Was a time not too long ago that I blogged extensively about fashion, read each new issue of Vogue cover-to-cover as soon as it arrived in my mailbox, kept a clip file of magazine pages that I found inspiring. But all of that ceased quite suddenly about a year ago. Don't get me wrong, I still adore fashion in general (Project Runway addicts, represent!) and especially love supporting local designers, but I was feeling oppressed by the constant onslaught of how-to-be-emaciated-and-Botoxed articles and the homogeneity of modern fashion photography in general. Yet another image of models jumping or of broken-doll pose just wasn't doing it for me anymore. The Photographers' Gallery in London currently has a show up called Fashion in the Mirror: Self-Reflection in Fashion Photography that displays some of the industry's attempts at self-reference from the past 60 years, for me a concept most perfectly embodied not in any photo but in Antonioni's marvelous 1966 film Blow-Up. That's actually my favorite era for fashion photography, when both photographers and models seemed to be having some fun, or give me somethingly wickedly twisted from Helmut Lang or the perfect composition of Richard Avedon or Irving Penn. Now I often feel like I'm missing out on an inside joke, which Adrian Searle also expresses in his review of the show:
In Steven Meisel's 2007 Vogue Italia series, Super Mods Enter Rehab, smacked-out-looking models are dragged along institutional corridors by aggressive orderlies, take therapeutic baths (though so zonked are they, they've forgotten to undress), hang out in their locked-ward dormitories, and generally do their careers no self-harm whatsoever. Previously, Meisel has had models play at Homeland Security narcs and terror suspects. I doubt these mockumentary images are intended as social commentary, or as a lacerating satire of the fashion industry's atmosphere of vacuous complicity. They are too much part of the game, too locked in the same hall of mirrors. Of course, staged and contrived situations are also real - in that something is always happening beyond the storyline and the set. Most of the photographers here just aren't interested enough, or clever enough, in getting to it.
Let us also not forget that these are predominantly male photographers shooting female models, which opens a whole other can of worms about the male gaze and woman as subject. In the end, these pictures are just pushing product.