by Barb on June 20, 2012
Critics of Bulgarian fashion magazine, 12 Magazine, say that graphic photographs depicting women to be “victims of beauty” glamourize and condone domestic abuse. In response, editor-in-chief Huben Hubenov contests that the spread did anything but promote domestic violence on account of the fact that “this shoot was left without an introductory text, thus allowing everybody to translate it the way they want” in an email sent to NY Daily News. Hubenov continues in his email and urges audiences to take a closer look at the photographs as opposed to “leaping to conclusions,” and by doing so, “they would’ve seen girls who look at us strongly, who look confident, who are above the wounds, above everything. They are independent.” My apologies, but in taking a closer look at this editorial, I cannot agree with the argument of a reclamation of status and power.
I would like to to proffer a more theoretical lens, and consider the ideas of objectification vs humanizing, and fashion photography vs documentary photography. The first reaction that I had when seeing the photographs wasn’t one that leapt and connected such with domestic violence, but rather, one that labeled the spread as “distasteful.” Granted, I can see the connection that can be made; however, I find that the editorial has a much deeper reading given its presentation in a fashion magazine and its particular use of women.
The immediate that question that strikes me is why does this particular editorial hit such a nerve when there are many others that showcase women as the “lesser sex,” objects, and overall hyper-sexualized (granted, there have been discussions on these particular themes)? What I theorize to be part of the answer is the consideration that the women in these images are not being objectified, but rather, humanized. For instance, the relation of the word “victim” adds a nuance of human quality that should be associated with the models in these photographs, as opposed to relating them to simple advocates of clothing and accessories. In forging this connection, the editorial brings the subjects closer to us, and begs us to relate it to what we so often connote these messages to mean from various media – domestic abuse. In part, the strong reaction towards this set of images stems from the fact that they lack duality. The argument that women are reclaiming their body by posing in hyper-sexualized stances is one that is often used and can be bought (to some degree), but here, there is little to convince the audience that there is anything more than an exhibitionary order of women.
Perhaps what is even more problematic is the study of fashion photography itself. Semiologist Roland Barthes contended in the appendix of The Fashion System that all fashion images could be simply divided into three categories: the literal representation of fashion (i.e. the showing of the garment), romanticization (i.e. fantasy), and mockery. To test the theory, one could easily pull a variety of editorials and find that they all, to some capacity, lean one way or another, with some crossovers, towards these labels. That in itself presents the issue of what we call this editorial. By no menas does it represent fashion in the most literal of sense, which leaves us sitting uncomfortably between the creation of a fantasy and the mockery of violence perpetrated towards women. This inability to categorize what should be so systematically simple creates a conflict within the viewer’s frame of mind upon first glance.
With that said, the larger problem on-hand, however, is the fact that all of fashion photography is a construct. Documentary photography captures, in theory, what is reality and what the eye has seen, whereas fashion photography creates its own narrative from beginning to end. Therefore, the abstraction of randomness or flukes do not exist here – everything is deliberate. At which point, we must also note that the involvement of memory is mutually exclusive. There is no particular overlap or remembrance of “what has been,” which we find to be common with our own images; instead, we rely on societal context to dictate our perceptions of what is put before us. In which case, it may very well be clear why critics leap to “domestic violence;” the only societal reference that we have to relate such images to are the stories of abuse that we discuss and hear of, thus finding basis in cultural sensitivities.
Images via NY Daily News