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In so many words.........Fashion!
Old 04-21-2007, 05:26 PM   #1 (permalink)
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We deal in an imprecise world with language, we know what we mean, but all to often others understand what we have said or written differently. Sometimes it's just the fact that language doesn't evolve as quickly as our environment. How often do we say "Fred has a problem because uses dial up to access the internet." Or, "Dial this number and see if they answer." Probably 80 or 90 percent of the readers here have never seen a phone with a dial, none of the people I work with on a regular basis have used one. But we say it, and we get it. Sometimes it has to do with culture, we are all familiar with telling a joke in English to someone for whom English isn't a native tongue. Often the things which we "get", just sound weird to someone from a different country.

The culture and language of business is like that. Many businesses have their own special language which sounds either meaningless, or sounds familiar but the very familiarity of the phrases leads to confusion. Many years ago I owned an insurance agency and my specialty was executive compensation (in short, how to get around the tax code to maximize income to selected individuals using pensions, deferred compensation, and tax loopholes). One term I used all the time was "section 79" which really meant "prepaid group insurance". Not only did saying "section 79" sound professional and complex, but "prepaid group insurance" sounded pedestrian and something anyone could do or have (hardly a compelling argument for paying me mega bucks for setting the plan up!).

This long preamble is my way of leading into a discussion of the industry of photography involving models and the language we use to describe what we are doing. I started some 27 years ago on one side of the business and eventually wound up working in the other side because of an unusual circumstance, and finally because of choice. I did not speak the language and went through a long learning curve about the language. While I will never be a native speaker, I do think I understand the language in a way that allows me to explain it to others (something a native speaker often has problems with). Originally I owned an advertising agency (which is inaccurate, originally I owned a cell phone company, a computer software company, an insurance agency and before that I got my degree in engineering, spoke Japanese and was born in Detroit. But I digress.). I loved being at the agency but I had no knowledge of the business, so to justify hanging out there I eventually picked up a camera to illustrate ads the agency was doing. The creative director of the agency objected, but I reminded him I owned the place, so he had me hire an assistant who taught me how to push the button. We used models occasionally to illustrate the service or the use of the product we were selling. After a couple of years I had an assistant (a woman from Brazil) who had a daughter who wanted to be a model. No problem, I told her I would take some pictures and we would go up to New York and get her daughter signed! I'd taken pictures of models before, lots of them in fact, I was sure I knew what I was doing!

Ah well, the girl was young, tall, and beautiful, stunning actually. So stunning the agencies never once mentioned my photography sucked canal water. She signed with IMG and I was officially a model scout! The next time I went to New York, maybe the girl wasn't quite so strong, but for sure the agencies had no problem explaining my photographs were dreck. (I'm sitting next to the girl as the booker at Click turns the pages in her book and says, "I hope you didn't pay for these!" It was a long drive back to Washington with that young girl sitting next to me.) I did get one break during a subsequent trip to the city (I'm a masochist, the only explanation for going back) when a booker at a new agency named NeXT (it was a long time ago) pulled me aside and said "your work is too commercial, you know your way around a camera, but the pictures we need have to be more editorial!" Melissa might as well have been speaking in Aramaic, I had no clue what she was talking about. She went and got me a bunch of comp cards from the agency and suggested that my pictures needed to look more like those. I was still clueless. And remember, this was before the internet became so prominent in our lives, so getting those comp cards was a miracle given that I didn't live in New York and was obviously one of the unwashed. But I had heard the magic word, editorial. I had no idea what it meant, other than my photographs weren't "editorial" they were "commercial".

I tried to copy the photographs on the comp cards, but I really wasn't making any headway because I didn't understand the context in which the word editorial was being applied. Fortunately Melissa was a big help though, and maybe the second time she reviewed my work she pointed out a couple of pictures and resequenced them in my book and said, "that's better, I can see a story here". Ahhhhhhhh, the dimmest of lights is starting to go on in my pea sized reptilian brain. Story? Literally a story? "Well, not really, but these pictures make sense together." Make sense together? Why? I feel myself falling back in to the abyss again. And then the breakthrough, I'm asking about a fashion ad in the front of Vogue, and she says, "forget that, it's commercial, go to the back of the magazines, look at stories. You won't get the pictures in the front of Vogue until you understand the pictures in the back of the magazine. Pick a word, any word, write it down. Then, take pictures that explain that word, mean that word, make you think of that word." But what about the clothes, what clothes do I use? "Forget the clothes, that's someone else's problem, take pictures people want to look at, not clothes, not people....pictures, pictures people want to look at. And have a point of view, your own, not someone else's. Use other people's work as a starting place for now, but don't just copy. You know how to craft a picture, but you need your own point of view. Don't bore me."

Eventually I got good enough, barely. I will never speak the language of editorial fashion as well as someone who was born speaking it, but I think in some way because I have had to learn the business intellectually, I'm better at explaining the unexplainable to others. Simply put, I understand, but I do not grok. The world of modeling and photography of models is broken into two distinct categories, commercial and editorial. Most of what we see is commercial, most of what we want to see is editorial. I didn't read "Love in the Time of Cholera" because I wanted to buy something. I read it because I wanted to learn something, feel something, experience something. The editorial section in Vogue is there because you wouldn't buy the magazine if it wasn't. Those few thin pages support everything else. And how exciting it is! When you shoot an editorial layout you get to write, direct, light, cast, produce and display for the world to see your vision of things! It's hard, really hard, but if you are able to produce something even remotely interesting, you have a good shot at getting picked to do much higher paid commercial work.

Well, I built the watch, I guess I better try to tell you the time. We use a language in this business which is confusing unless you understand the context in which certain words are used. "Fashion" is a term we use all the time, but when "fashion" is used alone, without any modifiers, it means editorial fashion. "Fashion" in the context of the business of modeling (and photography involving models) means only editorial fashion, the people who shoot editorial fashion, the people who run the editorial fashion agencies, and the models those agencies represent. Now it gets more confusing. Fashion agencies book commercial work, fashion models do commercial work, fashion photographers shoot commercial work. In fact, that's most of what we (they) do. Commercial photographers, agents, and models do not do fashion work. Wearing clothes in an ad does not make you a fashion model. Shooting a model wearing clothes does not make you a fashion photographer. And representing a model who appears in an ad wearing clothes does not make you a fashion agent. Only editorial can do that. It gets more complicated. Some, if not many, of the models working for editorial agents, and who are in fact editorial (fashion) models may not have ever actually done an editorial assignment! (In my opinion, this is not true of fashion photographers, to call yourself a fashion photographer you actually must have done the work.) When you get to the show, most fashion models and photographers do not consider a tear sheet to be a tear sheet unless it is from an editorial story. Truth is, they will often hide their commercial shots in the back of their book. I don't, which is why I will always really be a commercial photographer who has shot editorial, not the other way around.

Anyway, have some fun sometime. Think of a story line while you are shooting, it works in glamour, weddings (the highest paid wedding photographers record wonderful stories), even straight commercial work like food or buildings. Photojournalists have the basics of editorial fashion (but they have to learn how to invent the story instead of recording one), so do sports photographers. Fetish photographers (and models) are probably the closest to fashion, in fact most fashion photographers shoot some of the most bizarre fetish work (don't ask, don't tell). It's hard, it's suppose to be hard. That it is hard is what makes it great. And it can be a curse, I've been hooked for seventeen years now. And while I'm never bored, I'm also never satisfied.

Editorial fashion is one of the few things worthy of an adult's attention.

Fish
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Last edited by Fish; 04-21-2007 at 11:02 PM..
 
Re: In so many words.........Fashion!
Old 04-21-2007, 06:48 PM   #2 (permalink)
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This may well be the single greatest post in the history of this board.

It should be a sticky and it should be considered required reading.

Fish, you have managed to write what most others, including those in fashion, never could - I'm awed...

I don't often post images here before I upload them to my site, but I'll be putting these and the video of the shoot up tonight.

This is simple, cheesy, over the top glamour. But it is "story based". Maybe some see that, maybe they don't...

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Re: In so many words.........Fashion!
Old 04-21-2007, 06:55 PM   #3 (permalink)
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For a fuzzy vague sort of manifesto with nothing technical, I learned more than I have about what and where to focus than I have in the past 2 years of looking at the pictures in vogue (I don't read the articles, I save that for playboy)

But knowing the stuff and learning to move forward are totally different things. Getting my mind to think in stories no matter if I have the skill to shoot it is the single hardest thing, I can learn the technical, that isn't the challenge, but learning to think of how to make people interested and how to convey a thought that is my goal.
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A story...
Old 04-21-2007, 08:07 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Interesting post Fish.

Let me throw in my perspective on something I know little about. Dang, that sounds just like a politician doesn't it?

When you say editorial tells a story, many people start to think in terms of War and Peace, Dr. Zhivago, and other 600 plus page epics. But is that necessarily the case?

I look at some of the editorial stuff and the story seems to be a brief paragraph! There might be a tendency among wannabe's to create too much of a story, and complicate it to the point that the viewer gets lost.

Have a story, but keep it tight and simple or you may go off the deep end. After all, most of the really memorable stories (think children's stories!) are fairly simple tales.

Just my thoughts... and waddo I know.
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Re: In so many words.........Fashion!
Old 04-21-2007, 08:18 PM   #5 (permalink)
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It doesn't have to literally tell a story, as in a novel. As fish said, but which obviously wasn't heard - it can be a word. A feeling. But the concept of story is essential in editorial fashion, which is one of the few remaining real art forms left.

But maybe I'm not understanding your post. Point me to an editorial in any of this months fashion rags (Vogue, Italian or French Vogue, WWD, W, or V - for simplicity's sake) that does not tell a story...
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Re: In so many words.........Fashion!
Old 04-21-2007, 08:56 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mcherry View Post
It doesn't have to literally tell a story, as in a novel. As fish said, but which obviously wasn't heard - it can be a word. A feeling. But the concept of story is essential in editorial fashion, which is one of the few remaining real art forms left.

But maybe I'm not understanding your post. Point me to an editorial in any of this months fashion rags (Vogue, Italian or French Vogue, WWD, W, or V - for simplicity's sake) that does not tell a story...
Huh? Sorry, but I find your post totally confusing!

First of all, are you addressing your reply to me?

Secondly, you make a point of reiterating Fish's comment that a 'story' can be a single word or feeling. I agree. But I also point out that it better be something the great majority of viewers pick up rather easily or what's the point...

Having a story about 'opulence' may get a general point across but expanding on it a bit may reach a wider audience. Knowing your audience and how they'll interpret the visual clues can make or break you.
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Re: In so many words.........Fashion!
Old 04-21-2007, 09:11 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Yes, I'm sorry, that post was for you.

As far as making the story accessible, again, I have to say that fashion isn't understood here.

The story is not meant meant to be accessible to many because fashion isn't meant to be accessible to many - it is, in large part, about elitism. If the masses get it, if Joe Sixpack sitting on his couch watching the game, gets it, then the creative team failed...

Fashion caters to women and gay men, that is who the stories need to cater to, and even then it is only a small subsection.
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Re: In so many words.........Fashion!
Old 04-21-2007, 09:43 PM   #8 (permalink)
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I'm confused, and starting to pour another drink, which probably isn't helping. But, to quote Rod Stewart, "every picture tells a story, don't it?" I'm not inexperienced when it comes to "telling a story". I had to do my own displays when I worked in a up scale department store. And in doing those, I had to "tell a story". It may have been a red plastic story or a retro story. This was basically bringing like items together to provide visual impact and some vague sense of meaning, such as some activity, style, emotional connection, or whatever.
A group of pictures can tell a story for sure, even a single image can speak volumes. So, what I'm having a problem with is "commercial" work. I commercial work just void of any apparent meaning? Just a picture of a pretty face or nice body?
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Re: In so many words.........Fashion!
Old 04-21-2007, 09:56 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mcherry View Post
Fashion caters to women and gay men, that is who the stories need to cater to, and even then it is only a small subsection.
Oh, you had to bring women in to this. Let me see. If I'm walking inside the mind of a woman, then the path to the left is surely filed with claymores and rabbits with big narly teeth. The path to the right requires the daring of Indianna Jones, the luck of James Bond, and the intellect to phathom the boundless universe that of Stephen Hawking. Well, a man has to believe in something, I believe I'll have another drink.
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Re: In so many words.........Fashion!
Old 04-21-2007, 10:01 PM   #10 (permalink)
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I think the best work always tells a story. Look at a sky vodka ad, their stories are excellent and there work is very commercial. Also it gets confusing because fashion can draw from any genre. For example, look at the classic guess jeans ads, very glam influenced yet entirely fashion. Teller's work has a very documentary feel to it, yet it's also very fashion. LaChapelle is the opposite of Teller, yet also fashion, even though there is a very pop-culture art feel to it. Ellen von Unwerth can shoots a whole specturm of looks and yet they all sort of look like her, same thing with Annie Liebovitz. Steven Meisel can do anything and tells some amazing stories like the one recently tying the whole war on terror theme to a fashion spread - really incredible.

But editorial fashion is almost always told in series so there really is a story line throughout, some more obvious than others.

If you were to think of photography as being part craft and part art, then commercial photography would be weighted towards craft and fashion photography would be weighted towards art. Most fashion shooters come out of fine arts programs, not Brooks...
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