We Spoke To The Curators Of Posturing: Photographing The Body In Fashion
Fashion has long been fascinated with the female body. It is the metaphorical map that informs and inspires collections, its changing form coming to reflect the zeitgeist of politics, class and history. And now, a diverse new group of fashion photographers are re-examining the depiction of women’s bodies in their work, placing it into new shapes, gestures and forms, reflecting a defiant new movement in the medium.
It was this idea that laid the groundwork for Posturing: Photographing the Body in Fashion, a group show opening in London tomorrow, dedicated to a new stylistic epoch in contemporary fashion photography, and the first iteration in a three part series with Outnet.com. According to the show’s curators, Holly Hay, Art Buyer at Dazed Media Studio, and Shonagh Marshall, curator behind numerous Somerset House exhibitions, the depiction of female bodies is characterised by a newfound exploration of pose, gesture and cultivation of character – reflected in the photographs collated from 2010 to 2017.
The show, presenting the work of photographers from Coco Capitan, Charlie Engman and Johnny Dufort to 10 Magazine contributors Estelle Hanania, Blommers & Schumm, Reto Schmid and Charlotte Wales, is separated into thematic sections – casting, styling, location, props and layout, presenting a bold new vision of the female body in fashion. The series will continue in December with a film, shown at Art Basel in Miami Beach, and will conclude with a book, Posturing: Writing the Body in Fashion released in March next year.
We spoke to Holly and Shonagh to find out more…
FINN BLYTHE: Could you tell me a little bit about how the exhibition came together? What drew you to explore the depiction of the female body in fashion?
SHONAGH MARSHALL: I was curator at Somerset House for four years and I co-curated Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore as well as working with Sam McKnight for three years. I felt that contemporary fashion photography had been exploring a real shift in the way that the body had moved from this sexualised, glamorous depiction of the body as an exhibitor of the garments, to this sort of strange, witty, surreal approach to pose. So after talking to Holly about it, who has an incredible knowledge of contemporary fashion photography and she put together 150 images from about 36 contemporary photographers. From there, we got down to about fifty images and from there I started to do lots of research into how we were going to group them all together, and how we were going to make the project stand up curatorially.
FB: The show is divided into five sections – casting, styling, location, props and layout – has this changing depiction of the female body occurred at the same time across each of them?
HOLLY HAY: I think so. There’s this common theme with all the photographers, that they do have a very particular approach to the body. Obviously their process differs hugely but there is a common thread that ties them all together; the humour in the pictures, this extraordinary exploration of pose, the domestic locations – all of those thing feel quite commonplace. It was really important to us that this approach to body came through everything they did and not just in the images that we’ve chosen for the show, that it was part of their process whatever they’re shooting for.
FB: What do you think is behind the change?
SM: I think there are always shifts and cyclical changes in fashion. But interestingly, if you ask the photographers [about their work], they say ‘of course, it’s hilarious’ – so that’s a real running thread that might have come out of the world we live in – there’s a lot of difficult things going on and I think they’re all very mindful of that. This is a space for play and enjoyment – which is not to say they’re not serious about their work, they certainly are, it’s just not the same serious approach to the exhibiting of the garment, it’s more joyful. We could have gone quite far back in terms of looking at the body in an interesting way, but we wanted to make it contemporary – it’s about a time when you see these images in every magazine – they’re everywhere.
FB: Is it something completely new?
SM: I think a lot of artists that have dealt with it in the past in really interesting ways. They have this playful approach to the body which makes you look at the body – what it’s wearing, the surroundings – in such a specific way. Surrealist artists have certainly played with something that first into this, but that’s a whole different show.
HH: What’s funny is all of these images have been taken in order to sell clothes. These magazines have advertisers to please, but they’re being so playful with the way that the garment is seen, and I think that being something so widespread does feel quite new.
FB: Fashion photography is so often criticised for an irresponsible depiction of the body. Do you think these new photographers are changing that? That they are empowering women?
HH: Totally. I think what we’ve learned about these images and the way that they’ve been made, is the person cast in the picture is as much a collaborator as anyone else on set that day, and that goes through every single shoot that we’ve shown here. I also think in terms of the role of the model, they’re often not the traditional models, it’s always someone who’s been selected for what they’re bringing to the party. They’re being thought of as characters, not clothes hangers, and their character, as well as the clothes and set design, are part of a story and the story is integral to the image.
FB: What can you tell us about the next two instalments with Outnet?
HO: For the next part we are commissioning a film that will be shown at an event during Miami Basel, which will kind of extend the themes of the exhibition by talking about gesture and pose in fashion through moving image, and then the third part will launch during Hong Kong Basel.
SM: It will be a book that contextualises a lot of the things thew show deals with, it’s essentially a space to commission writers. It’s all about different imprints really, so whether photographing the body in fashion, filming the body in fashion, writing the body in fashion – how do these different mediums create a different product?
Posturing: Photographing the Body in Fashion is on at 10, Thurloe Place, SW7, from November 2nd to November 12th
Image credits, from top:
Blommers & Schumm, ‘Navy’ from The Gentlewomen, Autumn/Winter 2010
Lena C. Emery, ‘The Practice’ from The Gentlewomen, Spring/Summer 2014
Brianna Capozzi, ‘Laura Ashley’ from Double Magazine, Autumn/Winter 2016
Pascal Gambarte, from Marfa Journal, Issue 6, November 2016