Open now at the Fashion Space Gallery is Don’t Stop Now: Fashion Photography Next, Part 1. Here’s what P&P discovered at the newly opened exhibition…
“Don’t Stop Now!” is a rallying cry for fashion photographers everywhere. The message runs 5 feet high in cobalt blue along the wall opposite the gallery entrance. It’s the perfect sentiment to accompany a visitor as she dives into a fun exhibition that’s pretty damn serious about fashion photography.
Hailing from Foam in Amsterdam, this first part of a celebrated exhibition (the second part comes in March) looks with energy and optimism to the future of fashion photography, providing glimpses of its place within image history, and playfully asserting the identity of the medium. That identity is concerned with the wider meaning of photography in a digital world saturated with imagery, in a way that is fun, uncanny and full of variety.
Although there’s a lot of delicious colour to grab the attention when you first enter the show, I’d like to lead you in with one small image which said a lot.
Laetitia Nègre’s Polaroid of Daiane Conterato is presumably a test shot from the shoot she did for Zoo Magazine in 2010. As such it figures ‘waste’ imagery – something besides the point. But this status is fetchingly reversed once the viewer engages with it in a gallery. This photo object becomes precious; a one of a kind, something small and delicate, which requires the viewer to lean in and regard it intimately. By its very nature, the photograph raises some big questions about the value of images in an age of massive reproduction and overwhelming digitisation. What can one, small image mean when our sights are flooded with so many every day?
Daiane is pictured wearing a white veil which surrounds her whole head, four folds taper across its surface, and a black bow sits on her crown. Behind the bridal garment, the viewer can just make out the model’s face; softened and made vague by the translucent fabric. It’s an accessory that conjures up both revelation and concealment: Its surface both draws us into the face, and promises further exposure, and also obscures the features of that face. The image is innocent – keeping the secret of Daiane’s face, but also full of knowing – pinning her features into a fixed layer of exposed chemicals.
This to me, became the question of the exhibition: What does the surface of the photograph hide and what does it show? And can the image break beyond that 2D layer of pixels or chemicals?
An amber plastic curtain separates the two themes of ‘Materiality’ and ‘Play’, asking the visitor to move through a vivid, film-y layer which also provokes thoughts of surface. Once I had passed through, I found Hanna Putz’s untitled images which call your eye to run gracefully across supple, living forms: tendons in the hands and neck, the ripple of long hair, the sleek body of a greyhound. Again, faces were hidden so that exposure was juxtaposed with the unknown and unseen.
Playing even further with surface, the neighbouring images by Charlie Engman make a break beyond the 2D world of the photograph as colourful props leap out to sit on and under the images. This sculpture by photography feels like the natural continuation to his images which match up colours and lines to create optical illusions that play with space.
Back in the ‘Materiality’ section, I discovered more meddling with the surface of the image: Jonathan Hallam’s “Abstraction de Sensation” saw reflection and projection create a butterfly like image, a layer which disguised a model with painted lips. And Daniel Sannwald’s untitled image from 2008 for Dazed and Confused saw another intervention onto the surface of the skin – bright face paint like makeup drawn across the models’ faces. By contrast, his 2012 image for Arena Homme + is digitally disturbed, shards of pixels dragging at the sleeve of jumper. The distorted red fabric is also affected by black, geometric embellishments, so that photographer and designer work together to build a motif for the garment.
These are photographs that push at their own boundaries, launching forward and twisting under the eye. They ask the viewer to consider where the object of the photograph ends and experience begins. There were many more images which posed interesting questions of the medium of fashion photography, but to discover those you’ll have to take a trip to 20 John Princes Street yourself.
Don’t Stop Now: Fashion Photography Next, Part 1 is on at the Fashion Space Gallery until 28 February 2015. Part 2 will be in the same space from 6 March. Find out more on UAL’s event listings.