Fetish aesthetics in fashion photography

Vogue Russia April 2011 issue served as a starting point for this article: its cover featured a fashion model wearing a collar, and the photo shoots inside spotted fetish and BDSM paraphernalia such as bondage, collars, and handcuffs.

Love is Colder than Death Abbey Lee Kershaw by Hedi Slimane for Vogue Russia April 2011

Love is Colder than Death Abbey Lee Kershaw by Hedi Slimane for Vogue Russia April 2011

As a matter of fact, these paraphernalia have invaded the catwalks and fashion studios over the last year: a link to an archive with plenty of such photos can be found at the end of this article.

One can definitely claim that the use of fetish symbols to promote the fashion houses-manufactured goods all over the world has become an established trend in fashion photography.

In fact, the term can no doubt be changed to fetish photography.

What is fetish photography?

This phenomenon is very closely connected to BDSM, which could be understood as a component of one’s sexual life based on a certain role play between the dominant partner and the submissive one. BDSM can be de-abbreviated as ‘bondage’ (physical restraint and captivity) and ‘discipline’ (B&D), ‘dominance and submission’ (D&S), ‘sadism and masochism’ (S&M) – practices where sexual satisfaction is related to causing/experiencing pain.

There are three degrees of involvement in BDSM: fun, lifestyle, and business.

In the first case, sexual partners resort to such practices for the sake of variety, in order to try something new, and simply to enjoy the new emotions and experiences. This could be a one-time thing, or this could happen on a more or less regular basis. This is a constantly recurring theme in mass culture, on a visual level, that is, ranging from serious pieces of art to jeering: there are images of people getting tied to their beds, handcuffs, masks, and French maid or nurse outfits. On a ‘harder’ level, there are whips and dog collars. Incidentally, one can make conclusions as to how deeply BDSM has penetrated the ‘fun’ level by looking at the range of products offered by any sex shop. Their produce is considered acceptable, or at least something that one can turn a blind eye to. For example, any men’s magazine occasionally features one-off images of situations or objects described above, precisely in the context of having fun and tasting ‘the forbidden fruit’.

In the second case, that of a lifestyle, a BDSM relationship becomes the basis of the partners’ everyday life and behavior. This is actually a subculture with its own rules, traditions, conventions, and laws. Lifestyle means, among other things, that you socialize with people who have similar interests and needs, that you join their social events, and teach novices to practice what they are interested in (shibari, the use of whipping devices, and so on). There thus exists a certain code that determines a person’s interests and his or her status through articles of clothing, accessories, and behavior. A lot of these attributes are loaded with a ‘higher’ meaning: a dog collar, for one, can stand for submitting to a specific person, a tattoo might state directly, ‘Property of such-and-such’. Until quite recently, admitting in public that you belong to the subculture was viewed very unfavorably; the generally accepted system of moral values made it obligatory not only to look with disdain on the mere fact of someone’s having such interests and belonging to this subculture but also to have a very negative attitude to any demonstration of BDSM symbols.

Now business is an industry that serves the subculture’s needs through making clothes (leather and latex), manufacturing devices, tools, and equipment, producing souvenirs and decorative objects, and offering training. There are some specialized media such as magazines and websites, hotels, a whole apartment-renting industry, in a word, there is everything to one’s heart’s content. It should be noted that, since some continually renewed paraphernalia are needed to maintain a sexual relationship, BDSM is a rather resource-intensive thing to practice for the partners, as they need to buy a range of different things and use specific services on a regular basis.

What’s more, one can see a great variety of the so-called niches on the market. Some people, for example, are only crazy about latex outfits, others like leather items, still others are wild about stockings and underwear; then, there are bondage fans, and there are chain, shackles, and handcuff people. These interests naturally overlap to some extent, but they tend to remain quite stable.

A fetish photo as such is precisely this: an image relating to the subculture.

A classical fetish photograph:

– uses someone from the subculture as its object (a model, a cult figure, just a subculture representative);
– there is some sort of scenario and plot around the photo;
– featuring the paraphernalia is a must.

Remarkably, people who do not belong to the subculture look unnatural and fake in the photographs. A lot of photographers tried working with a model who is tied up in ropes or chains or is wearing handcuffs. Yet this is no more than a photo of a model in ropes. A model’s involvement in the process, the hidden meanings, and – an absolute must-have – sexual emotion are obviously the indispensable components of a fetish photograph.

Fetish photography uses the following quite naturally: accessories, devices, and aesthetically polished sexual behavior that the public sees as deviant and not adhering to the norm. Just like BDSM, fetish photography is limited in space, inappropriate, and somewhat clandestine.

At the same time, the uninhibited outsiders see this as something bodacious, attractive, interesting and curious.

We therefore see the actual transformation of quantity into quality, when the gradual penetration into the mass culture has turned fetish aesthetics into a fashion that got integrated into the fashion industry. Fetish symbols are no longer the demonstration of one’s belonging to a subculture or a public admittance of one’s deviant sexual behavior. Instead, they are the fashionable, aggressive things that make their entrance into new spheres like advertising, shop windows, and catwalks.

The fetish paraphernalia are coming out of the closet, and therefore so are the BDSM relationships. Photographers are producing aesthetically polished versions of fetish symbols by resorting to risk, outrage, and scandal, while the mass product is destroying the sacred nature of these symbols when seen as part of a subculture.

Fetish aesthetics have penetrated fashion photography in the following ways and stages:

– as part of a scene, as something intriguing, forbidden, outrageous (the leading image and the main theme of a photo shoot, something special about it that will be remembered);
– as a component (a well-balanced image of the same value as others);
– as an attribute (a detail) per se, as something ordinary and acceptable, as a regular accessory.

Today’s ‘glamour’ fashion photography is in many ways identical with the classical fetish photography, down to the reproduction of a model’s involvement in a relationship and of her personal feelings.
This could be seen exclusively as a marketing technique, as ‘bringing to the shop windows’ of a new branded product. As a result, these symbols lose their status of ‘indecent’ and ‘untouchable’, BDSM relationships become fully acceptable and ‘trendy’. Then, turning fetish into a fashion breeds mass culture status and sales. As has already been said, BDSM sex props are available for sale and cost quite a bit. The world’s major brands are trying to enter this playing field – take, for example, Louis Vuitton and their fetish collection that was featured on the last pages of August 2011 issues of such magazines as Ekb.sobaka.ru, Fashion Week, and Stolnik.

Our fashion photographers have failed to sense this trend.

A few examples:

Paris Fashion Week Louis Vuitton

Paris Fashion Week Louis Vuitton

Fearless  Liu Wen & Theres Alexandersson by Kai Z Feng for Numéro China No. 6 March 2011

Fearless Liu Wen & Theres Alexandersson by Kai Z Feng for Numéro China No. 6 March 2011

Любовь холоднее, чем смерть  Abbey Lee Kershaw by Hedi Slimane for Vogue Russia April 2011

Любовь холоднее, чем смерть Abbey Lee Kershaw by Hedi Slimane for Vogue Russia April 2011

Rebel Waltz  Agyness Deyn by Hedi Slimane for Vogue China March 2011

Rebel Waltz Agyness Deyn by Hedi Slimane for Vogue China March 2011

Marie Claire Франция май 2011

Marie Claire Франция май 2011

Feel Me  Crystal Renn by Ellen von Unwerth for Tush #25 Summer 2011

Feel Me Crystal Renn by Ellen von Unwerth for Tush #25 Summer 2011

Physical  Abbey Lee Kershaw by Tom Munro for Numéro No. 123 May 2011

Physical Abbey Lee Kershaw by Tom Munro for Numéro No. 123 May 2011

Nude Swings  Linda Vojtova by Txema Yeste for Marie Claire US March 2011

Nude Swings Linda Vojtova by Txema Yeste for Marie Claire US March 2011

Naughty & Nice  Jessica Stam by Max Abadian for Flare September 2011

Naughty & Nice Jessica Stam by Max Abadian for Flare September 2011

Aymeline Valade by Tom Munro for Numéro No. 125 August 2011

Aymeline Valade by Tom Munro for Numéro No. 125 August 2011

Sharon K in Bits and Pieces by Michael Donovan featured in PULP Magazine Issue III

Sharon K in Bits and Pieces by Michael Donovan featured in PULP Magazine Issue III

Короткий URL: http://photoekb.ru/?p=6280

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