March 2011 Archives

Live and In Color


This is just a link to the Atlantic online magazine where excellent pictures of people doing something extraordinary have been posted. As a matter of not challenging copyright issues, and by adding only one paragraph of commentary below, I'll refrain from trying to further change the context of the pictures in any way.

As seen in the Atlantic posting, Hindus celebrated the Festival of Colors, Holi -- which is a popular springtime festival observed on the last full moon of the lunar month during which people throw colored waters on each other with memorable results. Since it is an annual event, then in some sense it is "ordinary". But since it is also a "special" event but in time and space, it is extraordinary. Capturing the color with crisp high-speed photography , photographers describe the effects of the event. The selectivity making up the description is a function of both a narrative and a perspective. One thing of particular interest is the degree to which the perspective of the individual pictures can represent the emotional perspectives of the people who are throwing and wearing colors. The best outcome here is that the pictures show how the participants would describe things, not how external onlookers would describe them.






PreSchool porch, Hawaii. 
Taste is all about what you decide to leave out, while style is all about what you decide to put in. When you hit a persistent balance of taste and style, you wind up with an aesthetic. 

In tourist towns, marketing is about productizing the aesthetic, and selling it is a strong domestic industry. Domesticity itself is an aesthetic imagined and projected through that industry. In the tourist town, it's important for locals to market and sell domesticity, even to the other locals, because in the face of tourists, it's important that the locals really believe in their aesthetic.

These guys went all in -- not just selling it, but teaching it too.

Copyright 2010 Malcolm Ryder

The Beholders


Throwing out over five years of jealously hoarded W Magazines means chucking a huge number of pretty great photographs that won't be coming back around anytime. But the epiphany amidst the trauma of disposals was that the only way remaining to permanently claim the accumulated clutter was not to collect it but instead consume it  -- to transform it into a memorable opinion. 

So, as an experiment, provoked by current television's dazzling breadth and show casting, and keeping in mind that all the W's at hand were the U.S. market edition, I decided to survey how W had portrayed non-caucasian models compared to caucasian models.

Unscientifically, because the first pile started where it did, I began with the target of Jan 2004 and actually looked at every page of every issue up through December 2005, where for this first go round both time and stamina ran out.

For all those issues, I completely discarded any issue that had no pictures -- zip, nada, bupkiss -- of non-caucasian models in any feature or full-page photo. (Exceptions: who knows, maybe I made a mistake somewhere and missed a shot once or twice that could have saved an issue; and, every Kate Moss photo was saved no questions asked.)

Of the surviving issues, the cover models were:

March 2004: Naomi Watts

May 2004: Uma Thruman

Aug 2004: Scarlett Johansson

Dec 2004: Daria Werbowy

Feb 2005: Renee Zellweger

Apr 2005: Lindsay Lohan

May 2005: Natalie Portman

June 2005: Gisele Bündchen

Sep 2005: Kirsten Dunst

Oct 2005: Kate Hudson

But, due to the conceits of fashion mags in general, and W in particular, most models, most of the time, on most pages under the covers, were anonymous except to the really devoted investigator.

Key trends and notes:

1. Overwhelmingly, non-caucasian models who were apparently African American (a.k.a. black) portrayed women in "real" life situations, doing "real" life stuff.

2. More than 50% of models who were photographed with darker skin were apparently caucasian models who were artificailly "bronzed" or shadow-lit for graphic effect.

3. The epic May 2004 issue contained both a transcendent and whopping Naomi Campbell portfolio and a monumental Kate Moss portfolio, rendering almost everything else in the issue pointless. But nothing even remotely like the Campbell portfolio occurred again in any issue following through December 2005. Basically, her one portfolio outnumbered the sum total of all other portrayals of black models in the entire rest of the two-year sweep. 


4. The most important use of black models was to be a backdrop for shiny stuff. These were also among the most stunning pictures, but while being brutally artistic they were also the least provocative of fantasy -- the stock in trade of most other model shots.

5. The large majority of pictures of "name brand" black women were actually pictures of either musicians or athletes -- that is, popular performers --  not of women who were primarily models. In 2004 and 2005, these black celebs can hold their own against the notoriety of the cover girls, getting some page real estate, but not on the cover. And mreanwhile, although actresses hugely outnumbered models on the covers, the models "belong" to the advertisers, while the covergirls merely belong to the magazine. As far back as 2004, magazine favorites Destiny's Child (Beyonce Knowles) didn't make the cover nor the ads, but they were getting editorial coverage. Like the other blacks and the cover girls, they couldn't just be hot; they had to earn their fashion appearance with extracurricular activity. Punchline: people don't buy fashion celebrities, but they do buy celebrity fashionistas.

6. The August 2004 issue actually failed the inclusion test, but it snuck in through a back way: it featured no non-white women, but it also very prominently featured a black man, Denzel Washington. Across many issues going forward, in W's society, black men "outweigh" black women by a large margin, simply by having their name with their picture.In 2004 and 2005, except where a black male performer or entertainment mogul was spotted, black male "models" were virtually nonexistent in W. (Assume that this last assertion is an exaggeration, but just go try to find out differently: good luck with that.)

Almost nothing of real substance is indicated by the above survey, unless of course it repeats in 2006 and 2007, and in 2008 and 2009, which would tell us all about W but not about what non-caucasians think about fashion. The 2004/2005 advertisers had decided who they would like to take their money from, and the incredibly low price-per-issue of W has always meant that the magazine is actually narrowcast aggressively to a known moneypool.

The point taken from the casual survey is that the definition of the niche addressed by W's U.S. publication probably will not change because there's no good reason to do so. With the amazing diversity being cultivated on television and on the web, a "fashion magazine" really needs to be a premium amped-up serving for a special interest group, and there is little danger that it will overwhelm or prevent other different groups, Publishers, on the other hand, might need to cater to multiple special interests -- with multiple magazines, as 21st century-style internet industry speads the haute at the expense of the merely haughty. It's not clear at all that black females, body artists, and athletes in the U.S. won't evolve pricey monthly coverage of their art of style -- not reducing Hollywood and New York, but pulling "couture" permanently across culture. Warhol/Interview disappointingly didn't do it, and for now, the example of hip hop, led by black males, will have to do.