Fashion photography has a dimension that is unconcerned with the chronology of history. Together with the stylist, the photographer can lend fashion meaning and a timeless modernity – sought-after qualities that simultaneously contradict the constant cycle of change that is emblematic of fashion. Photography can recreate reality according to the escapist and imaginative conditions of the fashion world, provoking thought and feelings that move beyond the realm of what’s visible in the image.
When we started Contributor in 2008, people compared fashion to a dinner at a fast food restaurant. We didn’t think we were there quite yet, even though the industry cut corners to move forward as fast as possible, leaving behind the true interaction and exchanges between people. We believed in the importance of the basics of atelier work, of how sharing your creativity with others can lead to overturning your world and pointing you in new directions.
The photographs of the 20th century would function as memories in a frame or an album. The digital image on the other hand doesn’t really exist; it’s just a series of letters and numbers. The development of digital technology means that the photograph is no longer fixated in time, as it was in the era of Roland Barthes’ analyses of the analogue image. After having lunch in Paris in 1980, Barthes was hit by a van. At the time of his death he had just finished writing Camera Lucida. Barthes’ starting point for the autobiography was a photograph of his mother as a young girl in a winter garden. “She is dead and she’s going to die,” was Barthes’ description of the feeling of looking at a photograph of someone who has since died but in the image is frozen in time, very much alive. The camera always captures a moment that is forever lost, and Barthes emphasized the link between the analogue, chemically developed photograph and death. But one can’t help but wonder: had Barthes received the impulse to write Camera Lucida if he had first had to find the photograph of his mother on one of his hard drives?
With computer generated imagery you can create something really extraordinary that challenges conceptions of truth, time and nature. Today we know that fashion photography per definition lies. But despite the infinite possibilities facilitated by the digital lie, looking at fashion photography is still often a process of identification with images of fetishized artificial femininity and masculinity. In On Photography (1977), Susan Sontag wrote that people in industrialized countries strive to be photographed. We feel that it validates us, that we become real. It’s easy to forget that it isn’t reality that becomes available through photography, but rather representation.
Today, too much editorial work is driven by a kind of regime of clarity; it’s all centered on straightforwardness, control and focus on specific garments. The boundary between the fashion establishment and the experimental seems to become more and more defined. At Contributor we have a hard time seeing the point of crystal clear messages. For us antitheses to the stripped and rational are very important.
A large part of the fashion industry is about advertising. That’s how it has always worked. Helmut Newton writes in Pages from the Glossies: “These pictures are taken for a very definite purpose: to influence, to sell a product, in short of propaganda.” That’s one reason why many of the negatives of Man Ray’s fashion photographs weren’t preserved. Helmut Newton on the other hand burned many of his negatives, simply to increase the value of the prints. But fashion photography can be about more than selling products. Through poses, fashion, hairstyles, settings and make up, artists can create stories that continue outside the picture. Within the much-discussed crossover between art and fashion, artists do not only model in fashion magazines, fashion also becomes an artistic project in itself. In the documentary style that we love at Contributor, the photographer participates, as well as observes and narrates.
Fashion photography continues its pursuit of the right feeling, often in a borderland between good and evil: true and false; reality and fantasy. Sometimes with a statement that youth is wasted on the young, as a rendering of a certain symptom of nostalgia for a short period in life when everything is lived with an intensity and energy, which adults are unable to ever experience again. Fashion photography is an ongoing process. It’s about exploration and continuous questioning of boundaries, norms and established truths. You never know what’s going to happen next, you’re already on your way into another story.
Contributormagazine.com is an online publication launched in 2008 as an alternative to traditional fashion media, with an index that chronicles the portfolios of the artists contributing to the site. In the same spirit as the website, the print issue of Contributor is published twice a year in keeping with the seasonal cycles of fashion. The publication is both aimed at professionals within the fashion industry and a broader audience interested in fashion as a creative field. Contributor is committed to supporting emerging careers while providing a space for some of the most distinguished artists in fashion photography to work outside commercial expectations.
Contributor is available in selected stores worldwide. The production team behind Contributor consists of editor-in-chief Robert Rydberg, creative director Martin Sandberg, publisher Antonia Nessen, fashion editor Christopher Insulander and executive editor Magnus Magnusson, working alongside editorial partners based in Stockholm and New York.