Art & Photography

Posturing: Photographing the Body

Helena Fletcher talks to Holly Hay and Shonagh Marshall, curators of a new exhibition that documents a change in aesthetic representations of the body 

Photograph by Reto Schmid from Lurve Magazine, Issue 10, Spring/Summer 2016

Over the last decade there has been a remarkable shift in the approach to representing the body in fashion photography. A new generation of contemporary image-makers have been part of a movement of remarkably playful gestures, postures and poses, and a new exhibition, co-curated by Holly Hay, an independent image director and art buyer, and curator Shonagh Marshall – investigates this off-piste and tongue-in-cheek approach to the human form.

Photograph by Marton Perlaki, ‘Female Torso’ from L’imparfaite Magazine, 2014

“The idea for the project started with a real shift that Shonagh had noticed in the way that gesture and pose had been explored in contemporary fashion images,” Hay tells me. “It made me realise the images I was commissioning at AnOther had a really playful approach to the body and its placement. There had been a movement away from more sexualised or fantastical images and the clothing being exhibited on the body in a conventional way.”

Posturing: Photographing the Body in Fashion consists of nearly 50 photographs that fill the whitewashed walls of 10 Thurloe Place, an empty retail space almost directly across the road from the V&A museum in London’s South Kensington. With a focus on the female body, the images on display are taken from editorials shot over the last seven years for publications such as i-D, AnOther, Self-Service and Dazed & Confused.

Photograph by Pascal Gambarte, from Marfa Journal, Issue 6, November 2016

“There’s a real tongue-in-cheek humour around these images, but that’s not to say the photographers are any less serious about their work,” says Marshall. “They just see a space to have fun rather than having a serious approach to fashion, I think they see the lightness in it.”

“The photographers chosen all have a very specific and very dedicated approach to the body in their work,” continues Hay. “It was really important that this approach to the body sung through all of their work, from their personal practice and commissions for magazines through to advertising and so on.”

Photograph by Brianna Capozzi, ‘Laura Ashley’ from Double Magazine, Autumn/Winter 2016

Exhibitions of fashion photography can tend to take the form of retrospectives or singular monographs of a photographer’s career, often presenting the images as the autonomous creation of the photographer. But collaboration is key to the creation of the images exhibited in Posturing. “Instead of employing a model, the photographers really think of their characters as a collaborator and they are as much part of the making of the image as say the hair, makeup and styling, and that feels quite different,” says Marshall. “It’s a group of people coming together to make an image rather than just a photographer on an independent journey.”

Photograph by Blommers & Schumm, ‘Navy’ from The Gentlewomen, Autumn/Winter 2010

Reflecting this, the curation of Posturing takes a more comprehensive approach. The exhibition is divided into six sections inspired by a shoot call sheet: styling, casting, location, set design, hair and make-up, and layout, and the accompanying captions credit not only the photographer and the publication, but names of the other collaborators where applicable.

“Although we have created something very traditional in the initial display, the hang is very odd,” laughs Marshall. “The introductory panel, for example, is across a mirror and we allude to Lena C. Emery’s ‘Practice’, the naked yoga shoot. Her image is reflected in the mirror behind and so from the very beginning it asks you to use your body to look at the work.”

Photograph by Lena C. Emery, ‘The Practice’ from The Gentlewoman, Spring/Summer 2014

The exhibition comes as the premier offering of The Ground Floor Project, Hay and Marshall’s initiative founded earlier this year, and the first instalment of three-part project created in collaboration and with the support of luxury online retailer, The Outnet. The second segment, Filming the Body, takes the form of a film specially commissioned by the pair, which will be launched with a screening event at Miami Art Basel. The third and final realisation, a book titled Posturing: Writing the Body in Fashion, launched in conjunction with Art Basel at an event in Hong Kong and available from March 2018.

Posturing: The Body in Fashion Photography is open to the public at 10 Thurloe Place, from 2-12 November, 2017.