Weird Beauty at the International Center of Photography on a Sunday

Last Sunday, a dear friend and I went to the International Center of Photography (1133 Ave. of the Americas) to see their current exhibition, Weird Beauty: Fashion Photography Now. Of late, there has been either an attempt on artists and photographers’ part to claim fashion photography ought to stand with the giants of fine art.  Or, the art historians and museum curators are generously including fashion photography in the world of high art.  Who knows which way this debate is going?  It could be three sided with curators and art historians at odds with one another!  Besides, we have pre-emient photographers “slumming” in Vogue, Elle and W magazines like Annie Leibowitz taking a dive with Vanity Fair, or Cindy Sherman’s affair with Vogue Paris, and Nan Goldin who apparently works regularly with a German children’s magazine.

While there I was a little disappointed in its presentation.  The pieces looked as if the curators commissioned the proof pages from each magazine rather than the actual print itself.  This was slightly annoying because the pieces were magazine page size, they had captions, page numbers, and other distracting text like titles.  Worse, there seemed to be too much.  There were far too many photographs on the walls and seemed to be organized in a kind of haphazard way.  The photographs for each artist went from left to right, but sometimes a piece was singled out as a sort of detail.  This lone piece was usually larger in size and scattered through the other lines of work.  This is difficult to imagine.  Chaos is always difficult to imagine.

Outside of the vying and fighting with other guests, it was an interesting show.  Some pieces were more provocative than others. Some left no impression.  All were extremely colorful.  Many I had seen before since I tend to pick up a fashion magazine every once in awhile to keep my feet wet.  Many I hadn’t seen, but I would not have missed them if I had never seen them.  Generally, I wouldn’t consider fashion photography fine art.  True, the basic fundamentals of composition are present, there seems to be a narrative, but the narrative is where the problem lies.  Most fashion photography is about desire.  It is about obtaining a lifestyle larger than life or surreal.  Its audience is narrow.  Not much time is required to evaluate the works because they are relatively simple linear stories. And I would hope “art,” whatever that means, hopes to aim for something more complex than that.

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