01 October 2007

Picturing Starvation

A shock campaign by photographer Oliviero Toscani
against anorexia is unveiled in Italy, featuring an
emaciated woman in an advertisement for
an Italian fashion house. © AP

Photo © Alberto Pizzoli

Here is an advertising campaign focusing on eating disorders generally, but among fashion models specifically, made by photographer Oliviero Toscani. Toscani has a reputation for similar ad campaigns, in particular for Bennetton.

The woman in the pictures is 27 year old French model Isabelle Caro who, on her own account, has been anorexic since age 13. I thing Caro has been quite courageous on this matter. She has given a set of interviews and has remarked:

"I thought this could be a chance to use my suffering to get
a message across, and finally put an image on what thinness
represents and the danger it leads to -- which is death."

"You feel as if you master everything, that you are in
total control, and then little by little you fall into
this hellish spiral, a spiral of death."

It is obvious, as some of Lauren Greenfield's work, for instance, makes clear, that eating disorders are prevelant in American culture. But those who make large amounts of money from the fashion industry are especially culpable for the way they contribute to a cultural obsession with thinnes. This seems lost on some designers who look at Caro (and other young models) and say things like this: "Finally someone tells the truth, which is that (anorexia) is not the fault of the fashion industry but a psychological problem." Such views are pathetically self-serving. Clearly there is a psychological dimension to eating disorders. But the psychological pressures young girls feel and the repertoires they develop for dealing with those pressures emerge within a political-economic-cultural context. And the immensely profitable fashion/advertising complex clearly has considerable influence on that context. I take the campaign to be aimed not at young girls suffering from or at risk for eating disorders (who need not ad campaigns but medical, nutritional and psychological support) but at those who contribute to the context within which girls grow up.

The problem with the campaign, it seems to me, is that even on-line there is no text, no substantive information about anorexia and its causes and consequences, nothing but another fashion industry image. This is the sort of shallow, moralistic "Just Say No" campaign that is peddled for drugs and sex and so on in the U.S. ...

An additional problem - at least in the United States - is the inability of media generally to deal in any direct way with human bodies. We are shown violence in the most degrading and devastating forms. But try to show a woman's naked breast! Here is the way TIME reproduced the Toscani image:

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Blogger lee said...

I am always suspicious of Toscani.The benetton ads brought out several important issues for sure. But in the end the images ( im thinking of the bloodstained and bullet holed clothing), were whatever the spin, used to sell clothes bottom line.

01 October, 2007 13:51  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Lee, I tend to agree. I think the campaign here is an in your face to the upcoming fasion extravaganzas (The French, who take the stage next week, seem to be especially pissed off.) There seems to be ample room for exploitation and self-promtion in all this. And, as I say in the post, "Just Say No" is hardly effective.

01 October, 2007 14:38  
Anonymous Dawei from Beijing said...

I wonder what considerations went into the planning of the lighting. Were they trying to make the model look more appealing?

01 October, 2007 16:01  
Anonymous brendadada said...

Thanks for this Jim, I'm a big Toscani fan, and didn't know about this campaign.

Always controversial, Toscani's photographs do the job of a zillion words, but usefully, they give the whole issue a chance to get an airing, in your post, and hopefully in the fashion and more mainstream media too. I'd like to see these photographs on the kind of billboard space Bennetton used to pay for.

01 October, 2007 16:39  
Blogger lee said...

The easiest thing to be is controversial

02 October, 2007 15:46  

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