Contemporary fashion photography typically concerns itself with the objectification of women. Although men are also used to display certain stereotypes and ideologies; these are usually done in a manner that portrays masculinity, power and control over women. Women are seen as objects of a passive nature, brimming with sexual desire and used to further the males prurient gaze. The contrasting images of Lana Del Rey from the October issue of GQ are a powerful example of the ideas that Liz Wells proposed.
Influential ideas about gender roles emanate from both sides of this spread in very different ways. In image one, the position and strength of Lana’s male counterpart’s hands play an integral part in the obvious dominance displayed in this image. In most cases, “male hands are usually photographed as active and controlling, female hands are invariably decorative and caressing. ” (Winship 1987) The breast itself is an object that provides sexual stimulation in men, the manner in which he cups it (with strength and purpose) suggests that he controls her sexual needs.
The value of the breast in reproductive terms should not be overlooked, again the vigor in his grip suggests that he controls whether she can sustain a child’s life which is seen by society as a woman’s natural responsibility. The same grip is used around her head to suggest that he controls mind as well as body. Lana’s hands are shown as soft and decorated, completely passive against his dominant presence further perpetuating the notion that women are to be controlled and powerless against the strength of men.
In image two, the position of Lana’s hand sends a message that she has broken free of the male presence and regained control over her body. It also vibrates with sexual freedom and presents the appearance that she can use her femininity as a weapon to combat the physical strength of men. Contemporary fashion photography is laced with ideals of femininity and has become ‘co-extensive with the fashion photograph’. Both sides of the GQ spread are teaming with feminine overtones.
The artistic and classical use of heavy rouge lipstick is synonymous with the female form. In this spread, it serves to provide a look of mystery and possibilities, the typical ‘woman in red’ scenario. The deconstruction and digital rebuilding of body parts has become common practice within fashion photography as “it makes the body more easily commodified and packaged. ” (Winship 1987). In image two, Lana’s body is stretched out and positioned in such a way to lengthen her to a height that is acceptable in modern fashion.
The lighting against the transparent curtain is extremely bright which erases half of her body to provide the illusion that she is thinner than she possibly could be in reality. This practice started after “Picasso had visually hacked up the body, we have been gradually accustomed to the cutting up of specifically feminine bodies” (Pollock 1990) This fragmentation has become a monumental part of fashion photography in recent years leading to a large degree of mental illness via eating disorders in the industry.
In September 2007, a campaign was launched by the reputable label ‘Nolita’ to combat the increasing incidence of eating disorders. A photograph was released of Isabelle Caro “naked, weighing just 31 kilos. Posed as an object of display her emaciated body looks ugly and the opposite of an of desire”. (Wells 2004) Although the image was well received by the community, there were many who opposed its worth as a preventative measure. “Health organisations feared that those suffering from this mental illness could even compare with Caro over thinness. (Wells 2004) A researcher for the Italian Department for Health, Riccardo Dalle Grave, said “You can die from this disease. If they really want to prevent it, it would be better to help young women accept a variety of body measurements and understand that beauty comes in all sizes”. In modern years, even with Nolita’s attempt at adding shock value to the illness, it is still a major part of fashion photography. Many women will look at the GQ spread of Lana and lust after an unachievable body. This photo will contribute a small negative impact on the preventative measures that have been taken.
Such a small impact may not seem to make a major difference, but if combined with all of the other photos taken with the same nature, it holds a significant amount of impact. In my opinion the spread serves to show Lana’s struggle to stardom by portraying her in a submissive role on one side and in total control of her female power on the other. This depicts the reversal of roles in recent times and how societal norms have progressed. It has been noted that fashion spreads have become about much more than just clothes, as this one has, and now “beckon us into a world of unbridled fantasies”. Jobling 1992)
Bibliography and Referencing
* Berger, John. 1972. Ways of Seeing. Penguin Publishing House, London, U. K. * Wells, Liz. 2004. Photography: A Critical Introduction. Routledge, New York, N. Y. , U. S. A. * Winship, Janice. 1987. Inside Women’s Magazines. Pandora, USA. * Pollock 1990 cited in: Wells, Liz. 2004. Photography: A Critical Introduction. Routledge, New York, N. Y. , U. S. A. * Jobling, Paul. 1999. Fashion Spreads: Word and Image in Fashion Photography since 1980. Berg, Oxford, U. K.