From The Observer, here are 2 interesting sides to this ongoing debate – Katharine Hamnett, fashion designer, and Lorraine Candy, editor-in-chief of Elle, consider photographer Ellen von Unwerth‘s complaint that too much work is being censored by advertisers.
FOR: Katherine Hamnett
Katharine Hamnett is a fashion designer
Personally, I can’t stand fashion mags – I pick up the New Scientist about 600 times to every time I pick up a fashion magazine. I can definitely live without 300 pages of copy facing advertising.
Many fashion magazines are dinosaurs from another age that have lost their relevance. I’d only agree to look at some of them if you put me in a half nelson. Often the ads are more offensive than the editorial – the Tom Ford one where the model holds the perfume bottle between her legs was absolutely disgusting – maybe there should be more censorship. I would be a lot happier not to have seen that.
You could argue that civilisation is in decline and imagery everywhere – fine art and fashion photography – reflects this, and that it’s a lot less interesting than it used to be. Vogue in the 1950s and 1960s was breaking completely new ground, commissioning photographers like Erwin Blumenfeld or David Bailey – new, great strides were being taken not just in terms of fashion but in terms of photographic imagery as well. The covers alone were marvellous. Maybe that was the golden age, and, sadly, it’s long gone.
People are buying fewer fashion magazines these days so maybe they should strive to be more exciting to bump up their sales. The magazines are playing it too safe. They should be commissioning creative work rather than irrelevant garbage. A lot of magazines are chained and bound to whatever their advertisers appreciate. If a designer label is going to book 10 or 15 pages of advertising it follows that the magazine will be featuring their products heavily, so it’s a fairly corrupted environment.
Dealing with advertisers is very difficult. We launched a magazine called Tomorrow in the 1980s and I said we weren’t going to take any advertising – it lasted two issues. Advertising revenue is part of the magazine business model; it’s very difficult to publish a magazine that pays for itself with the cover price alone. It would be fantastic to be freed from the pressure of advertisers – you could feature all sorts of exciting things. But advertisers dictate you must do pages and pages of boring handbags – how many bags do you need in a year?
Digital photography has revolutionised fashion photography, although I think film is still superior. There’s too much obsession with the technical side of things rather than creativity and ideas. People go on about technical qualities far too much. Look at a Charlie Chaplin or a Hitchcock film – they are brilliant pieces of art despite not reaching the technical levels we expect today. You wonder, how much technical quality do we actually need?
There’s no doubt in my mind that content should overrule everything – photographers and editors have become too obsessed with form. They talk about the quality of this or that, but the public don’t notice, they are oblivious to that – what they want is an incredible, powerful image. It’s the actual concept of the image that’s the most important thing rather than technical perfection. If you look at Vogue magazines from the 1950s and 1960s there are some incredible photographs that people today would complain are grainy or something, but they are iconic images.
In the 1980s Ellen Von Unwerth’s campaigns changed everything, turned everything on its head. She refreshed the whole idiom. Ellen is a fantastic photographer – if she is grumbling about something maybe the magazines should listen.
AGAINST: Lorraine Candy
Lorraine Candy is editor-in-chief of Elle
The battle of art versus commerce is an age-old story but when recession hit and dawn rose on the powerful new digital age we were warned that commerce may have won. Creativity, the money men hinted, was to be tossed aside like a crumpled Warhol print because we’d be so desperate for advertisers’ cash we’d bow down to their demands. As it turns out, the opposite has happened. Having worked in the world of glossy magazines for 20 years I’ve never encountered a more creatively fulfilling time, especially where fashion photography is concerned. The lust for any kind of bespoke individuality (or just something visually new) has prompted fashion magazines to embrace a fertile new era of creativity. “Give us something different” the readers, viewers, users and advertisers seem to be asking.
The inspirational fantasy world of shoots by photography’s leading lights: Tim Walker, Steven Klein, Juergen Teller, Terry Richardson and Nick Knight has fulfilled this raging demand for brave visual content both online and in print.
In W magazine this month Walker has created an elaborate fashion shoot featuring a full-size straw house and a 10ft Humpty Dumpty to show off this season’s couture gowns.
And Steven Klein’s sometimes shocking, but always thought-provoking, work for Italian Vogue keeps the spirit of pioneering photographers like Helmut Newton alive – for one shoot Klein depicted the models as if they were in a plastic surgery clinic to show off the new season’s clothes, and the pictures were beautiful and disturbing. Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott’s shoot of Beth Ditto naked on the launch issue of Love magazine caused controversy when it came out as no one had dared to show a body that wasn’t a supermodel nude before on a news stand title.
Last year Rankin, whose work has dominated style magazines for nearly two decades, shot Lily Allen to showcase the clothes of young British designers for me in a blonde wig. I asked Pete Doherty, a formidable artist, to illustrate this shoot which he did (using his own blood). This project won a coveted yellow pencil D&AD design award, a first for a monthly as commercial as Elle, whose main job is to show the reader the clothes. This shoot made us more attractive to advertisers, not less. Advertising itself became brave too: Teller’s arresting images of Dame Vivienne Westwood, who is in her late sixties, in her own provocative ad campaign (I particularly like the one with a wheelie bin) are testament to this thirst for something original and unusual.
Of course editors don’t want to scare readers but fashion boundaries are there to be pushed. The great thing about this desire to explore the visual world, especially through new technology like the iPad, is that it has thrown creative people together: artists work with photographers to create images which become prints which designers then use (the London-based designer Richard Nicoll has worked with artist Linder Sterling and created collections based around her striking photography collages). Online there’s a new kind of fashion photographer: bloggers like the Sartorialist’s Scott Schumann and Garance Doré have created stunning but simple images of real people that are addictive to look at. So Ellen von Unwerth is wrong when she says we have been gagged. We haven’t, we’ve have been given a bigger, more creative voice.