20 January 2013

Another Fashion Disaster

Chain of Command ~ The National Guard’s 69th Infantry was instrumental in delivering food and water to those hardest hit from its base at the Lexington Avenue Armory—and keeping a nearby hospital running. Photograph © Annie Leibovitz/Vogue  - From the series: Storm Troopers.

I hardly am a fan of fashion photography or of the more general preoccupation with glamor. I've made that plain here many times before. My objections are not just that the industry exploits and endangers teen girls. Indeed, the urge to exploit seems to recognize no bounds. Now, apparently, when fashion photographers and editors exercise questionable judgement, exploiting hardship and suffering for fun and profit, everything is OK just so long as their melding of models and militarism rises to the level of "not wince inducing?" I will grant that Anie Leibovitz's new series for Vogue perhaps is not as politically tone deaf as several made in recent years by, say, Rankin, or, worse, Steve Meisel. Indeed, it may not be as bad as some of the recent projects she herself has undertaken. So what? If you set the lower bound of offensiveness low enough, anyone can clear it.

All that seems to be lost on Rosie Swash who in this column at The Guardian operates less as a journalist than an enabler. Her claim that, because Vogue worked with other fashion industry types to raise funds for disaster relief, they have "earned the right" to exploit calamity to boost circulation numbers is, to be polite, facile. Imagine the uproar if the scruffy activists at Occupy Sandy made an analogous claim! The Occupy volunteers gave time and effort not just money. Swash, in other words,  is making excuses for the well-planned-out bad behavior of the folks who ultimately pay her salary. No fashion mags, no 'runway,' no need for Rosie's column. And, of course, absent the photographers and models and agencies, the 'industry' could not function. Hence, no need for Rosie's column. Pretty simple.

As a matter of substance, it is indeed an open question whether the various men in uniform delivered more "official" aid to those displaced or injured by the recent hurricane than, for instance, the Occupy Sandy activists. Even the Daily News, recognized the contributions the volunteers have made. And, as Rebecca Solnit has argued in A Paradise Built in Hell, that is part of a broad historical pattern.* It is no disrespect to "first responders" in uniform to suggest that much of the most immediate and most effective response to disaster comes from regular people, unpaid, in civvies.
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* Rebecca Solnit. 2010. A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. Viking. You can find my assessment of her argument here.

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