Behind The Lens: New Exhibition Explores The Female Body In The Fashion Image

Behind The Lens: New Exhibition Explores The Female Body In The Fashion Image

The curators of Posturing: Photographing the Body in Fashion discuss disruptive bodies.

The curators of Posturing: Photographing the Body in Fashion discuss disruptive bodies.

Text: Rosie Higham-Stainton

The body and its service to, and disruption of clothing is the focus of a new fashion photography exhibition, featuring the likes of Brianna Capozzi, Marton Perlaki, Coco Capitan, Charlie Engman and Johnny Dufort.

Spanning fashion editorial from 2010 to 2017, not chronologically but through themes such as styling and casting, it is the first installment in a three-part creative collaboration between Curator Shonagh Marshall, formerly Curator at Somerset House, and Holly Hay - an image director and Art Buyer at Dazed Media Studio, sponsored by THE OUTNET.

This process began with Holly pulling together 150 images from the magazine archives of AnOther, i-D, Interview, The Gentlewoman, Double and Self Service, all concerned with the body, gesture and pose. Pooling their skillsets -  Holly’s commissioning of contemporary photography, and Shonagh’s curation of 2 and 3D space - the pair selected 42 for the show. Of this, Shonagh says, “I was really ruthless. I don’t know a lot of photographers, I don’t have the same relationships with them as Holly does. But if you frame something and put it on a wall it becomes something completely different, instantly. So, we had to think about what could stand up to that.”

The final selection of images speaks of a new wave of photographers interrupting fashion imagery by using the body, often distorted - be that through camera angle, pose or composition. Shonagh explains “with this group of photographers, there is always something slightly amiss.” The lead image for the exhibition is one by Blommers & Schumm for The Gentlewoman, of a model contorted, crab-like, on the pavement in Holland Park, London in a navy suit, but instantly, the eye gets drawn to a group of women wearing Hijab who occupy the background. For Hungarian photographer Marton Perlaki, the face is often hidden behind a limb or garment. “We’ve often seen a sexualised body, or an active body, in fashion photography, but this body of work felt a bit different. It felt more witty and real, almost,” Shonagh says. Holly adds “It's such a new way of seeing the body, and therefore looking at the garment. It has to make you pause for a second. It is an interruption to what we’ve been used to.”

Of the collaborative process, Holly explains that she knows “the photographers so well, and knows their work so well, and Shonagh has a completely different thing to bring to the party, to curatorially stitch all these images together.”

But collaboration stretches beyond the pair of them, to the graphic design by Amy Preston and Amelie Bonhomme and exhibition design by Georgina Pragnell, and aptly reflected the exhibition’s physical divisions by casting, styling, location, props, and art direction. “The thematic sections really carve out the different departments of a call-sheet,” adds Shonagh. Calling on long-time collaborator, Georgina Pragnell, as exhibition designer, brought “a new perspective on absolutely everything. Her eye and her perfectionism is such an incredible added layer to what we’ve done.”

Shonagh adds, “she’s done really amazing interventions, but they are really very subtle. So, the colours of the frames take the most predominant colour from the image. There’s a Pascal Gambarte image that features green, so that's the colour of the frame. You won't notice it when you walk in but as you start to walk around you will.” They also play with the hanging heights so that images aren't always quite at eye line. These small ‘off’ details are enhanced by other elements of the exhibition, which borrow from a far more traditional exhibition aesthetic. “It is white walls, with images mounted and framed in a seemingly formal, traditional way. However, there is always something a little askew.”

This playfulness runs throughout the work too. Of the photographers, Holly says, “they're very serious about their work but the output is really playful and they think it's funny; so, you learn what a gorgeous time they’ve had making these pictures.” This is not to say that there aren’t important messages within them. For instance, it is significant that these are female bodies, depicted. She adds “the images I grew up with in magazines are so different from this. It was either a really sexualised body, or grunge and that was a reaction to sexy. Everything is a reaction to what came before.” It seems that through imperfections and irregularity in composition or pose, like Lena C. Emery’s naked yoga poses on the living room floor, the female body seems to take back control.

Ultimately, these photographers are honing an aesthetic based on process and the story behind the image, not outcome. Of working with his subject, photographer Marton Perlaki says “Each subject needs a different approach. One thing is for sure though: A mutual respect is essential for this type of collaboration.” Perfection isn’t sort after, but integrity is. “These people are completely dedicated to this way of representing the body, even if they don't think of it like that, but it might be their approach to pose or the performance element in their pictures,” Holly explains. “It's so deeply ingrained in their practice, it's not a spontaneous one-off. That’s why Shonagh and I felt like it was an important body of work to put a pin in.” She adds, “it's the start of a new conversation around what the body looks like in fashion pictures. And by no means are we drawing any conclusions on that, we’re just opening up a conversation.”

Posturing: Photographing the Body in Fashion runs between Thursday 2 November - Sunday 12 November 2017 at 10 Thurloe Place, London, SW7 2RZ

The second part, a specially commissioned film entitled Filming the Body in Fashion, will be launched in December with an exclusive screening event at Art Basel in Miami Beach. The third and final instalment will take the form of a book entitled Posturing: Writing the Body in Fashion. Published by Self Publish, Be Happy, it will examine the way in which the different mediums of photography, film and print capture and explore the body in fashion.

Photograph by Blommers & Schumm, ‘Navy’ from The Gentlewomen, Autumn/Winter 2010.

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