Monday, January 7, 2008
Click Chic - Fashion Photography As Social Commentary
Fashion photography gets a display as social commentary through an exhibition at the School of Visual Arts in New York
Maki Kawakita points out that the technical similarities between art and advertising are often obvious too—in her case, particularly with her multimedia-inspired photographs. “My type of work sometimes requires a variety of skills,” she says. “When I do Makirama Tokyo Pop [a Japanese woman and illustration series], I have 10 times more work waiting for me after the photo shoot: cut and paste, composing and coloring. Every artist has a different technique to achieve the creation of their own style, and an art project like mine is just like oil paintings or any other art process.”
Like art itself, whether the denizens of high art are fully accepting of fashion photographs depends on the eye, and opinion, of the beholder. But for many photographers today, there's no question that the two can, and do, coexist. In decades past, some photographers took pains to keep their commercial endeavors from the gaze of galleries and museums, whereas emerging photographers of this new millennium are finding that as long as the inspiration and vision are present, the boundaries between art and commerce aren't.
Says Silver, “When you think of art as a process, not as the end game of a check or a magazine publication, or up on a wall or in a gallery somewhere, but as a process, then there's no line to draw between commercial and fine art. You're focused on the process and you believe that from start to finish as a journey, whether or not you're dealing with an art director or you're painting in a studio. You conceptualize the idea and you execute it. That process is art.”
Young artists—the Click Chic photographers are of varying ages and established careers, but none should bristle at being called young—weren't raised with a separate set of eyes for viewing advertising and appreciating art. The last 20 years has seen a shift in the ad world from emphasizing technical perfection in precise, clinical photography to an appreciation for emotional connection and personal vision—the things fine-art photographers have traded on forever.
“We have this immensely visual culture,” says Silver. “We're constantly bombarded by images. But the base and the root of image-making is art. We have a rich art history to draw upon. Every single day, we're referencing art—fine art or art in general. When you're making your piece, the message you're getting across is the important thing, whether you're selling the final product or whether it fulfills some basic need. Why did we all draw in third grade? Because it felt good. Sometimes we sell it and sometimes we don't—it's still the same basic need to express oneself.”
It's no coincidence that this noteworthy show was put forth at New York's School of Visual Arts. The faculty always has strived to remove barriers between commercial and artistic photography, and it has worked to instill this ideology into the photographers and artists it trains—especially those featured in Click Chic.
“I think SVA is a fantastic school,” says Silver. “I walked in without formal art training. We talked a lot about What is fine art? What is fashion? I felt incredibly prepared for the commercial world. To give back to SVA in any way possible is something I swore to.”
Future graduates of SVA and photographers around the world may find it utterly absurd that art and fashion were once separate genres, relegated to their own distinctions in the photographic hierarchy. SVA's Click Chic is probably ahead of its time—or maybe long overdue. Either way, it points out just how transitional today's photo world is and how many questions still remain.
Perhaps the biggest question to arise out of the Click Chic show is also the simplest one: Does the exhibition mark just the first foray into an ever more seamless blend of fashion and fine-art photography? Is it an assertion of artistic legitimacy, or does it represent the end of the era when fine-art and fashion photographs were thought of as distinctly different media? Sarah Silver says it's surely the second—the end of separation and the acknowledgement that commercial photographs as art have finally, officially, arrived.
“The idea of the show was that the lines are blurred,” Silver says. “And the paradigm shift isn't a question of asserting that commercial work is art; it just is. Photography is art. Maybe now, the exciting thing is that you don't ever have to explain. I haven't had to explain myself in years. It's the same blood, sweat and tears that go into an image, whether or not your name is on it.”
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