Steven Meisel’s Water & Oil Fashion Photography for VOGUE Italia

I first saw this story on Jezebel, where deputy editor Dodai Stewart’s sentiments are that Meisel really messed up by using the “worst environmental disaster in US history” as artistic inspiration.

At first, I agreed. But then I read the comments. And now I’m not so sure where I stand.

pendletonh comments: “Art serves the purpose of reflecting upon culture. People seem to forget that fashion is still an art form, as is fashion photography. Why is it impossible to think that this might be commentary on oil spill as a product of consumption?”

bubbly*pop adds: “If it gets the message out there and people talking who otherwise wouldn’t then I’m all for it. However, like many people have said, I too am having a hard time believing it’s an altruistic spread.”

There are a lot of other great comments, too, that I’m not including here. But let’s turn it over to you now: What do you think? And where do you stand?

About Molly Gaudry

Molly Gaudry is the author of We Take Me Apart, which was nominated for the Asian American Literary Awards and the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry. You should come hang out with her at The Lit Pub.
This entry was posted in Literature, the Arts, and the Environment, People and the Environment, Willows Wept Review and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Steven Meisel’s Water & Oil Fashion Photography for VOGUE Italia

  1. Chris says:

    Hi Molly, Interesting topic. I have a hard time buying this idea that a fashion ad for Italian Vogue is genuinely interested in talking about flaws with consumption, but I do recognize the idea that this can bring a discussion to people otherwise uninterested. I still wonder exactly how it does that, though.

    However, I don’t really see a problem with artists dealing with issues such as major calamity and environmental disaster- art can be at its best when it deals with such issues. The problem with fashion is it is a blend of art and commerciality, and as such, this ad can also give off the impression that it is using the oil disaster to sell silly clothes.

    That being said, I rarely understand the messages included in high fashion.

  2. Molly Gaudry says:

    An interesting point of debate is that the oil spill’s victims, in most minds, may be animals, which, in most minds, may not be as important as the human victims. By which I mean to say that it’s more okay to do a fashion spread highlighting the animal tragedies than it would be to do a fashion spread highlighting the human victims. Say, for example, with models on fishing boats, with ropes- and anchors- and poncho-inspired fashion front and center. Or, along the same lines, a fashion spread representing the destruction to so many lives in Haiti, or resulting from Katrina–where there were clearly human victims. I think (human) audiences would just not stand for it–to be reminded of human victims for the purpose of selling outrageously expensive clothes. And I wonder if even a photographer like Meisel would think twice before posing human victims as a means to sell clothes. But in this spread, the victims front and center, that we are reminded of, are animal victims. Meisel has posed a model to look like an oil-covered bird washed up on rocks. Is he trying to sell the clothes? I can’t honestly say I think he is. Or isn’t. I mean, the clothes look like, well, a dead bird covered in oil. Who would want to wear that? How is it even possible to try to convince anyone that it is fashionable to look like bird that died in an oil spill? I don’t think it is. Which means, the more I think about it, the more I think that maybe the spread is, after all, an artistic, political statement. And remember, it’s not the photographer who added the text with prices and “where to buy” tags in the upper left and right corners of the images. It’s not even the photographer who picked the clothes. Still, I don’t think I’m defending him, actually, but I guess I am willing to believe that, as one commenter at Jezebel pointed out, no one would think twice if these images appeared in an art show. They would be controversial, engaging, and would inspire discussion and debate. And I’m not unwilling to believe that the fashion mag’s audience isn’t also the art show’s audience–or that these audiences aren’t both interested in controversy, discussion, and debate. And isn’t that what Meisel’s images are doing now–and not even in an art show but in a fashion magazine, and isn’t that somehow even better?

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