First of all, apologies on the short hiatus. Well, if you call a few months “short”. I’ve been working on a few odd projects which to be quite honest, are more stress than anything, and when you’re stressed, anything in terms of words and writing just comes out as whiny moany ranting. Around the unfruitful labour, I have found time to pursue some creative endeavours, getting back into the habit of some photography, styling and direction with new individuals. The photos accompanying this article were taken during the V&A – Balenciaga: Fashion in Motion showcase, where I spent roughly six hours mooching with the production team and the models, taking full advantage of the rare opportunity to photograph inspired clothing around the various rooms of the V&A. The orangey-brown one (her name is Faye) is a personal favourite.
I recently had a 15 year old doing work experience with me, and thought I’d trial a new assistant at the same time. Yes, I have the occasional assistant, I suppose that makes me very grown up and very important. A week is a long time to fill for a freelancer, so I arranged a few “art” related experiments in preparation for one of my next sculptures, and two editorial photoshoots, with a male on one day and a female on another. We then sat down, edited the photos and talked about the difference between personal preferences and technical shortcomings. The latter being a photo that might be poorly lit, or sloppy styling with creases or tags showing, and the former being not minding any of the above because it’s a nice photo anyway.
I’ve always valued education because my teachers throughout the years have been a significant influence on me. Through breaking down your processes, sometimes teaching someone else can allow you to spot your own shortcomings and inefficiencies. While we may be in the habit of operating out of habit, a fresh pair of eyes could result in new possibilities, temporarily turning teacher into student. What I’ve realised in the years of simply “being”, that while ‘how’ is very much important, ‘why’ is possibly what makes our ‘how’ unique. The majority of people in the creative industry can create somewhat of an image, but so many of these images seem to lack some sort of soul or essence, becoming as disposable as these bloody Instagram stories I keep getting notification spammed with.
(It’s at this point I’ve noticed I’m starting to veer off into the aforementioned ‘whiny moany ranting’, which is what led me to write “WHY?” earlier this year. Apologies, I’ll start to veer off now.)
I was attempting to build a moodboard (a splatter of referential images) with my assistant, because sometimes people find visual references will help put them in the same hive mind as the rest of the team involved. We were planning a beret story for a magazine’s autumn issue, and there were a total of six characters which need to be covered. I asked my assistant to pull me six images which she thought were iconic or beautiful beret photos. An hour or so later, she shows me six beautiful portraits of six beautiful girls wearing six beautiful berets, pulled from the pages of six glossy titles. I mulled over them, went home, and came back the next day with immediate critique on her six references. Where was the Black Panther? The Rembrandt? The extremely stereotypical Frenchman?
If you’re shooting a fashion story and your moodboard is full of fashion images, doesn’t that sound a little… cyclical? What were those images inspired by? If they were inspired by the Frenchman, doesn’t that mean we’re using a second reference? What if they were inspired by another fashion image, of another fashion image, of another fashion image? Then we’re creating some muddled image with little culture or history. Sure, this can’t be applied to all images. As I’ve noticed, flicking through my new Erwin Blumenfeld book (a brilliant photographer during the 20th century), I can see where many people have referenced their work but have naturally evolved it using their own style or interpretation. I don’t think that can be applied to every scenario though, as by using one fashion image to reference another, I feel like we’re losing a little depth. The beret is iconic because of its history, not because of its usage within modern times or fashion status. It’s because of its connotations with art, rebellion, military and the cultures that have utilised it. I understand it is in the nature of fashion to appropriate, but I think we should always in some way pay tribute to our sources, especially when referencing.
I preached this all to the assistant, in my usual ranting manner, swaying around my coffee and cigarette like I was some sort of textbook righteous professor. By no means did I berate her for pulling together six nice images, because there was by no means anything wrong what she did, and it’s something I do occasionally myself, hence going back to that “spot your own shortcomings” statement. But I think if we want to expand our work, I think it’s paramount we try to understand context, origins and functions, and then develop the idea of how we can use that to move forward.
(<- PS. Yes it’s a little daemonic/Eyes Wide Shut. Hopefully no one is offended.)