The Better to See You With

Last weekend I went to see Red Riding Hood and–though occasionally visually stunning–my overall review can be summed up as follows: piece of shit. In fact, that’s not just a review, that’s a PSA. Apparently everyone but me already knew this, but seriously don’t go see that movie. Even if you think Amanda Seyfried is gorgeous. She can’t save that sinking ship.

Tangentially related, this week’s post came about when I saw this:


Chronicles of Never Fall/Winter Lookbook


The photographer for the lookbook isn’t credited, and the clothes are fine (I’d wear them if attempting to locate my ancestors in the Czech Republic OR hunting a werewolf with a team of sniveling losers while a perfectly good Fever Ray song was wasted in the background) but what really struck me was the concept: photoshopping out the models gives the whole collection an eerie, creeped-out, end-of-the-world feeling. And that’s when I decided to devote this post to photography and fashion.


Fashion and its photographers walk a fine line between commerce and art, which is partially what makes any good fashion magazine thrilling, uncomfortable and sometimes even offensive to peruse. While I don’t think I can ever get behind waify teen girls provocatively posed (sorry, man, not art), I can get behind this:


Steven Klein for Vogue Paris


WHAT THE FUCK is going on here? I don’t care. I can’t even see these clothes. If I saw this duo I’d probably run. Also: TRUE BLOOD! I love cultural feedback loops, thanks to my lifepartner, Michael Braithwaite, who has serious schooled me about visual culture. Anyhow, Steven Klein is one dark motherfucker. He directed Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” music video, if that gives you a little perspective.


Steven Klein


I can’t even figure out if this is for a publication or just his fine art photography and that makes me like it even more.


Bad-ass Brangelina by Steven Klein


WAIT A MINUTE! This is EXACTLY what I wanted from Brangelina in the first place! Hot! Pitt looks completely unhinged and Jolie looks like she’s at home in the crazy/dangerous scenario she’s found herself in. I mean, good for them that they’re saving the world and it’s a little weird about their Benetton family but whatever I’m not going to be a hater blah blah, all I’m saying is sometimes I just want to forget about the baby brigade, bring on the Bonnie and Clyde. Fan-fucking-tastic.


The use of edgy celebrity portraiture-as-magazine-spread was pioneered by the genius Annie Leibovitz (a clear influence on Klein’s work). Leibovitz is obviously a superstar and here’s why:


Tiger Woods by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair


This came out immediately following the Tiger Woods/fallen golden boy scandal and I remember standing in line at the grocery store when this caught my eye. I was stunned. Liebovitz’s ability to get to the heart of something invisible to the wider world is remarkable. And I know we’re veering away from fashion photography (I’m actually not such a big fan of her gaudy, flashier fashion stuff) but check this out:


Annie Leibovitz/Iggy Pop


Gnarled Iggy Pop is way more rock n’ roll than Stooges-era Iggy Pop. This looks like a cautionary tale but there’s also something defiant beneath the surface, exactly like senior citizen punk rock should look.


An aside: Liebovitz has been in financial hotwater lately, which has a bunch of busybodies chickenheads in the art world jibber-jabbering away like she’s MC Hammer or something. The cause of her problems? The death of her longtime partner, the incomparable Susan Sontag, and the homophobic United States government that royally fucked her with estate taxes. There’s a great Salon article about it here. Please, for the love of God, let’s repeal DOMA.


Anyway, carrying on.


Inez van Lamsweerde on the cover of the Gentlewoman


Inez van Lamsweerde is one half of a team that includes Vinoodh Matadin. I know van Lamsweerde because Michael is a huge fan of the Gentlewoman, and I look at Ms. van Lamsweerde’s awesome, bearded face on my coffee table on a daily basis. They also walk the line between fine art and fashion really beautifully, with an emphasis on quirkiness that doesn’t undermine a serious inquiry into gender:


Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin




Sofia Coppola by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin


Though I am the only person I know who routinely uses a screening of Lost in Translation as an opportunity for naptime, I get that it’s brilliant and I do always enjoy the first thirty minutes. Anyway, what a portrait of Sofia Coppola! There are echoes of her father here as well as some allusions to gender politics, but ultimately, she’s a woman who looks 100% comfortable smoking a cigar in a tailored suit and that says more than anything else going on here.


Devon Aoki in Alexander McQueen by Nick Knight


Nick Knight is out of this world. He has obviously worked with Bjork, and he even directed this awesome video. He also directed Lady Gaga’s newest, the gay pride one. I don’t care what anyone says, I love that bitch. Did you see the unicorn?! Anyway Nick Knight loves odd ducks! I bet he’s an odd duck, and I like that.


Nick Knight




Matthew Brooks


Speaking of surreal and gorgeous and sometimes gritty, Matthew Brooks‘ work is striking. I love the piece above. It makes me want to jump out a window in a flowing white cape. In a good way.


Scott Schuman AKA The Sartorialist


Finally, a total change of pace: Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist. Schuman, a former fashion world marketing/sales star, closed his showroom and focused on photography after 9/11. His photographs are simple, unadorned portraits of stylish people doing their thing. On the other side of the scale of the Liebovitzs and Kleins and Knights of the world, his graceful simplicity is equally important. To see that the beauty and glamor can be there in all incarnations–stripped down and shellacked, dark and grounded, sunlit and spindly–is what makes witnessing the creative crossroads of fashion, portraiture and photography exciting. And it’s definitely, at the end of the day, what makes it art.


Special thanks to Kareem Worrell for consulting with me about the subject at hand.


About Thomas Page McBee

Gentleman first, always. James Dean is my patron saint, poet is my gender. More about me here:

One comment

  1. this is totally random, but I definitely also sleep during Lost In Translation. in fact, the only time I watch the film is when I desperately need to fall asleep.

    thank you for this post & blog ! it certainly improved my day.

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