From Berenice Abbott:
From Berenice Abbott:
On August 8th, 2008 the London based daily online news magazine, The First Post, published an article entitled “White Mischief: Was Beyonce Retouched for L’Oreal Ad?” In this article, the author discusses controversy surrounding a recent L’Oreal advertisement with spokesperson, popstar Beyonce Knowles. The article brings to attention the claims being made on both sides of the controversy. Stating firstly that the advertisement has been criticized for being allegedly digitally manipulated to make the African American popstars skin appear lighter. But, later, in the article the author also quotes the L’Oreal company saying,”It is categorically untrue that L’Oreal Paris altered Ms Knowles’ features or skin tone in the campaign.” The writing in the article appears to be unbiased and to leave the reader to decide for themselves what they believe.
However, the picture accompanying the article makes a very clear point: the photograph was altered. The photograph displays two pictures of Beyonce, side-by-side, so as to easily juxtapose against one another. In the picture on the left there is Beyonce’s ad with L’Oreal and to the right there is a picture of Beyonce in what one assumes to be her more natural appearance. The picture to the right displays Beyonce with black, curl hairy and black eyebrows. However, this in fact is not Beyonces most common appearance.
One can see clearly from quickly glancing at the image results after googling Beyonce that her hair does tend to be blonde or least have some blonde in it in most pictures and rarely is it her natural dark brown/black color. Clearly, the author of this news article is trying to persuade the reader to think that the picture was digitally altered.
The picture accompanying this news article brings up an important lesson. The news article is discussing the color of Beyonce’s face, not her hair. In fact, the advertisment is for a hair lightening product. The controversy is not over her hair, it is over her skin color. But, perhaps the the controversy is more about Beyonce’s overall apperance than just her skin color and that includes hair.
Perhaps, the author of this article wanted to drive home a point more strongly, that “white” is not the only form of beauty; that a celebrity as beautiful as Beyonce should not have to have her image artificially manipulated to make her any more appealing in a magazine ad. Perhaps, the author felt it was morally wrong of L’Oreal to imply such a narrow view of beauty and to conform to this one commercial look seen throughout magazines. In the end, although I do think the picture accompanying the article is a little misleading about the average appearance of Beyonce, it was important in making a shocking, morality based point. Afterall, maybe there SHOULD be controversy around Beyonce’s hair and the message it sends to little girls. Even though, I do not believe her skin was digitally lightened, I do believe the ad aims to make Beyonce appear “whiter” through lighting and her hair styling and color. Many argue, this picture is immoral and misleading even if it was not digitally altered.
In a section of her writing “On Photography”, Susan Sontag discusses the poet Walt Whitman and photographer Diane Arbus in great length. Sontag begins the discussion by giving a background on photography in the United States and the evolution and trends of themes and concepts within photography.
Walt Whitman, Sontag explains, redefined the American definition of beauty. “Each precise object or condition or combination or process exhibits beauty”, said Whitman. This inspired the idea in photography that any objects can be seen as beautiful, and therefore inspired photographers to take pictures with more “trivial” subjects.
Sontag does not necessarily praise Whitman in her article, but states he at least “was not abolishing beauty”. Instead, she argues he “generalized” it. However, a very different artist, photographer Diane Arbus, Sontag feels aimed to create unattractive, abrasive picture, and perhaps did “abolish beauty”.
Diane Arbus, famous for her portraits of dwarfs and transvestites, has faced much controversy and Sontag feels particularly passionately about the value of Arbus’s work.
Arbus, Sontag argues, embarrasses her subjects and does not seek to display their unique beauty. Rather, Arbus seeks to photograph the most revolting images so that the viewer is forced to confront them. Her subjects often stare confidently at the camera, face on, in ways that they can not be ignored or hidden to appear more visually attractive.
Sontag does not see Arbus as a true artist. She sees Arbus’s work as lacking in all beauty, and therefore artistic merit and wisdom. Sontag points to Diane Arbus’s eventual suicide as providing the real nature of her work. In this dicussion Sontag opens larger questions about the meaning of art and life. Arbus’s suicide and facination with distrubing images, proves the power art and images have in individual’s lives and happiness.
Sebastian Faena grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He began his work as a fashion photographer at age 16 and moved to New York City to pursue his career at age 18. Now at the age of 28, Faena is a well accomplished fashion photographer as well as a film director. His photography is often displayed in the fashion magazine V. In the future, Faena’s work will no doubt grace the covers of magazines such as Vogue and Elle. He is a fascinating young talent who holds the potential to revolutionize not only fashion, but popular conceptions about beauty.
Faena’s photography is known aesthetically for its bright colors, impossibly clear skin, blonde hair and movement through fabric, usually blowing in the wind. Conceptually, Faena is known for depicting women in distress, love gone wrong. Faena communicates through his art the complexities of beauty and love, the intoxicating, charming, and addictive elements that accompany human suffering, especially a broken heart.
Faena’s body of work can be found in various alternative fashion magazines. His work includes famous high fashion models such as Jessica Stan and Lily Donaldson. He commonly works with a French stylist named Sofia Achaval. He describes his work as “following his instinct on what is beautiful”. And, says, “I’m really against neorealism”. Faena’s body of work is highly stylized photographs that seek to imitate the energy of Hollywood.
Personally, I absolutely adore Faena’s work. I propose that only two words can adequately describe Sebastain Faena’s work, “pretty” and “beautiful”. I appreciate that Faeana’s photography aims exclusively at beauty. It is because Faena focuses on beauty that other meanings are revealed. Faena simply trys to create beauty, and only when he is successful do we ask “why is this beautiful?” and discover our humanity.
On display at the National Geographic Museum are two very different exhibits. There is one, Odysseys and Photographs and two, All Roads. Odysseys and Photographys consists of photography from four artists, Maynard Owen Williams, Volkmar Wentzel, Luis Marden, and Tom Abercrombie. The photography of these artists is all about capturing human experiences and giving the audience a glimpse of a far away culture. The photography in this collection was taken around in the 20th century, as early as the 1920s.
From this collection, there is a very compelling piece by Luis Marden entitled simply, Fiji, that adequately captures and reflects the aesthetic and context of the greater exhibit. Marden’s photograph shows men during a fire walking ceremony in rural Fiji. Marden describes the ceremony as “most curious”. He said, “[In person] hissing clouds of steam and the chants of performances heighten the eerie effect”. His photograph is taken from straight on, there is no angle and there appears to be few intentional photography techniques utilized. Rather, Marden is merely capturing a moment in time, without any sense that he is trying to manipulate the reality. Marden is an outsider taking the picture, and he is not attempting to change anything or set up anything.
In juxtaposition to Marden’s photograph, Fiji, we will look at a photograph from the All Roads exhibit entitled Khinaliq Village: A Staircase to the Sky by Rena Effendi. All Roads displays photographs from 20 cultures and 15 different countries taken between 2003 to 2008. Effendi’s photograph was taken in a small village in Azerbaijan and depicts a shepherd on a horse with mountains in the background. Effendi describes the village to the side of the photograph at the exhibit saying, “shepherd families built houses into the sides of the mountain, each house made of riverstone, one upon the other forming a staircase to the sky”.
There is a sense in this photograph that it was highly manipulated and made in order to send a clear message. Effendi herself is from a small village in Azerbaijan. There is an obvious emotion of pride in this photograph. The man and horse are centered squarely in the foreground as to show them as powerful. Unlike Marden’s photograph this photograph appears less as a captured moment in time and more as a composed scene. This was achieved by Effendi in a couple of key ways. Firstly, as we noted there is considerable depth staging in the photograph, the man, the mountains, the clouds, all work to place emphasis on the man and show his power and importance in such a vast, beautiful world. Secondly, there is no sense of movement in Effendi’s photograph. Effendi relative to Marden probably used a very fast shutter speed so as to make the objects in the picture unnaturally frozen, thereby giving the man a sense of stability. Lastly, color in Effendi’s piece is very bright and light as opposed to Marden’s which is darker and appears to have a more hot, reddish color temperature. The color choices make Effendi’s piece more visually beautiful.
There are obvious reasons that the two pictures are so different in terms of techniques utilized and composition. This is accounted for by two reasons. One, the development within photography allowed Effendi more resources than Marden to create a visually pleasing photograph and to manipulate the photograph. Two, Marden’s photograph wanted to convey an undisturbed moment in time, as though the viewer was witnessing an event. Effendi on the other hand, wanted to show the beauty and power of a small village in Azerbaijan as surrounding villages now begin to compete with globalization.
Interview with Sebastian Faena by V Magazine about his film, La Mujer Rota which he describes as “a series of moving pictures”:
LA MUJER ROTA, THE MARIO TESTINO–PRODUCED FILM DEBUT OF 26-YEAR-OLD ARGENTINE DIRECTOR SEBASTIAN FAENA, IS A LUSH, VISUAL MASTERPIECE THAT HARKENS BACK TO THE GOLDEN DAYS OF ARGENTINIAN FILMMAKING. WHEN A TALENT LIKE THIS CALLS, YOU’D BETTER PICK UP
V What would you say your film is about?
SEBASTIAN FAENA It’s about falling in love and having your heart broken. It’s about being obsessed and going in circles, like being in a cage and not being able to see anything else.
V Right from the first frame, what’s immediately striking is how stylized the film is visually.
SF I like the idea of film as a series of moving pictures. I follow my instinct on what is beautiful. In this case, I find it in the life of this bourgeoise girl growing up in turmoil around the city. The late ’30s to early ’50s were the heyday of Buenos Aires films—it was called the period of “Las Películas de los Telefonos Blancos” (The Films of the White Telephones). During the days of Evita, there was this idea of imitating Hollywood and this desire for a kind of stylized beauty and fantasy in film. These films mostly ended in murder or suicide. Nowadays, I’m really against neorealism and the notion that foreigners want to see a gritty sort of reality in a place like Buenos Aires.
V Tell us about your heroine.
SF My fiction heroine is very close to my real self, so that makes it hard for me to talk about her. I can talk about Dolores Fonzi, the actress who plays the part. She’s a star in Argentina and also the brightest, prettiest girl I ever met. With one look she can kill you and then bring you back to life. I guess I’m not the only one who believes this—she won the Best Actress award from the Argentine Actors Guild for her performance in my film.
V Looking at stills, one might think Hitchcock. Watching the film, one might think Almodóvar. What do you think of these directors?
SF I am very much inspired by Hitchcock, Douglas Sirk, and
Antonioni. As far as Almodóvar goes, yes, as my film is spoken in Spanish, I can see how the rest of the world would think that. But more than anything else, what Almodóvar and I have in common is our mutual love of Tennessee Williams.
V How did you get your start?
SF Growing up in Buenos Aires, I worked on many short films with friends from high school. Then at 16 I started making my living as a fashion photographer. When I finished high school, I went off to college at Columbia in New York. I dropped out when my script was finished and went back home. I knew I wanted to make it into a film and I knew it had to be fast. The original producer was my best friend from school, and the whole thing was pretty intimate. When we ran out of money halfway through, we stopped postproduction for a while and I escaped to the country and lived with my dog while waiting for something to happen. I would go into Buenos Aires on the weekends, and one night, with dirt under my nails and dressed like a bum, I met Mario Testino at a friend’s house. He was in town shooting for American Vogue. He saw the rough material and gave me the confidence and support to complete it.