Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Imperial(ist) dreams

I have read my Said. Perhaps that is why I get uneasy when I see fashion editorials around the theme of imperialism. I have nothing against editorials being shot at "exotic" locations, but it is images like these that I do mind:


The editorial is called "Indian Summer" (how original), it is shot by Patrick Demarchelier for Vogue UK, September 2007. Gemma Ward is wearing stuff worth 3500 GBP, and is surrounded by people who will probably never see that kind of money in their entire lifetime. I might be reading into things, but I can't help but wonder why they chose to make Gemma look down on the snake charmer, why is she being portrayed as a superior observer, why are the other people rounded up like "natives" in Tarzan-films? I am not saying that the photo is racist, I am saying that it is interesting how Vogue UK chooses to portray "the other", the ones that are different from "us", the ones that live somewhere else, and have a different set of priorities. Do we really need to see these people next to the Versace jacket in order to make it desirable?

The same goes for Tim Walker's photos in the July 2005 issue of Vogue UK, in the editorial called "Lily takes a trip". This particular photo strikes at me the most: if we just had a photo of Lily Cole's face here, would it not be a little less interesting? It is not just the page break that separates these two individuals, is it? It is old news that we can truly see ourselves only through the spectrum of "the other". Do we need to portray it like this, is the question I am asking.

Last but not least, it is Daria Werbowy in "Road to Marrakech", photographed by Mario Testino, for Vogue UK, January 2005. Hmm, I wonder how much the Moroccan ladies got paid for the shoot? I wonder if they stayed at the same hotel? What is even more interesting to me is the blatant "otherness" of these white-veiled women, what a striking contrast there is to Ms Werbowy, to what she is wearing, how she is the individual and the others just, well, others. Strange, alien, almost mystical in their clothing without colour, without anything that would make them stand out.

Well, enough with the ranting. I was positively surprised when I found this editorial in DV Mode's summer issue. It is photographed by Signe Vilstrup. I like the fact that they chose beautiful surroundings, beautiful clothing, and just took the photos that I can simply look at. No analysis necessary.


7 comments:

Grace said...

I really love this post. It was so thoughtful and thought-provoking. I also feel the same way you do. Vogue seems to be rather partial to the photoshoots in 3rd world countries. Maybe they find it clever to juxtapose luxury fashion against the backdrop of starving local citizens. This particularly unnerves me because I lived in India and worked at an orphanage and I feel a deep connection to the poor and hungry in those countries. I lived with them. I ate what they ate. I worked for them. I repaired their homes and fences. It just makes me sad to see the fashion world being glib about something so serious.

eword said...

that's a very interesting post and you may be interested in the fact that my new post about daria werbowy (i have blog inspired by her) is just about this theme referred to the new pirelli calendar.
but in the past i already 'complained' about the imperialist/neocolonialist trend of some exotic fashion editorials featuring daria. mario testino with his aesthetic of (kitsch)luxury is one of the photographers who are more responsable for this. see his recent editorial in peru or two years ago the one in argentina (both with daria).

rachel said...

i love this post. i was just thinking about the condescending attitude of the fashion industry when it comes to third world countries some days back; and you've written so succintly about this.

Anonymous said...

anonymous #2 here from a few days back; now with a bowl of oatmeal dizzled with peanut butter, with flecks of ground clove and a heafty cup of jo. thanks for taking the time to write back with your "tough" list of musical taste. very cool! very mixed. totally with you on the flaming lips, curtis, smashing pumpkins, nick drake, the police, m.i.a., yelle, goldfrapp. i haven't heard of some others you've mentioned, now i need to go and check them out, although im pretty sure i'll be very content...just finished listening to sargasso sea and now listening to trains to brazil, heck, im blaming you for introducing me to these gems. hehe...Shostakovich. any particular piece? do you play/practice strings? you certainly a breath of fresh air to me, i'm totally glad i traipsed onto your blog. I could ONLY imagine what films and books you pursuit. one day i suppose. haha. im one to ask too many questions on lovely things.
btw, i want to comment on that incredible butterfly dress you found the other day, was that really your mom's dress? could that have possibly have been the same one? I LOVE the deep scooped cut on the backside, you wear it very well! simple, relaxed grace and a bit of elegance. not to mention the material and texture look amazing. fantastic find.

Anonymous said...

fascinating perspective and insight! you woke up a few of my senses. thank you.

The Waves said...

grace: I can only imagine what it must feel like for you, seeing images like these and having lived in a country like India. It really seems to me that editorials like these are mostly published in Vogue UK, not so much in other magazines. Strange, I wonder why that is...

eword: I saw Testino's Peru editorial too, it is definitely of the same nature. The one image I was actually looking for for this post was a picture of Erin Wasson, dressed up in safari gear, jumping into the air with a group of Maasai men. Maybe you know the picture? I can't think of the photographer, but I think it appeared in Vogue UK (what a surprise) a few years back.

rachel: yeah, I think this is an important issue, and like I said in the post, not because of "racial" undertones, but because these images are mostly about the way we (people of the Western "civilisation") see ourselves and portray ourselves next to others.

anonymous (2): I am glad I got to spread some love for my favourite songs! I guess if I had to choose one piece from Shostakovich, it would have to be his Chamber Symphony, String Quartet No 8 in C minor, Op. 110a. I don't play strings (or any instrument) myself, although I wish I did... The cello would be my instrument if I had to choose one now.
As for the dress, my mom's dress is yellow, and she still has it. The white one I found is just the same brand, but I think it was still quite a coincidence, considering my mom bought her dress in the early 1980s, in a small boutique in Helsinki..!

Cara said...

Actually, this sociology blog that I read wrote about the same topic today...

http://nortonbooks.typepad.com/everydaysociology/2008/06/global-poverty.html