hard to establish. At this time, as a documentary photographer, Goldin tried to gain commissions from magazines such as ID and The Face. They all rejected her work whilst she continued to work on what is now her most famous body of work, The Ballads of Sexual Dependancy. During my recent studies, I am in awe of the time and the devotion Goldin has towards her craft and in reflection on my own work I feel I can take something
from this. There is something about repetition, continuous investigation, and knowing that it is ok when it goes wrong that inspires me.
From this point, I wanted to move my line of enquiry towards fashion as I felt I was going too far down the route of fine art photography. Because of this, I started to look at what was happening in Fashion around this time.
In the 1990’s there was a great deal of change in terms of the construction of the fashion image. After the late 80’s where sex was glamorised and big busted models were used in fashion advertising, the public’s representation of fashion shifted. This shift took fashion imagery towards the photography of the intimate life and the narrative of the fashion campaign was now about the everyday.
“ British Photographer Corinne Day defended this style of imagery as more honest and realistic, as an attempt to move on from fashion’s traditional representation of impossible beauty.”(Arnold,R)
Photographer Corinne Day, in June 1993 photographed a young Kate Moss in her bedsit. Day continued to shoot these images that looked more like photographs of a friend in a bedsit than fashion photographs. Her fashion campaigns then started to take on the inherent characteristics of Goldin’s work shown in galleries which started to be known in society as Heroin Chic. These images were depicting real life in an honest way, and in my opinion weren’t promoting drug addiction where models lived in seedy anonymous rooms, but showed what many peoples lives were like at that time. Films such as Transpotting (Boyle,1996) were being made which did not glamorise addiction but was a film for people to be able to relate to. With this sense of association in mind, I started to see that these images of the everyday were the images selling magazines and subsequently being used by fashion houses to advertise their brand.
As Barnard (2007) talks about the relationship between the brand and the image, he quotes Klein (2000:5) who states: “ .. We should think of the brand as the ‘core meaning’ of the company. Advertising, in turn, is the ‘vehicle used to convey that meaning to the world.’...... and images are inevitably constructed in fashion photography with a view to selling clothes.”
The reason I like Klein’s idea here is that now the emphasis is on the feel of the image rather than how good the product looks.
Showstudio presents a series of films by Nick Knight talking to various models and Photographers. As one of my favourite visual sources, Knight presents a conversation with model Kate Moss. Moss talks about being photographed by friend and photographer Corinne Day and explains that
“ Corinne's work only started to show this grungy heroin chic look after Nan Goldin’s photographs started to appear in galleries”
As text based research is something I find harder to process, the fashion film has given me a great deal of thought as to whether my practise based outcomes will be of photographs or in the form of moving image.
From here, questions started to arise about the relationship between art and fashion, and where as artists, our influences derive from. Whilst focusing on fine art photography rather than that of fashion, Robert Adams talks about american art history and quotes Mark Tobey who comments on the artistic process by saying:
“ No young artist can grow unless they emulate someone greater than themselves.” (Tobey).
I wanted to gather knowledge of technique and process from the photographers I had studied to this point and realised that this snapshot aesthetic was something being adopted by many photographers of the time. Colour film was more readily available, the use of laboratories for developing and technological advances in equipment all contributed towards this much more free
and liquid approach to image making.
In ‘The Image World’ , Sontag talked about the photographic image in the sense that it is “the real”, and from the point of view of the consumer, the image gives us a sense of ourselves, of ownership to an event.
“Through photographs, we also have a consumer’s relation to events, both to events which are part of our experience and to those which are not...”
Photographer Juergen Teller’s personal work has been an inspiration of mine for many years now, but more so in recent months since looking at his photography from the point of view of Fashion. There is a certain awkwardness and very much a humour that comes out of his photographs whether it be a portrait shoot or a fashion campaign but whatever Teller is shooting he wants to show something about the person in the photograph.
With regards to Sontag’s earlier citation on consumer experience, in a recent interview with Dazed and Confused writer Francesca Gavin, Juergen Teller talks about his process whilst shooting campaigns with designer and friend Marc Jacobs: “What can fashion advertising be? For us it should not be just, ‘Here are the lovely clothes.’ We were much more interested in the human being who might be interested in the clothes and an element of excitement, of fun, when they’re wearing them.”
Similarly to Day talking about her images showing honesty and ‘the real’, Teller goes one step further within his process by colour correcting all his images in the darkroom and not allowing any form of retouch to his images, thus providing a totally ‘real’ and ‘honest’ account of his subject.
I started to think about this consumer view and how this heroin chic was simply following with the social times. Throughout my research I have been trying to find where to place my own photographic practise, but have found it increasingly hard to know where to begin. My investigation so far has been only research based and I haven't yet started to make my own work. I don’t feel this is a problem as I have been given many ideas, in the form of techniques, processes and of starting points by all the photographers and theorists I have studied, for future practise based enquiry.
Keeping in mind for a moment, what I have already learnt, I want to find out more about the sociological and political effect Heroin Chic had so as to see whether there are any current issues of this kind I could investigate photographically myself. The search for new trends within fashion to document is something that continually interests me and I hope that this enquiry will lead to a bigger wider body of photographic work in the future.
None of the photographers I have looked at have the intent on shooting with the snapshot in mind, their styles are different (Goldin used much more natural light, and Teller always shoots with flash but only from a technical point of view to sharpen the images) but they all have something which links them together. The link is that they are all showing what is honest and real. Heroin Chic was the start of a look at the time but the snapshot aesthetic continues in current campaigns by photographers such as David Sims. I am interested to see what chic will be next.
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