Fashion photography holds a dominant position in visual culture as the perfecting gaze, the hyperreal medium par excellence. Defining the moment in terms of an idealized fashion image proves an elusive quest, one that continually moves out of focus and onto the next iteration of style. This fast changing visual dynamic is the language of fashion photography and describes a compelling dialog between the beautiful subject and the perfect image.
Fashion photography does more than simply record prevailing concepts of beauty. We have entered into the age of the spectacle where image supplants object, and takes the leading role in driving culture forward. As Guy Debord predicted in, 'The Society of the Spectacle' (1967), the fashion image itself has become more real than the material world of fashion. Our voracious consumption of fashion images clearly outpaces our relationship with actual clothing. Even fast fashion cannot keep up with our unquenchable desire for the next new thing. Fashion photography not only fulfills this demand, it creates a reciprocal dance between the medium and imagination where the currency of images matters more than the things they represent. This phenomenon of mediatization inspires fashion photography to question visual ideals in radical ways unbound by physical reality.
Anti-fashion images and pornography compete as alternate visions, helping to define the parameters of cultural values regarding beauty. For example, any comparison of North and South American fashion photo spreads indicates the arbitrary nature of acceptable standards in the depiction of idealized beauty. Leading fashion imagery requires a keen awareness of the edges of social tolerance in any cultural milieu.
Paradoxically, these obvious cultural differences involving the acceptance of certain fashion images coexist with globalization and the ubiquity of fashion photography seen on the Web. These vast and diverse cultural systems of images reveal fashion photography’s dominance as a nonverbal language of human interaction. The world of fashion changes as a result of these image systems, increasingly unrelated to a physical counterpart. This phenomenon describes the basis of Debord’s society of the spectacle. Although Debord held a critical view of this development, it is fascinating to consider his theory that fragmented views of reality have arranged themselves into a pseudo-world where they can only be passively contemplated, yet have immense social and cultural power. This hyperreal realm mirrors visual imagination where images reflect and refract off of each other resulting in new ways of seeing and interpreting fashion.
- Annin Barrett