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.

Molten Art: Nude Glassware

Port takes a tour around the factory of Turkish glassware brand Nude, which has set its sights beyond ordinary tableware, delving into architecture, interior design and accessories

“Blow and twist … That’s it … Blow and twist”. These are the instructions being proffered by a master glass blower at the manufacturing facility of Turkish glass specialist, Nude, who is showing me how the craftsmen here produce the brand’s contemporary glass products. My first effort at blowing my own glass quickly makes its way into the recycling bucket and, while I’m pleased that a second attempt is met with a slight nod of approval, let’s just say I’ll not be giving up the day job.

It takes Nude’s top craftsmen between six and eight years to master the skills required for some of the more complicated pieces produced at this factory in the city of Denizli, which employs around 400 people. For Nude, meeting the challenges posed by unusual designs such as the Jour pitcher by French designer Inga Sempé – which features solid-glass spheres that attach the curved handles to the vessel – is part of its objective to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with glass.

Nude was launched in 2014 as a sub-brand of Sisecam Group – one of the world’s largest manufacturers of flat glass, glassware and glass packaging, which also supplies glass products to premium brands around the world. The idea was to apply Sisecam’s knowledge and experience to a new company that would regain ownership of production and explore new directions for glass in addition to traditional stemware. “We felt we had the know-how within the company to achieve every possible way of working with glass, from blown glass to pressed glass, to scissor cuts and sand blasting,” explains Nude’s brand director, Yair Haidu, speaking in a meeting room next to the factory. “We had the expertise, so it was time to do something with it that belongs to us.”

During the first couple of years, Nude’s in-house design team focused on creating products that encapsulated its progressive approach and desire to move away from traditional tableware into lifestyle products such as vases, candleholders, ornaments and lighting. “We realised that people are spending less and less time at the table,” adds Haidu. “Rather than just making more products for the kitchen or the table, which is quite a saturated market, we wanted to delve into the worlds of architecture, interior design and accessories.” To achieve this bold objective, the brand initiated collaborations with some of the world’s leading designers, who were tasked with translating their personal vision into products that feel like they belong in the Nude family. Ron Arad, Nigel Coates and Joe Doucet were among the first to accept the challenge, while upcoming collaborations with Studio Formafantasma, Sebastian Herkner and Brad Ascalon demonstrate that the brand is keen to work with emerging talents as well as established names.

The ‘Chill’ tumblers and ‘Chill’ carafe

Following our tour of the factory, we are introduced to some of the key items from the company’s collections. Erdem Akan’s characterful Mr&Mrs night set is one of Nude’s top sellers thus far, and is representative of the brand’s playful approach. The curvaceous decanter is topped with a cup that functions as a stopper and features a sleeping face. At the opposite end of the scale in terms of sales potential, Arad’s Decantering is an elegant ring of glass forming a handle and vessel, interrupted only by a single opening that allows wine to be decanted smoothly. Each Decantering takes a full day to produce.

The ‘Jour’ water jug and ‘Jour’ short water glass

Some of the pieces created by the Nude Design Team are among my favourites, due to the intelligent use of glass to solve everyday problems. The Roots herb pot, for example, is a holder for orchids or other plants, which sit in a transparent glass pot and gradually absorb water from a lower chamber through a rope wick. The Chill collection, meanwhile, comprises a decanter with matching tumbler and bowl that rest on cooled marble bases to keep liquids cold without diluting them with ice. In addition to the groundbreaking homeware items, Nude also continues to produce high-quality stemware, such as the incredibly delicate Stem Zero range and the sophisticated Finesse range, with its intricate gridded decoration.

Visiting Nude’s headquarters and seeing the molten material being manipulated using techniques that have existed for centuries feels like stepping back in time to an era of industry and handcraft. One look at Nude’s products, however, leaves one in no doubt this is a brand with its sights set firmly on the future, and on making a meaningful impression on the homewares market. “We are at the beginning of our journey,” Haidu concludes. “It’s been three years of hard work but the feedback so far has been excellent, so we will continue to grow and evolve, both in terms of volume and maturity. There is much more to come.”

You can find the full range of Nude glassware here.

Mario Testino on Newton and Nudity

The prolific photographer reveals an intimate side to his work in a bold exhibition of photographs at the Helmut Newton Foundation

The human body is an inexhaustible subject in photography. By blurring boundaries between fashion, eroticism and art, Mario Testino has unravelled the politics and symbolism of the body throughout his work. In an exhibition conceived for the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin and its catalogue by the same name, Undressed, the photographer explores nakedness through 50 images from his archive. 

Testino, much like Newton before him, offers an empowering perspective on the body, and where Newton established a confident image of femininity, Testino challenges masculine paradigms. The playful, unfettered atmosphere of his studio is captured through effervescent portraits of anonymous, androgynous men as well as supermodels such as Kate Moss and Amber Valletta, which even at their most daring, never slip into the vulgar. Including previously unseen photographs, Undressed reveals a more intimate side to the photographer’s work and in the process, he too lays himself bare.

What kind of impact did Helmut Newton have on you as a young photographer? 

He had pretty kinky ideas that could well have been seen as vulgar or too pornographic, but because they were presented so stylishly in Vogue it was considered elevated work. Seeing this taught me that, whatever you do, if you do it well and elegantly it can live on its own.

In Ways of Seeing, John Berger makes a clear distinction between nudity and nakedness. As a photographer, how do you negotiate that tension?

To me nudity is the way people are made and nakedness entails a certain provocation. I think both are valid in their own way. Why not provoke when you can?

Does nudity still have the power to shock? If so, where does that fit in with your photographs?

I think that it is definitely less shocking today, although it is still provocative. I find it interesting that male nudity seems to shock more than female nudity. Is it because we are more used to seeing women naked than men? Or perhaps it comes from men being more shy with their bodies? I don’t know.

What was the catalyst for Undressed and how did you approach the selection process?

The show marks a significant point in time for me. The majority of the works in Undressed come from the ’90s, which was a transformative moment in my career. It was a point where I was identifying the new people coming into the industry and photographing them naked. I think in some odd way the nudes I did then undressed me too, of my limits and preconceived ideas about image-making. They influenced and informed the way I did my fashion photographs.

Has hindsight changed the way you feel about any of these photographs? Did anything surprise you? 

It is great to come back to these images after a long period. I realise I have changed a lot since the ’90s, when most of these works were shot. I think back then I was very precise and today I am a lot more open. But I needed that precision to discover the Mario Testino of today.

Ultimately, what would you like people to take away from both the exhibition and the book?

I feel these photographs show a strength in these people, despite being naked. Not everyone feels like that and I would love to feel that people took away some of that essence in themselves. They should be proud of how they are made and gain strength from nakedness, instead of insecurity.

Mario Testino: Undressed is on show at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin until 19 November. The accompanying catalogue, published by Taschen, is out now