Idealised bodies, glamour and a fine art aesthetic are core elements of fashion’s escapist side, but just as regularly, there is a move toward a less conventional standard of beauty, a collective turning away from aesthetic restrictions.
The photographs included in Raw Footage, an exhibition now open at London's Opera Gallery, seem at first to be quite dominated by the male gaze that for centuries dictated the representations of women, but they also reveal an element of rebellion against social mores, artistic rules or political correctness.
Jean-David Malat, the director of Opera Gallery, who co-curated the show with Gili Karev, explains: “It took some time to figure out which artists to include. At first a lot of male artists were in the show, which can make it too much, too provocative. So we included Flore Zoé, a Dutch photographer based in Amsterdam.”
Zoé's work has a strong narrative approach, as does the work of David LaChapelle, probably the most famous and controversial photographer included in the exhibition. His 1997 Xenophobia is an obvious comment on society, while his 2001 photo of David and Amanda – Michelangelo’s David and transgender icon Amanda Lepore – reads like a celebration of beauty, however (or preferably) artificial.
Apart from LaChapelle, there’s work from other established fashion names like Mario Testino and the art director of GQ, Paul Solomons, who has collaborated with the photographer Simon Emmett, an artist known for his vivacious portraits. Together they worked on an impressive diptych of Kelly Brook, made of thousands of small shots of her in different seductive poses. “It’s very sexy, well done, and not vulgar”, stresses Malat. “Every picture is different, I can look at it for hours.”
In the context of viewing editorial fashion photography as a fine art form, Malat adds: “It’s about two or three days of work and they are expensive productions. Sometimes people don’t understand that a photograph of this calibre can take more time and cost more than a painting. With this selection we’d like to show the public that photography is a real art.”
This show is also an opportunity to introduce upcoming photographers to the art market, which in due time they are likely to combine with their career in magazines.
Such a route seems likely for Vincent Peters, whose beautiful black and white photos of Monica Bellucci, Charlize Theron and Laetitia Casta are stunning examples of natural female beauty, while his portrait of Milla Jovovich smoking, hair pushed back, almost feels like an accidental Bowie tribute. Peters’ photo of Alexander McQueen, taken in 2002, is a rare, almost anonymous and peaceful image of the late, troubled designer.
“The whole idea was to keep within the same theme of the exhibition’s title, raw footage”, concludes Malat. “Not too polished.”