Richard Avedon’s 1955 photo “Dovima with the Elephants” changed fashion photography as it was once known. The photo took the creation of fashion imagery from the studio into an environment that was either realistic or fantastic. The goal of which was to inspire and give context to the clothes one would wear and the inspiration from which they came. Of course no one would prance around with elephants in a Dior evening gown, yet somehow when you see the photo you are moved by the magic behind it.
One element of the beauty of this photo is the juxtaposition of the subjects; the model the picture of youth and beauty, and the elephants ageing and mournful. Somehow there is a balance between grace and majesty of both creatures.
This photo came to mind as I read about Essena O’Neill and her “abandonment of social media” because she felt she was living a lie. What surprised me the most was popular reaction to Essena’s revelations – that most of her photos were heavily edited or contrived; that she took numerous angles and frames of each photo before getting one worthy to post; that she was paid by brands to wear and post about their goods. As someone in the fashion industry all of this is commonplace. For every ad or editorial that makes it to a magazine or billboard, there are hundreds shot, dozens selected, and several rounds of editing completed. This, to me, is common practice as so much of fashion is fantasy. We create content to inspire passion, thought, and of course, drive to purchase. We make images of products and of brands that elicit emotional responses from those that are viewing them.
Because of social media, “Instagram models” and social influencers are brands, and for them it is business as usual. But how much of fashion and lifestyle do we want to be authentic? Don’t we yearn for the fantasy of beauty, luxury, and exotic locales? If the world was truly offended by manufactured, yet wonderful portraits of life, wouldn’t they eventually cease to exist? A small contingent of the population has been pushing for more truth in advertising and select brands are attempting to tap into the small wave of changing sentiment. Aerie’s #AerieREAL campaign highlights Photoshop free celebs and models. The FTC now requires bloggers to disclose when their content is sponsored. However I predict that most brands – and when I say brands I include major social influencers in that category – will remain in the business of selling fantasy to those that yearn to buy it.