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Fashion Has an Image Problem Glamour is predicated on transgression.

Fashion Has an Image Problem Glamour is predicated on transgression.

Suddenly, fashion photography seems stale. But not just stale — also cruel. The recent allegations of sexual abuse by Bruce Weber and Mario Testino suggest that the tension that gives most fashion imagery its charge might come at a very human cost. This should have been obvious all along — just look at the images, suffused by a vernacular of degradation, pain, and suffering. As “casting couch” practices persisted in Hollywood, the idea that a model was a mirror for a photographer’s dark urges seemed too obvious to interrogate. Or perhaps too discomforting, given that our desires were reflected in those images. Objectification was the price of admission to a supposedly glamorous world. All along the fashion food chain, everybody benefited, so long as the models kept their silence.

New York is inundated with pictures of style, but do you have any idea how to make sense of them or how they came to be? I did not, until many years ago, when I worked as a creative director making fashion ads. The library at the company where I worked contained thousands of magazines. For months on end, I combed through old issues looking for references to use in upcoming advertising campaigns. During this process, I became familiar with the worst visual clichés of the genre: people jumping for no reason, models staring into the middle distance with slightly parted lips, every kind of “native” juxtaposed with tall, skinny blondes. (See also: naked people in trees, gratuitous lesbianism, white couples on permanent safari, bodies splayed on a floor as if they were boneless dolls.) The formula for a fashion shoot seemed to hinge on pinpointing taboos, then pushing right up to their limit and often beyond. If the fantasies depicted didn’t trigger a little flicker of absurdity or distaste, the images didn’t seem to be doing their job.

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