Is the Role of the Body in Fashion Photography Changing?

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Is the Role of the Body in Fashion Photography Changing?

A new exhibition sets out to examine a shift in the mood of contemporary fashion images

AnOther Magazine A/W15. Photography by Charlie Engman, Styling by Agata Belcen

Posturing: Photographing the Body in Fashion is a newly opened exhibition co-curated by Holly Hay and Shonagh Marshall of Ground Floor Project, a creative initiative that sets out to investigate ways in which fashion can occupy physical space. As such, the pair’s first ever show, produced in conjunction with The Outnet, presents a selection of images by contemporary fashion photographers whose work often exists splayed across the glossy pages of magazines, and re-contextualises them on the gallery wall. As the exhibition’s title suggests, each image – there are 42 in total, shortlisted by Hay from a selection of 100 ­­– represent a shift in the way the body is represented in fashion imagery today. “I felt like contemporary fashion photography had a really interesting and very distinct approach to pose, gesture and posture,” explains Marshall. “It was a move away from the sexualised body and glamour to quite a strange space.”

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AnOther Magazine A/W17. Photography by Johnny Dufort, Styling by Agata Belcen
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AnOther Magazine S/S17. Photography by Johnny Dufort, Styling by Agata Belcen

“I felt like contemporary fashion photography had a really interesting and very distinct approach to pose, gesture and posture” – Shonagh Marshall

The exhibition celebrates some of the most revered names of the moment; Johnny Dufort, Charlotte Wales, Lena C. Emery, Brianna Capozzi, Tyrone Lebon, Charlie Engman and Zoe Ghertner, to name but a few. Marshall adds that this exhibition marks a departure from her curatorial work at other institutions, which includes retrospectives on Isabella Blow and Sam McKnight at Somerset House, where her role was to form a conclusion on the show’s subject matter. Instead, Posturing is very much rooted in the present, and rather than looking back, it seeks to open up a new conversation. “It’s kind of about building our own language, Holly and I,” she says. “Holly’s experience in commissioning for magazines, which is very much focussed on the zeitgeist, merging with my curatorial background has been really interesting.”

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AnOther Magazine S/S17. Photography by Mark Peckmezian, Styling by Agata Belcen
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AnOther Magazine S/S17. Photograph by Mark Peckmezian, Styling by Nell Kalonji

The shift recognised by the duo has subsequently changed the various parts played by the cast and crew of fashion shoots, argues Hay. “The role of the model is changing. They are becoming active participants in these shoots rather than passive clothes-horses. A lot of these photographers are telling models to forget everything they ever learnt. The result is images that are performative, have a humorous quality to them, and the model is a collaborator, equal to the stylist, the make-up artist, the set designer, etc. Sometimes, they won’t even be ‘professional’ models at all.”

 “The role of the model is changing. They are becoming active participants in these shoots rather than passive clothes horses” – Holly Hay 

Marshall agrees, noting that the clothes themselves are now often viewed in an entirely different manner, too. “The thing about a fashion photo is that its very function is to exhibit garments,” she says. “I think that now this is changing and it’s becoming truly collaborative. Holly would tell me, when she’s working with a photographer and stylist for example, that where the stylist might have once said ‘oh the shoe looks better now, shot this way’ or ‘the dress looks better this way’, now they say ‘that’s the best image’. And I think that’s representative of what’s happening today. Fashion isn’t front and centre anymore – it’s not the first thing you notice in these images.”

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AnOther Magazine A/W14. Photography by Charlie Engman, Styling by Karen Langley
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AnOther Magazine A/W15. Photography by Charlie Engman, Styling by Agata Belcen

Posturing: Photographing the Body in Fashion runs until November 12, 2017 at 10 Thurloe Place, London, SW7 2RZ.