Monday, December 14, 2009

Vision To Visuals: Challenging The Norms

By Baldev Duggal Published in The Business of Photography
Photos by Robert Whitman adorn the eryn brinié store in New York.
Photos by Robert Whitman adorn the eryn brinié store in New York.
Photography always has played an integral role in the world of fashion. From early masters like Man Ray, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon to contemporaries like Juergen Teller and Karl Lagerfeld, photographers have elevated fashion brands out of their commercial milieu and rendered them timeless. A successful relationship between a fashion designer and a photographer such as the one between Teller and Marc Jacobs demonstrates that when a designer makes the photographer an integral part of his or her creative process instead of treating the photographer simply as an executor of a predetermined vision, the outcomeis an iconic brand that embeds itself into the public's imagination forever. Examples of such collaborations are rare, however, and much of fashion branding continues to be dominated by formulaic imagery. I was fortunate to be part of one such wonderful collaboration between acclaimed photographer Robert Whitman and the retail brand eryn brinié from Korea.

eryn brinié epitomizes the current shift that's underway in the world of fashion—the homogeneity of corporate retail brands being challenged by avante-garde brands from around the world, especially Asia. eryn brinié understands the value of delivering customized brand experiences to its customers while still competing on price points against large corporate fashion houses. eryn brinié is one of my favorite examples of the trend away from mainstream fashion be-cause the company has challenged the norms of an industry that has been relatively unchanged for some time now. Its brand personality—European chic combined with New York's youthful spirit and modern sensibility—targets the millennial generation, which grew up with instant communication technologies and social networking. This group challenges assumptions of traditional advertising that have come to be associated with fashion brands over the last few decades by regarding individuality far over brand loyalty. Realizing this psychographic makeup of its target audience, eryn brinié created a unique platform for itself in New York to "support artists that reflect the curious and adventurous world" the brand represents.

In October, eryn brinié worked with Robert Whitman, a photographer with whom we've had a long relationship. Whitman has worked in advertising and fashion for more than 20 years. He has an exceptional eye that allows us to experience the world and the people in it in a way that we wouldn't otherwise. We worked with Whitman to curate, print and produce a unique hybrid installation, "Looking Glass," which comprised both a fashion campaign and fine-art photographs. Cesarina Ferro, Whitman's representative and collaborative partner here at Duggal, worked closely with Whitman to execute his campaign vision for eryn brinié.

For the in-store gallery installation, Whitman provided us with the 35mm negatives of his photographs, which we printed and enlarged to sizes as large as 10 feet by seven feet. Although today most of my business is from digital printing, I'm extremely proud that I've continued to provide traditional printing services to photographers like Whitman who are emotionally connected to the tactility of hand processing and printing photographs. To highlight the fact that his photographs were printed directly from film, we printed them with the frame of the negative visible as a border around the image. The largest print was T-pinned to the wall and allowed to float to showcase the sheer size that we can print film, which is 72 by 120 inches.

Whitman complemented his in-store fine-art installation with images of the collection he chose to shoot on small Polaroid film. Instead of bearing the huge expenses of an elaborate fashion shoot, Whitman approached the eryn brinié Fall Collection with the same simplicity and spontaneity that has characterized his work for more than 20 years. Whitman shot the eryn brinié campaign on Polaroids to appeal to their youthful clientele and to have the campaign be one of a kind and reflect his work displayed in the store. This campaign of instant, unmanipulated Polaroids represented a stark departure from the commercial fashion photographs that adorn most retail houses. It's rare to find a client like eryn brinié who would give us complete freedom to create, install and curate Polaroid images in their showroom and encourage us to highlight Whitman's photographs. Their choice to place more emphasis on art than commerce, I believe, will create a brand that can quickly gain the trust of a large audience. This trend toward sincerity and customization is here to stay.

The interesting thing I found out about Whitman is that although he has been shooting digital for more than two decades, he still prefers to use film when he can. Film allows him to be surprised, as it offers unexpected moments and mistakes—pictures that he considers his best photographs. This unadulterated quality that Whitman loves about film also characterizes his photography style, which is perfectly suited to the hip, noncorporate brand personality of eryn brinié. This was one of the few pure traditional photography exhibitions we've done where no digital format was used either for the fashion shoot or the fine-art works that were being displayed.

I'm glad to see brands like eryn brinié change the rules of advertising and fashion imagery. Hopefully, now, the staying power of a brand will be represented by simplicity and continuity, not the jolts of fad-based fashion ideas. This is, in many ways, a return back to the basics when timelessness and subtleness were rewarded, and iconic imagery was created through a close creative collaboration between a photographer and a brand.

So as we all get back to the basics, it's advice from Whitman that I'd like to share: "Don't be influenced by the style of current trends; find your own particular direction and style."

Baldev Duggal, president and founder of Duggal, has been innovating visual solutions for image-makers for more than 40 years. Credited with building and designing the industry's first dip-and-dunk processing machine, Duggal has maintained his status as a leader in the imaging business and is heralded for outstanding service by consumer and trade magazines alike. With digital capabilities reaching worldwide, his headquarters covers a block on West 23rd Street in New York City.
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