In yesterday’s seminar we watched the BBC documentary ‘The seven photographs that changed fashion’, which invites us on a journey with photographer Rankin in his recreation of his favourite most iconic fashion photographs. This documentary was a great insight into the impact of photography on fashion, and really motivated me to do a blog post on it.
Rankin’s first recreation was of Cecil Beaton’s ‘Hat Box’ from 1934. Cecil was a well known portrait photographer, famous for his glamorous style, wit and playfulness. He created many Vogue covers throughout his career and really paved the way for an early photography style. “I wanted to make something more than a photograph” Cecil stated in one of his interviews “I created a dream world”. In Rankin’s recreation he chose to use model Sophie Ellis-Bexter, who I felt perfectly fitted the role within this photograph. He also started off using the same camera as Beaton, but later referred to his digital camera as he desired a faster and easier way of shooting. It was really interesting to see that the difference in camera, from film to digital, not only changed Rankin’s approach to shooting but also the quality of the image itself and the emotions it evoked.
The second image was Erwin Blumenfeld’s 1950 Vogue cover, a photographer who created more Vogue covers than any other. For Rankin this was really about looking at how Erwin played around with surreal imagery and explored lighting. What really amazed me about this image was the fact that it was photographed in black and white, and was bleached and coloured by hand. And so I was really intrigued to see how Rankin would go about doing this himself. For this recreation, Heidi Klum was the model and was chosen to give the photograph a modern edge. I feel like this recreation was definitely my favourite, and was the closest in similarity to the original. In the documentary Rankin analyses the image, explaining that “you do not question where the rest of the face is” and I think this is what made the image so iconic, because it’s so true.
We then went on to photographer Richard Avedon, and his ‘Dovima with Elephants’ image from 1955. Rankin first explored his perfect composition and his use of drama and spectacle to add to his images, and then set out to recreate the image. Lillian Bassman was the chosen model for this particular photograph, she had been told previously that she looked like the original model, Dovima. For this particular photograph location was just as important as the casting of the model, and so Rankin’s went to Whipsenade zoo. The final creation, compared to the original, evoked more positive emotions and an uplifting message as a result of the elephants not being chained up and being free within the photograph.
David Bailey and his photography for Vogue 1962 followed. For this particular photograph Bailey used his lover at the time, Jean Shrimpton as his model, and so it was only right that Rankin’s used his model girlfriend. This recreation was all about bringing life and energy to image, just as Bailey did to his. Having David Bailey himself on shoot was really beneficial, and it was great to hear first hand how he created that image originally. I feel like the final outcome was as great as the original and really captured the three key elements position, pose and beauty.
Helmut Newton and his eye for sexual liberation then lead on from Bailey, and the image ‘Rue Aubriot’ was the motivation behind this fifth recreation. Highly charged sexual scenarios is what made Newton’s work so extraordinary, and so I wasn’t sure how well Rankin would be able to do this. He decided to go back to the same street that Newton took the image, and also had the original model Vibeke Knudsen fly out to assist and help guide the shoot. This was an incredible recreation and was almost identical, I feel like returning to the same street and using the exact same street lighting is what really made this successful.
The sixth recreation of Rankin’s was one Guy Bourdin’s images for Vogue in 1977. For this Rankin had to really capture the provocative and erotic imagery of Bourdin’s work, as well as his storytelling style. Guy Bourdin had an eye for making commercial images feel like art, he was a creator, an image maker and a perfectionist and I feel like Rankin’s didn’t recreate that element at all. I also feel like the model casting for this recreation could have been better, and maybe this added to the image not being as successful as the others.
And then there was Herb Ritts’ ‘Fred with tyres’ photograph, which was the final and most challenging recreation for Rankin. Ritts really transformed the way that men were viewed within fashion photography and as models and so this made his work that more fascinating. Rankin used model David Gandy for this shoot, and despite him being smaller in size compared to the original model the final outcome was incredible. I love the fact that Rankin stuck to using the film camera, as I feel that this really completed the photograph. Shockingly I actually prefer Rankin’s recreation, just because it is a lot more natural and intriguing. After seeing the final image, it’s really surprising to think that Rankin struggled to shoot a male model.
What I loved about this documentary was that Rankin didn’t just set out to create the same image and that be it, he really did his research and went out to recreate the meanings, the messages within the photographs and it was a whole experience. The documentary as a whole was extremely eye opening, especially in terms of technology advancements and photography styles. I was familiar with a few of the images but not the history behind them and so that element of the documentary I also really enjoyed.
I hope this will be just as interesting for you guys as it was for me.
First it was Gucci at the beginning of the year when they were criticised for sending white models down the runway with turbans, then Chanel was accused of humiliating the indigenous Australian Culture, and then it was Vogue who had to apologise for offending people with the photographs of Kendall Jenner with an afro. But most recently Dolce and Gabbana are facing backlash after their ‘racist’ advert, which features a Chinese woman struggling to eat spaghetti and pizza with a pair of chopstick, and have been forced to cancel their fashion show in Shanghai. What is happening within these big brands for this type of cultural appropriation to keep reoccurring? What conversations are being had?
At the minute within my fashion communication and promotion course we are working our way through the creative process and the four key stages. There is a lot that happens before you can even get to an outcome, from research, investigation and experimentation to planning, analysis and development. From working through this process myself in the last few months, I struggle to understand how no one within the team of Gucci or Dolce and Gabbana decided to challenge the idea or question it.
Personally I feel that the main issue, especially in terms of what Gucci and Vogue did, is that they have chosen to use a white models and have placed features, practices and products of non-white cultures onto them instead of just using models from that particular culture, and that is the problem. When I initially saw the Vogue photo I was more offended that Vogue considered that to be an afro more than anything, and I did understand why people found the whole concept offensive. I also felt that a lot of people were more upset and angry because the model was Kendall Jenner and once again it was another member of the Kardashian’s being associated with cultural appropriation. I just feel that if you are going to use diversity then do it properly and really embrace it, and then it will be appreciated and celebrated, but for now this isn’t cutting it and something needs to change.
It will be very interesting to see how Dolce and Gabbana bounce back from this backlash and how they go about changing things moving forward. After a circulation of Stefano’s racist comments online, will getting rid of him make things any better? Let’s wait and see…