Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Fashion Photography - We Are All Voyeurs Now

Exposed, the new exhibition at Tate Modern, is subtitled "Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera". It examines the various ways in which our lives have been influenced and society changed by modern uses (many would say misuses) of the camera as the often-undetected eye spying on us with the full of approval of the governments elected with the mandate to protect our freedoms. Worryingly, we only occasionally feel unease at its ubiquity.

The exhibition and the accompanying catalogue are a powerful statement of the dangers of complacency and the impossibility of turning back the clock when the full implications of a situation are – too late – revealed.

But it is the section devoted to fashion that will most interest all but the most deeply political. The camera is now so enmeshed with fashion that the image of the garment is frequently more potent than the garment itself. In fact it is the first point of call on the path of buying that starts with each month's new magazines and their beguiling pages of slick, tightly focused pages advertising the seasons's must-have objects of desire. And we do not seem to become bored even by the fact that it is largely the same image in all the magazines.

Editorially, there is fractionally more visual variety – and this again, is about the image, as each desperate editor tries to find a new way of arresting the attention of the casual "flicker" at the newsstand, trying to decide which magazine to buy – or whether to even bother. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to force oneself to do so at this point in fashion, where the art of designing clothes has generally fallen so low that editors believe clothes can only interest us if they are worn by this month's fleeting celeb - catch her before the sun goes down or you've lost her for ever.

No wonder that aspects of femininity other than dress are being resorted to by frantic editors ordered to take desperate measures to keep the readers on board. What could be more postmodern (or weeping in the darkness of the night despairing) than to feature nudity on the cover and featured in the pages of a magazine published with the major purpose of selling clothes. You couldn't make it up, you might think, but you don't have to. It is here and now, on a newsstand near you.

But it gets worse – or rather has been worse for some time – with editorial of nude or seminude pictures of models debased and violated for the camera, with the clothes barely in evidence; if they are, almost certainly will be half torn away. Strange antics for magazines meant to make women feel good, confident and empowered. And if you think photographers, stylists and art editors have reached the point when some of them might well be ready for sectioning, I am sure you would not be alone. But, as the Tate exhibition reminds us, we are all voyeurs now – whether we want to be or not.


  1. Penelope and Adam4 June 2010 at 09:58

    You cannot be a voyeur if you look away.

  2. indeed so many magazines push so much of shock value in editorials and not the clothes and creative ways to portray them

  3. The only complication is that many of the these publications are not just pushing clothes - they cover music, art, "pop culture" in general. And so the photography they feature does not have to show off the garment, so to speak. However, I am not disagreeing with your general point, and in particular with the problems of certain photographers/editors.