25.7.14

SEX SELLS: FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY OR PORNOGRAPHY?

There is no doubt about it: Sex Sells. In fashion alone, sexualised images are used to sell everything from scents to shoes. Nudity has become the norm. Rarely does a copy of Dazed, i-D or LOVE not expose a nipple, at least, in their fashion pages. The human form is beautiful. In particular the female body has been used for centuries as the epitome of beauty, from the Ancient Greek Venus de Milo to Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, the female nude has been a constant epicentre of art. 

Arguably, fashion is a form of art. The editorial and advertorial shoots for large Fashion Houses have huge budgets and often, few clothes. From Carine Roitfeld's infamous campaign for Gucci, in which a 'G' is formed from the model's pubic hair, to American Apparel's overtly sexualised use of the female body to sell every kind of garment, it is obvious that like the past great masters of painting and sculpting, contemporary fashion photographers, stylists and creative directors alike are still using the idea of the Venus as a muse. 

However, instead of Venus being artistically perfected embodying innocence and vulnerability, she is now confident and electrically charged by her sexuality. Or at least that is what we are lead to believe. Fashion magazines are, generally, read by women. Therefore the nudity gracing the pages of Vogue should be used as a form of art, to enhance the clothing and create visually impacting spreads.  

Juergen Teller is a renowned photographer who has shot numerous covers for Vogue and worked with many huge fashion houses, including Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood. He is unafraid of using nudity as a form of art in his fashion photography, not intimidated by the big names he works with and for. Famed for refusing to use digital camera's and still working with film and an over exposing flash bulb while he over exposes his sitter, Teller's images are raw and honest, and usually the aim is to shock and impact the viewer. This is not unlike the aim of a fashion designer, whose new collections each season aim to outdo their previous season as much as to rival the collections of their fellow designers unveiling their collections alongside them whether on the catwalk at Fashion Week, on the next page of a fashion magazine. Using nudity so frequently in his fashion photography, along with his unique style, means that a Teller image is instantly recognisable and ultimately memorable, the very aim of a fashion advertorial campaign; an advert that associates the image with the brand and the product in a strong way. Juergen says "Nudity is the most natural form of how you are...as I am doing a lot of fashion photographs, I am very used to clothes and what they do and what that means, and how everything you wear means something in the world." By striping his muses of their clothes, he captures a previously unseen side to them, making the viewer focus on other factors than simply who's wearing what. These strong words are reflected in his fashion photography, from Victoria Beckham's legs emerging from a Marc Jacobs bag, anonymity of the face yet still instantly recognisable, to the life-sized nude photographs of Dame Vivienne Westwood, au natural and un-retouched. 




One model who is not shy to take ones clothes off is Kate Moss. In a documentary on supermodel Miss Moss, Vivienne Westwood and her husband Andreas, among others, discussed Kate's willingness to appear naked in both adverts/ editorials and on the catwalk. Coming from the woman who infamously said 'Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels', Kate Moss is not shy of revealing her form in front of many, including the above photographer, Juergen Teller. 


From a feminist argument, the representation of women in fashion editorials says less 'sexual liberation' and more 'unrealistic and unattainable standards'. Women are being bombarded with conflicted views of whether pubic hair is in or out this season, from paranoia being formed as to  if their nipples are erect enough, fashion could be overtaking porn in creating body insecurity for young women and the sexual expectation they must allude to. However, despite Kate Moss' fondness of nudity,  and whilst most in the fashion world would agree that she is beautiful both in the face and the form, she bravely sat for artist Chuck Close who produced un-retouched, unflattering, brutally honest portraits of the model, as shown below. While she is still undoubtably beautiful, it is refreshing to see that even a world class supermodel like Moss has the occasional wrinkle, and an unkempt bush.


Although, it could be argued that the nudity in fashion photography is verging on pornography because on the whole there is far more female nudity within fashion. While Page 3 and 'lads mags' still exist and are still slated for their sleaziness and degradation towards women, those in the fashion world would say that the nudity is more of an art form, a celebration of the female form and isn't designed to arouse one in a sexual manner, more so to arouse their creativity and imagination. Or at least arouse them enough to part with their money and buy whatever the naked woman is selling or (not) wearing. Relating back to Juergen Teller, on the subject of nudity he says: "But it doesn't really make a difference if I photograph a female nude or a male nude. I don't think I use my masculinity in a very threatening way. I possibly do, but then I do it in the same way with men, women, a landscape and a kitten. Do you know what I mean?"

On the other hand, it is also interesting to note that two prominent figures in the realm of fashion photography meeting pornography, Dov Charney and Terry Richardson are both currently involved in sexual misconduct accusation cases. The former, previous CEO of American Apparel, is the creative mind behind the abundance of extremely sexual adverts featuring but not limited to pubic hair, suggestive and erotic poses and tits. Lots of tits. The later, a previously acclaimed fashion photographer who has worked with Tom Ford and the serial nudist, Kate Moss. While one can argue that all these overtly sexualised images are fashion photography and not pornography, when the creative mind behind the images are alleged sexual predators, it is hard not to view the images in a tainted manner as well as finding it hard to make this case without seeming like a hypocrite. Note also the similarities in the below images, both by Charney and Richardson respectively. 




All this begs the question: are sexualised images fashion photography or pornography? While the sleaziness of pornography is prevalent - see Charney and Richardson's sexual advances - nudity by the likes of Teller and the confidence of Kate Moss to use the body as a way to enhance the visual impact of a campaign, when done so in an artistic manner, be it a brutally honest portrayal of the human form or a celebration of the body.  The difference between the nudity in Teller's work to that of Charney and Richardson, is that the American Apparel adverts, and Terry's images are both all about the nudity. They aren't vaguely suggestive; they are outrightly sexual. Sometimes tongue-in-cheek, the images of the later two men use the naked body as the primary focus of the image, in order to shock and cause controversy. Juergen Teller's focus, on the other hand, is first and for most in art. Despite the subject being naked, the image is about far more than their genitals. 

What're your opinions of nudity in fashion? 


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