12 October 2010

Erik Madigan Heck speaks fashion frank

Those who have read this blog for a while may or may not remember previous posts about online publication nomenus quarterly that I made in March, June and December 2009. The work of photographer and nomenus quarterly editor Erik Madigan Heck is consistently noteworthy and for someone like me who has been growing ever-increasingly cynical toward the fashion industry, Erik is a real breath of fresh air and an exciting prospect for the future of fashion imagery and publication.

Erik recently spoke in depth with A BLOG curated by contributor Dan Thawley about two new series of photographs, based around the work of Jun Takahashi for Undercover and of Haider Ackermann, which feature in issue ten of nomenus quarterly, released 1 September 2010.

Below are some excerpts from what is an interview that really sheds light on Erik's motivations in terms of his photographic practice as well as his ideas about the fashion and art industries more broadly.

I suppose I am an advocate of more considerate fashion photography, or at least fashion photography that can engage viewers outside of the very small industry that we work in. We have to keep in mind how small our industry really is, and how boring it can be if we just stick to glossy skin with standard fashion poses in a studio.

I attempt to use the clothing to talk about things other than just the clothing - things that may be in the back of our minds that are ultimately more important than just a shirt or pair of pants.

For the most part my professors dismissed fashion and fashion photography as a cheapened artistic practice that really didn’t have any relevance to the art world. I disagreed considerably, granted I was in an MFA program, not a fashion program, but I always felt that fashion could be discussed and considered with the same amount of thought and social depth as art photography is discussed.

For both types of photographs are a catalyst to discuss something larger, whether it’s a portrait of a woman by Katy Grannan hung in Chelsea, or a portrait of Guinevere in a fashion spread, you can speak about both images in relation to feminism or the current role of women if you choose to take the conversation there.

The danger with creating [the Undercover] series was that it’s very easy to immediately dismiss the images as naïve, or made purely for shock value. But I wanted to challenge people to really think about what they are looking at, because that’s what street culture does at its core and that’s what Jun Takahashi does with Undercover. The street as a metaphor brings an energy and thought process to a more or less commercialized culture, until the mainstream eventually appropriates it and in turn makes it commercial. Which is what happened to hip hop in the mid 90s by white suburban kids like myself, and what hipsters have done to New York in the last 5-10 years.

Yes we are [in the business of selling a product], and in Art it’s also about selling a product too. A painting or a sculpture are also commercial products, but there are ways to create that can stimulate minds and conversation, and there are ways to do it where we are just filling pages with catalog imagery and the latter is too often what we are settling with. There is inarguably an establishment of photographers and art directors accounting for 90 percent of what we consume visually in fashion today, we all know their names - they are celebrities. From them we see the same aesthetic formulas time after time: furthering this sort of inverted hipster-utopian American Apparel culture. They are essentially sending the message to emerging photographers that in order to be successful you have to find your recognizable formula and never stray from it.

I think that we have reached a period where the element of money has become the central focus in fashion, and its very scary to me. It's scary to pick up a fashion magazine today and see a litany of thoughtless spreads created by photographers and stylists who aren’t truly realizing the power they have to make something thought provoking, and instead are imitating their surroundings. I think people should want to alter the norm, or want to make a statement of some sort, even if it is as simple as attempting to create the most beautiful image ever made - which in itself can be a very powerful political statement. Instead we discuss who is paying for the spread, and how to appease an advertiser who wants the same look as their competitor. And that is very frustrating.

To read the entire interview follow these links: Part I (Undercover) and Part II (Haider Ackermann). All pictures by Erik Madigan Heck.


Blogger doctork said...

I like his ideas but the commercial realities always seem to win out. What he is talking about surely is ART or photojournalism albeit with fancy clothes in the frame. Perhaps he is a little naive in where he wants these images published.

12 October, 2010 22:03  
Blogger Raul Bonatiu said...


10 November, 2010 23:19  

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