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Tuesday, 7 January 2020

No photographs Please

Happy New Year. What a start to 2020, I'm getting nostalgic for 2019 already.

Aside from the fire, the floods, the assasinations, the impending war, the rise of Indian fascism (coupled with the rise of Indian counter-fascism - if there's hope it's here), Brexit and the irrelevance of Britain in anything, there is the decision by Vogue Italia  to publish an issue with no photographs.

I like Vogue Italia because it does interesting things on race, diversity, and body size. On a personal level, the website published a piece on Vincen Beeckman's Claude and Lilly which thrilled me and Claude and it bridges the gap, or tries to bridge the gap, between fashion and wider cultural trends. Not always perfectly, and not always consistently because it's fashion, it's photography and in publishing everybody (name a publication with photography in, and they are included) has a bit of shit on their shoes, especially if they're Louboutins.

Anyway, the rationale for this was to stop unsustainable photography that involves, as the editor writes...

'One hundred and fifty people involved. About twenty flights and a dozen or so train journeys. Forty cars on standby. Sixty international deliveries. Lights switched on for at least ten hours non-stop, partly powered by gasoline-fueled generators. Food waste from the catering services. Plastic to wrap the garments. Electricity to recharge phones, cameras ...'

It's an admirable effort, especially because the money saved would go to the flood damaged Venice museum of Fondazione Querini Stampalia.

But at the same time, fuck me gently with a chainsaw, because for one where did the idea that you had to have an oyster bar and international flights to photograph. Where exactly did this modus operandi come from, and if it is to be addressed, then address it consistently across a longer time scale in a sustainable fashion. Sustainable sustainability is a thing. The only problem is nobody knows what that means in fashion terms because there are no standards.

And then of course there are a mass of other things going on that you could mention in fashion, starting with the cycle (and high end and budget ends are connected), moving on to outsourcing, workers' rights, wages, environmental wastage, conspicuous consumption, transport (not of photographers),  and everything else that journals like Fashion Theory go into in great detail - these are some of the 'actors involved in fashion that Haug and Busch identify as relevant in establishing the question of what ethical fashion might be. Photographers are somewhere in the mix in number 7, under editors, publishers, owners etc. Haug and Busch identify these possible actors and question which have the power to change things. They also look at a range of fashion from fast fashion to haute couture and conclude that the two are actually closely linked, not that anyone on one side will admit it, and that the people who have the power to change things are the mediators (so Vogue etc) because they have the power to make the unethical unfashionable. Which is what they are doing with photography I guess. But there's such a big but. It's a bit like the US defense department going green by not allowing photographers to be embedded with their troops anymore. All those airmiles!

(1) Market regulators: National and cross-national institutions
defining laws and regulations for the focal consumer market
in relation to production, marketing, use of suppliers, product
materials, etc.
(2) Supplier regulators: National and cross-national institutions
defining laws and regulations for the production area in focus
(as mentioned, often developing countries).
(3) Consumers: Those exposed to the marketing efforts of the
fashion industry and those buying the fashion products.
(4) Mediators: Magazines, news media, forums, activist organizations,
(5) Designers: Those defining the fashion products.
(6) Marketers: Those advertising for and selling the product, i.e.,
(7) Producers: Those making the decisions on which fashion
items to produce, how to produce them, which markets to
Towards an Ethical Fashion Framework 327
target, etc.
(8) Suppliers: Those producing item materials and manufacturing
the final products.
(9) Workers: The persons employed by the suppliers.

Finally though, removing photographers also devalues photography. There are people trying to add value and meaning to fashion photography, but this act seems to trivialise photography and its practioners in one fell swoop as flippant environmentally wasteful ne'er-do-wells. It's a good question to ask, but do be consistent and look in all directions including your advertisers and your core markets please.

Ultimately though, when images aren't included it means something. When photography isn't allowed it means something and it's not normally something good.

Which isn't to say there aren't some great examples of no photographs being used.

The best example I can think of is the case of the French newspaper, Liberation in 2013, a publication that

'...removed all images from its 14 November issue in a bid to show the power and importance of photography at a time when the industry is facing unprecedented challenges, say the newspaper's editors'

It served a purpose to show the poverty of a newspaper without images. It also captured something of the relationship between image and text, something the late Sarah Charlesworth  did even more effectively with her converse 'Unwriting' piece (where the text is removed) Modern History.

Here the removal of text emphasises the importance of the image, how it is shown, but also the gaps where text is needed to expand on and add to the story.

'Made between 1977 and 1979, the works in Modern History explore the power of images and their circulation through the mass media, specifically newspapers. In this series, Charlesworth focused on singular events and the reportage of these across multiple newspapers from all over the world. To make each multipart work, she removed everything except the newspapers’ mastheads, the images of the particular incident, and the image captions, making evident through her interventions the complex mechanisms of dissemination and interpretation. For Charlesworth, “unwriting” was an active undertaking, even as all the blocks of running text were literally blanked out. She called the process, “an engagement with text.” In spite of—or rather, because of—the lack of text in the work, its presence is strongly felt through the physical rendering of its absence.'

It's a project where what is missing resonates in the space of its own absence. It also challenges how we see and what we see, something Pavel Maria Smejkal  does in his brilliant Fatescapes.

These are some of his images below. They are instantly recognisable despite the absence of the supposedly salient features. How and why do we remember these backgrounds is the question they raise and how is it we recognise these pictures despite the absence of what we deem essential to the picture?

Elisabeth Tonnard's Indirections works in the same way as both the Charlesworth and the Liberation examples, but joins them up by separating caption and image, by creating a barrier between the two, a barrier held in place by a very tidy belly band and a piece of tape.

These are the outsides of the pamphlets she made. Open them up and you see the picture...

So for this caption, you get the picture below:

The children found a loving environment in this kindergarten built by Treptower communists on Kiefholzstra├če.

You can't have one without the other, but if you do, you have a very different thing.

And that is the end of the first post of the year. Thank you for reading.

Also from Haug and Busch, some of the real environmental concerns linked to increased fashion cycles.

One may be led to believe that the growing market for ethical fashion
has had a positive impact on the overall effects of fashion consumption,
but many observations point in the other direction. For example,
it has been argued that the environmental impact of the fashion industry
has become increasingly detrimental because of the (1) accelerated
cycles of new fashion (O’Cass 2004), (2) the decrease in garment prices
(Morgan and Birtwistle 2009), and (3) the lower production costs in
developing countries (Jones et al. 2005). The accelerated cycles of new
fashion are strongly related to the concept of “fast fashion.” Fast fashion
refers to “low-cost clothing collections that mimic current luxury fashion
trends” (Joy et al. 2012), and the fast fashion chains in Europe have
grown faster than the retail fashion industry as a whole (Cachon and
Swinney 2011; Mihm 2010). Fast fashion implies that the former standard
turnaround time from catwalk to consumer of six months is now a
matter of mere weeks for companies such as H&M and Zara (Tokatli
2008). Thus, by its nature, fast fashion encourages greater disposability
(Fletcher 2008) (Figure 2).

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