Aperture #216 – Editors' Note
Though this issue’s title appears in quotation marks, the intention is not to be ironic, or to suggest skepticism. Rather, the quotes allude to image quotation and reference, which are part and parcel of any creative act but are essential to the world of fashion. “In today’s professional climate . . . you’re only as good as your references,” guest editors Inez & Vinoodh note in their introduction to a portfolio of images by fashion’s most iconic and imitated photographers. Referencing is delicate, requiring thoughtful handling to avoid crossing the line into copying. Curator Charlotte Cotton remarks in her contribution that fashion photography’s often transparent use of references may be one reason why the genre is criticized from other corners. But in the end what matters is how a reference is used: when adequately transformed, you may sense a quotation but won’t recognize its source.
Transformation, in a broader sense, is a hallmark of Inez & Vinoodh’s work. The husband-and-wife team has collaborated for more than twenty-five years, breaking ground in the 1990s with their early digital interventions into fashion photography. Their work is marked by restlessness and curiosity about photography, a tension between illusion and reality, the beautiful and the grotesque, and a desire to explore the medium’s generous flexibility. The protean nature of their output has earned them both commercial success and art-world kudos. In these pages, writer Donatien Grau describes their agnostic practice as a “collaboration embedded within collaborations,” noting their frequent partnerships with artists, graphic designers, even pop stars.
The “Pictures” section comprises key influences and references for Inez & Vinoodh. Some choices may be surprising, as not all emerge from the field of fashion but instead reference styles from various periods, as in the work, spanning the 1950s through the 1980s, of Ed van der Elsken, the influential Dutch documentary photographer. A selection of the wonderfully beguiling ads produced in decades past for the Shiseido cosmetics company are a reminder that commercial art often warrants serious consideration. A collage from Pop artist Richard Hamilton’s Fashion-plate series appears on our cover, an image that playfully underscores the artifice, construction, and illusion that is fashion image making. This 1969 collage is part of a portfolio that considers photographs that have served as references for painting. Hamilton sourced his material from fashion magazines, the medium through which the story of fashion photography is often told. A new generation of photographers has gleaned much by flipping through back issues of the pioneering magazines i-D, The Face, and Jill, all of which fostered the careers of many major photographers and stylists. (The dog-eared and even cut-up copies of these publications in the Fashion Institute of Technology’s library attest to their consistent use as reference material.) Closing the “Pictures” section are two emerging photographers who reference photography’s recent past: the street tradition for Daniel Arnold and a casual diaristic touch in the work of Margaret Durow.
In “Words” we consider the growing area of fashion film, the complex relationship between documentary photography and fashion, and a conversation between two of fashion’s most influential magazine editors, Penny Martin of The Gentlewoman and Emmanuelle Alt of Vogue Paris, details the production of fashion photography and the sensitivities of using archival references when working with photographers. Alt notes that “your first music and visual influences stay with you forever. . . . You live with what was around when you first became curious.” Indeed, much of what forms this issue is culled from what was around when Inez & Vinoodh first became curious, as they note, echoing Alt’s observation, that fashion is nostalgic and based on a “string of memories.”