Putting a twist on fashion photography

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Putting a twist on fashion photography

Here’s a basic truth of fashion photography: There is a model, and there is a photographer. Together, they make an image. It’s editors and advertisers who create hype.
The commercial demands of fashion photography have made it a coveted and lucrative profession. Influential images can often make or break a multi-million-dollar business, and those who succeed in creating them ― Bruce Webber, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Mario Testino, to name a few ― enjoy celestial status in the fashion industry.
Korean fashion photographers find their job intoxicatingly exciting, yet frustrating. As if to vent their creative energy, many have ventured into the artistic side of photography with personal, noncommercial projects.
It is a rare occasion to see the work of professionally active Korean fashion photographers in an art exhibition.
The exhibition “From Fashion Photography: Gotscho’s Dress Photos and Exhibition by 30 Korean Fashion Photographers,” at the Daelim Contemporary Art Museum in northern Seoul, is a collaborative collection led by French creative director Gotscho.
Although the museum’s curator, Shin Min-kyung, denies that the Koreans’ images are merely there to stage Gotscho’s works, the seven highly conceptual installations by Gotscho do seem to reduce the Koreans’ photographs to a bland backdrop.
If the fashion photographers’ images ― the painstakingly executed results of costly productions ― capture the very moment when style and money intersect, Gotscho’s pieces are entirely devoid of those values.
The celebrated photographer Nan Gordin took life-size Cibachrome portraits of Gotscho, a bodybuilder, in a gym. Fashion designers, including Agnes B., Jean Colonna, Martin Margiela and Dirk Bikkembergs, then “dressed” the two-dimensional Herculean body, sewing extremely delicate fabric onto the photographs themselves and letting it hang from the glossy surface (and placing shoes on the floor). The effect is striking, as a masculine body is decorated with the most feminine ideas conceived by leading fashion designers today.
Of these works, Jan Avgikos, a professor at New York University, wrote, “The flamboyant figure of artist as a bodybuilder dressed in drag personifies the conventional paradigm of the artist as unconventional in every respect... and the ‘Dressed Photographs’ are brimming with narrative potential... the alluring spectacle of a creative underground.”
What Gotscho does is to break the rules, reshuffle their order and then take a bold step to lampoon the very existence of fashion photography. To him, his works are not about fashion or commercialism ― even if he admits that he “works closely with the fashion industry.”
He is most proud of his “Suite Dior,” commissioned by Bernard Arnault for the window display of the Christian Dior boutique in Paris in 1997. The display, consisting of carelessly strewn garments on a chair, a table and the floor, goes beyond simply showing Dior’s clothes; the work embodies the connection between material and spiritual worlds, signifying a certain state keenly observed by an artist.
Gotscho captures a phenomenon, takes it apart and recasts it in a personal way, like any artist. Instead of hiring a professional model, the artist is himself the model, a process he describes as “an act of disappearance.” Instead of the photographer taking a picture of a clothed model, the designer clothes a photograph. “I’m not a photographer. I’m not a designer. I’m just there as an object inside the image,” Gotscho says. “Just like what Marcel Duchamp said, ‘I’m just an artist.’”
Under the metaphysical spell of Gotscho’s humor, even the most spectacular, fashionable images of our time become nothing more than insipid vanity. inescho@joongang.co.kr

“From Fashion Photography: Gotscho’s Dressed Photos and Exhibition by 30 Korean Fashion Photographers” runs until Sept. 7. The Daelim Contemporary Art Museum is located near Gwanghwamun and is open daily from 11 a.m until 7 p.m. For more information, call 02-720-0667 or visit its Web site (www.daelimmuseum.org).

by Ines Cho
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