Does the digitization of fashion photography mean the death of photography?

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An argumentative essay on digital fashion photography.

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  • Is fashion photography art and does the digitization of fashion photographs spell the

    death of photography?

    By De Wet Erasmus

    1

  • Since the start of photography, the debate to have it recognized as an art form has been

    a struggle. Purists of art have always debated the issue of photography as an art form,

    but recently, purists of photography - those true to the use of film - have now debated

    whether the digitization of photography can be classified as true photography.

    Digitization is seen most clearly in fashion photography, which, aside from advertising

    photography, is the most popular and influential genre amongst audiences.

    Fashion photographers will surely see themselves as artists, especially the masters

    such as Richard Avedon and most recently, Patrick Demarchelier. But would using film

    rather than digital means to produce the work constitute the photographs as art? Could

    the digital revolution mean that the art of photography is dying?

    This is very argumentative; to say that Fashion is art is one thing, but to put

    photography as art is to join two distinctly different means and call them one.

    It is also true that fashion photography influences commercial photography in the same

    way that commercial fashion is directly influenced by catwalk fashion. High fashion is

    the art of clothes and Michelin-star restaurants are the art of food then it stands to

    reason that fashion photography is the art of the photographic industry.

    Most great artists such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Mozart and Dickens had

    commercial day jobs as many fashion photographers might consider their fashion

    work. If one would look at fashion photographer David LaChappelles work, one could

    not begin to tell you where fashion ended and art had began (www.whatseanwrote.com;

    viewed on 28 October 2009).

    A lot of fashion photography is actually exhibited in galleries as paintings and sculptures

    would. Examples of this would be the great retrospective exhibition (fig. 1.1.) of Patrick

    Demarchelier in Paris, which was the major photographic event of the last quarter 2008.

    (www.pbase.com; viewed on 29 October 2009)

    2

  • There will always be a debate on whether or not a photograph becomes art after certain

    manipulations are performed and loses its integrity as a photograph. That is the miracle

    of digital media and, since so much can now be done outside of the 'digital darkroom' to

    enhance photographs in fashion or in any means calling Photography 'Art' will stimulate

    extreme and heated debate.

    Fig. 1.1. Shows an old lady viewing the Patrick Demarchelier exhibition in Paris. http://www.pbase.com/alain_boussac/the_patrick_demarchelier_exhibition_in_paris_

    Examples of this would be the great

    retrospective exhibition (fig. 1.1.) of Patrick

    Demarchelier in Paris, which was the major

    photographic event of the last quarter 2008.

    (http://www.pbase.com; viewed on 29 October

    2009)

    What one could argue is that digitalization and

    extreme editing of fashion photographs could

    give it an artier feel. For instance, Nick Knight,

    one of Britains most renowned fashion

    photographers, tries to compose his images as

    a painter would, using all the design elements

    as an artist would. One can see this in fig. 1.2.,

    where he attempts to edit his fashion image

    with digital paint added in with the help of

    Photoshop. (Hint Magazine 2009; viewed on

    28

    October 2009) Fig.1.2. Image by Nick Knight http://www.hintmag.com/shootingstars/nickknight/nickknight01.htm

    The digital age has brought with it a whole

    bunch of new photographic techniques, and

    3

  • with that, a new breed of professional photographers being blamed for the death of

    photography. There is a distinction between photographs of real subjects, and

    computer-manipulated images of unreal or even hyper-real subjects. Some fine art and

    fashion photographers have, for creative purposes, found these techniques liberating,

    whereas the purists find highly stylized imagery going against what photography is

    about: Recording the world around us. About conventional photography, Nick Knight

    has said, its dead on its legs (Peter Rentz; viewed on 30 October 2009).

    Around the early nineties, there was a major stylistic break between highly stylized retro

    images, such as use of ring flash which was started by Nick Knight, and experiments

    with computer-manipulated images as that was when Photoshop started becoming

    more useable. Photographers and art directors came to recognize the attraction of

    larger than life imagery, taken out of its historical context and found something new.

    One must understand that the nature of fashion and fashion photography is

    impermanent, it is ever changing and shifting trends, generates and exudes a perpetual

    in-process quality. (The Counterfeit Body: Fashion Photography and the Deceptions of

    Femininity; viewed on 29 October 2009)

    This quality is delusory however, as images and styles repeat themselves in carefully

    calculated and timed increments. What could also be said on photographers parts

    about manipulation of images is, those who can, do and those who cant, complain.

    (What Sean Wrote Blog Article: Fashion In Mirror Self Reflection ; viewed on 28

    October 2009)

    Some have even talked of a crisis of representation in photography. However, what I

    want to argue in this essay is that the manipulation of photographs tells us a lot about

    our society's standards. The new digital procedures cannot simply be reduced to a

    matter of technological improvement.

    Today, photographs on the cover of almost every magazine have been retouched using

    computer technology. (Size zero debate; viewed 28 October 2009)

    4

  • For most fashion and beauty photographers, to retire to their computers, after a photo

    shoot, to rearrange digitally their pictures has became an integral part of their work.

    Critics of digitally enhanced images are often not even photographers, but average

    people worried that a too-perfect supermodel on the cover of a magazine portrays

    something impossible, if not, at least, politically incorrect. If retouching has always been

    around, even during the prime of film photography, the new digital technology makes it

    so effortless and fast, that its use is becoming systematic. What used to be a privileged

    treatment, reserved for the cover and a few selected photographs, is now so

    widespread that virtually every photograph one can see in a magazine has undergone

    some digital alteration. (Size zero debate; viewed on 28 October 2009)

    Perhaps digitally manipulated photographs are acceptable, as long as they mutate their

    subjects for artistic purposes and not just to further exaggerate the expectations of

    feminine beauty. Some cultural critics have even talked about "the power of the image"

    and have studied the effects of visual images on individuals or groups. (The Impossible

    Image: Phaidon Press Inc; 2000; viewed 28 October 2009)

    Other theorists have often observed that the representation of women in the mass

    media is based on imagery defined by social and cultural forces which erase any trace

    of reality. Critics of digitally enhanced images are often not even photographers, but

    average people worried that a too-perfect supermodel on the cover of a magazine

    portrays something impossible, if not, at least, politically incorrect. How trustworthy is

    an image in todays visually based media? This and other questions concerning

    photographic objectivity are as old as the camera itself, amplified and made more

    complex with the advent of digital technology. (The Impossible Image: Phaidon Press

    Inc; 2000; viewed 28 October 2009)

    Nick Knight, a highly influential British fashion photographer, remains at the forefront of

    so-called hyper-real photographic experimentation. About conventional photography,

    he has said, it is dead on its legs (Hint Magazine 2009; Viewed 28 October 2009).

    5

  • Additionally, he is not convinced that digitally manipulated images those that go

    beyond the point of flattering a realistic looking image and actually warp it are even

    photography. I think imagery is what its about, and imagists will be the people who go

    into the next century. A camera will just be another tool to produce image out of a

    range of tools, he declared in an interview with Lumiere Magazine in 1996.

    (www.lumiere.com; viewed 30 October 2009)

    In the last decade, photographers often responded to the never-ending demand for

    new imagery by re-presenting, or referencing, older styles and methods of

    photography. Whatever loyalty conventional photographers had to reality and time were

    completely destroyed by the incessant referencing that was popular in this time period.

    Only when Nick Knight and other high-profile fashion photographers began creating

    images bearing no relation to reality, did critics make their accusations about the

    manipulation trend (Fig. 1.3). (www.showstudio.com; viewed 30 October 2009)

    Fig. 1.3. Image by Nick Knight shows excessive manipulation to produce this fashion image.

    www.showstudio.com/.../lg/speareoflight.jpg

    Photographic manipulations can be considered as a kind of "editing" or "rewriting."

    Because of this very characteristic, these new age images, manipulated on purpose,

    can be read and can tell us a lot about our culture as they represent, with the

    appearance of reality, the real world around us in terms of a progressing and emotional

    6

  • way. In a sense, these manipulations allow us

    to demonstrate the semiotics of photography.

    Photo-manipulation is more than just using a

    given technology, and the way it is used can

    help understand photographic representation as

    well as the values of our society.

    Photographer Nick Knight glides easily between

    the super-slick world of ad campaigns which

    includes Christian Dior and Yohji Yamamoto

    (fig. 1.4) and frank, humanistic portraits of those

    marginalized by society, he turned down a

    contract renewal from American Vogue, as he is

    In conclusion, there is no death of photography, just adaptations and a progression

    wards an all new genre of art. Fashion photography is ever changing, just as styles in

    ,

    now eager to concentrate on family matters and

    his online laboratory, Showstudio, where an

    assortment of fashion greats experiment with

    new ideas and images. Knight has found that

    the future with fashion lies more and more with

    technological advancements.

    Fig. 1.4 shows an image done for Yohji Yamamoto by Nick Knight that could have only been achieved through manipulation

    to

    art, music, and literature change. The digitization of fashion photography is inevitable

    and quite frankly, could make this genre of photography even more influential.

    7

  • 8

    eferences:R ize zero debate (2009)

    og.org/10372746-size-zero-debate-reignited-over-photoshoot-for-glamour.html

    rticle: Fashion In Mirror Self Reflection (2009)

    ace.com

    ent

    mage (Phaidon Press Inc; 2000)

    96

    eter Rentz

    impossibleimage

    eit Body: Fashion Photography and the Deceptions of Femininity, Sexuality,

    ww.daylightonline.com/thecounterfeitbody4.htm

    m/shootingstars/nickknight/nickknight01.htm

    S

    www.prl

    What Sean Wrote Blog A

    http://www.whatseanwrote.com/2008/08/fasion-in-mirror-self-reflection.html

    Nick Knights Showstudio (2009)

    www.showstudio.com

    One Model Place (2009)

    http://www.onemodelpl

    Science Direct (2009)

    http://www.sciencedirect.com

    The Age (2008)

    www.theage.com.au/entertainm

    The Impossible I

    Phaidon Press, Inc.

    Knight Vision by Stephen Todd, published June 19

    P

    http://www.peterrentz.com/1998-2003-Web-Type-Carlos/

    The Counterf

    Authenticity and Self in the 1950s, 60s and 70s [Page 2]

    w

    Slate Magazine (2008)

    www.slate.com

    Hint Magazine (2009)

    www.hintmag.co

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