In Controversy on May 24, 2010 at 11:48 pm

The following image is from an editorial by Mikael Jansson in this month’s issue of  Interview magazine. There are more under the cut. How do they make you feel…?

This editorial is trying to be provocative. This editorial makes a show of “diversity”. This editorial is going for ambience.

This editorial is grossly offensive.

Mikael Jansson’s vision, whether consciously or subconsciously, relies on the perpetuation of a variety of racial stereotypes.

Let’s look at the imagery here: a statuesque White woman in elegant eveningwear enmeshed within a mass of dark, writhing, sparsely-clothed bodies. What clothing we do see on the other models is derelict and vaguely tribal. We observe our adventuresome heroine (“Let’s get lost!”) as she succumbs to some suppressed sexual desire, groped and grabbed at by brutish thugs. The other greased-up revelers drink, copulate, or stare onward–predatory and listless.

What message are these images sending? What kind of glamorous ambiance are they trying to marry to the clothing?

I see destitute Black and Hispanic men and women with fiery libidos. I see an upper-class woman in an indulgent tryst with the riffraff. I see racial approbation and archaic prejudice.

This photo story fails as a fashion editorial, and waxes vulgar as art. Jansson sought to push boundaries, I’m sure, but all he managed to do on this end was roll eyes and clench fists.

Toying with notions of race, however, can make for compelling fashion imagery.

It just shouldn’t have to employ stereotypes to do so.

I am not opposed to pushing the envelop, just as long as we’re getting new ideas and poignant images out of it. Jansson brings nothing new to the table and plenty that has been long cleared away and sent to the sink. Hans Feurer, however, made me think rather than cringe with his pictorial in last Fall’s Crash magazine. Here are a few of the images:

There is a provocation as well as a tension to the first pair of images–the juxtaposition of skin colors raises an eyebrow. The mixed rainbow hues of the final two photos, however, allow the first two to be seen a new light; the use of objective, vibrant “color” overtakes, or merely garnishes, the established connotations of political correctness. This, however, is only part of my interpretation–and that’s the point. Race is undeniably present in this editorial, but the motivations of its use are open to analysis, discussion, and interpretation.

Let’s move forward–or even left, or right! There is no room for the regressive.



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