Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Fashion Photography

The New York Times discusses a photo spread in a recent Vogue India and how it was created:

NEW DELHI — An old woman missing her upper front teeth holds a child in rumpled clothes — who is wearing a Fendi bib (retail price, about $100).

A family of three squeezes onto a motorbike for their daily commute, the mother riding without a helmet and sidesaddle in the traditional Indian way — except that she has a Hermès Birkin bag (usually more than $10,000, if you can find one) prominently displayed on her wrist.

Elsewhere, a toothless barefoot man holds a Burberry umbrella (about $200).

Welcome to the new India — at least as Vogue sees it.

Vogue India's August issue presented a 16-page vision of supple handbags, bejeweled clutches and status-symbol umbrellas, modeled not by runway stars or the wealthiest fraction of Indian society who can actually afford these accessories, but by average Indian people.

Perhaps not surprisingly, not everyone in India was amused.

Mmm. Imagine a restaurant chain doing a photo spread about the starving of the world eating their steak-with-barely-bruised-gooseberries, not to feed the poor but to sell the food to the wealthy. I can see why some might not be amused when the people in the photos are never going to be able to afford the advertised products. Besides, I doubt that the poor fashion models were allowed to keep that expensive bib or that Burberry umbrella, though I may be wrong.

But take a step deeper: Is all this super-consumption perfectly OK if the photos don't show any of the poor who can't afford the products? I'm entering into the ouch-territory here and should probably not go any further lest this post becomes a long treatise on global capitalism and the like.

Instead, I will note that fashion photo shoots have a long tradition of using "exotic" poor people as a colorful and artistic background for the pictures. The emotions that evokes are every bit as difficult and unpleasant as the ones discussed in the New York Times piece. Or have been for me at least.