13 September 2006

Making Torture Unfashionable - "State of Emergency" (2)

As I scan the various fashion blogs, it seems that many of the denizens of that domain find Steven Meisel's "State of Emergency" simply "fabulous!" and "sexy!" ( e.g., [1] [2] [3] [4] . . .) Since I think the series is self-indulgent crap (a technical term that is used insufficiently in photo criticism), I thought it might be useful to provide some examples of work that addresses similar themes more effectively, and certainly less offensively. It is not really too difficult to find examples - and that is not just because Meisel sets the bar so low. I will set aside the obvious example of Leon Golub whose several Interrogation series addressed earlier instances of US sponsored torture. (The irony is that while Golub relied on sado-masochistic pornography to imagine what torture might actually look like, Meisel is using images of actual torture to craft and peddle soft-core S&M porn.)

So, for instance, last year Columbian painter Fernando Botero exhibited nearly 50 paintings and drawings reacting to the revealtions of torture at Abu Ghraib. Here is an example:


Photographer Antonin Kratochvil has produced a series entitled "Homage to Abu Ghraib," from which I've lifted this image:


Sculpter Richard Serra produced this "Stop Bush, 2004" poster for the elections; even though he denied (in Artforum no less) that the poster was "art," I believe it ended up in the Whitney Biennial.


And around the same time as Serra's work, a variety of clever iRaq posters mysteriously appeared in several major American cities. (To the best of my knowledge these were anonymous.)


None of these appeared in a fashion magazine. None requires that we look at a plasticized, emaciated woman having faux-military knees and thighs jammed up between her splayed legs. None is "fabulous!" or "sexy!". Each of them makes its point nonetheless.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Rebecca said...

I guess the absence of beautiful wome being beaten and abused makes these images less compelling...

14 September, 2006 09:59  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

women sorry, argh typos

14 September, 2006 10:00  
Anonymous Der Haken said...

Your points are not wrong. Your examples are properly chosen ... but still, there is more to it. It is a question of 'Whom do you reach'. Using the channel Vogue and Vogue "aesthetics" you reach people of whom very few have actually seen your examples.

Furthermore, after two days I have to criticise Meisel as well. I presented the pics to a female who seems to be used to "Vogue Aesthetics" ... and she made a completely different story from it. In her perception the skinny girls are bad spy ladies who probably get arrested for good reasons. Now here is my point, Meisel's pics are not clear enough in their statement, they still leave too much room for interpretation to be 'really good'

and even more. I do not find Meisels pics sexy, not really.

(by the way, I like your blog)

14 September, 2006 15:55  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Thanks for the comments. As for "whom do you reach" I agree somewhat. I disagree, in part because, the Serra "poster" was on bilboards in Manhattan (on 9th Ave) and the IRaq posters were all over LA and NYC (the Spring Street subway station, for instance) and so reached a lot of people.

As for the Vogue style, I guess I find it irrelevant to the enterprise ... he seems (to me) to be trying to make the images sexy and many of the blog comments make that obeservation ... I find that repugnant ... whether he succeeds of not is another issue, though, and about that I agree.

In any case, I do appreciate your comments, thanks for writing!!

14 September, 2006 18:40  

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