Posturing: How the body became a symbol for change in contemporary fashion photography

Skirt up over her head on an unmade bed. Draped in yellow amongst the paint tins and ladders of a store room, fully dressed in a marble bath - a cheese slice artfully placed upon one heel. This is ‘posturing’ - as opposed to posing – a new iteration of fashion photography that looks to complicate the twentieth century conventions of fashion’s gaze.

Brianna Capozzi Document Journal, Document 10, Spring/Summer 2017

Focused on a timeline between 2010 to 2017, the images selected in Marshall and Hay’s book, Posturing, and the interviews that follow provide a context for this new fashion photography canon.

‘Posturing’ according to photographic director Holly Hay and fashion curator Shonagh Marshall, ‘is developing a new visual language to posing, moving away from sexualised, glamorous representations of the body and altering how clothing is read.’

Joyce Ng, "Emmental", Hearts, September 2017

Pascal Gambarte, "Being Michael Rothstein", Marfa Journal No. 7 March 2017 

Marton Perlaki, Taking the Waters,, 28 June 2017

This new visual language constructs a narrative with the incongruous, the curious, the ordinary, the uncomfortable, the surreal – even the downright comedic. Rather than seeking to portray a non-confrontational, historically accepted notion of beauty (generally, elegantly positioned, young, thin, white and flawless) it instead portrays bodies that balance, contort, protrude, slump and perch within the image, and on them, the clothes become part of a more interesting story.

As Agata Belcen, senior fashion editor at AnOther, comments in her interview with Marshall ‘Fashion is an early adopter of anything, any idea, that seems to be changing, opening up: it wants to explore. And everyone in our time is into bodies, into physicality: there’s no taboo about bodies anymore, so we’re exploring them in so many ways, and trying to find new ways of creating meaning with them.’

Posturing documents this cultural and generational shift through the lens of a younger generation - Brianna Capozzi, Joyce Ng, Lena C.Emery, Zoë Ghertner, Marton Perlaki, Charlie Engman, Johnny Dufort, Pascal Gambarte and Coco Capitan -  to name a few - who have introduced their work through digital platforms, like Tumblr, and as part of a resurgence in independent publishing. That’s not to say that these ideas haven’t been explored before. Posturing references Jurgen Teller, Vivianne Sassen and Mark Borthwick as photographers, ‘whose blend of art, fashion and questioning provide the foundation for this new approach’. Yet it feels, this time, this movement has seeped into the mainstream. 

Credited in Posturing as spearheading the rise of this aesthetic movement is the designer Demna Gvasalia and stylist Lotta Volkova. Through Vetements and Balenciaga, write Marshall and Hay, they have changed traditional ideas of clothing, casting and images, ‘as well as re-contextualising what the body means to fashion and what fashion can mean to the body.’  From Balenciaga’s legging boots that draw inspiration from, ‘soft porn and bondage imagery’ and clearly fetishise the body, to their latest S/S18 campaign where models are ‘papped’ accompanied by burly bouncers and blocking out their faces with said designer’s accessories. (The campaign was photographed by actual French paparazzi and credit to the French wire, Best image agency.)

Brianna Capozzi, "Jamilla", Double, Spring/Summer 2017

Of her work, Volkova told Vogue in 2016, ‘I’m interested in looking at things differently. I’m interested in looking at something that we aren’t necessarily used to being considered beautiful,” she says. “I’m interested in showing another side of things which I do find beautiful, which I do find real and interesting. I’m not necessarily interested in bad taste or kitsch, either—it is just something that I look at differently.' 

High fashion has been snapped back into the everyday, well, into a constructed reality, explains Sophie Durham, a set designer and collaborator of Lotta Volkova, ‘I think a lot of the success of Balenciaga and Vetements, for example, is because Demna Gvsalia is designing clothes that feel more real. They don’t feel unattainable, and people can still aspire to them: it’s still an aspirational fantasy…I think the work in this book is more of an exploration of the fantastical within the realistic setting.’

Joyce Ng, "Seven Sisters Housed", 1 Granary No. 4 2016/17

Brianna Capozzi, "Laura Ashley", Double Autumn/Winter 2016

In this constructed reality professional models are as likely featured as a cast of family, friends and intriguing faces found on the street. Locations too, root the characters and fashion in the everyday, with their fitted kitchens, cheap leather sofas and plastic veneered office furniture. But it’s the body, the ‘posturing’, that disrupts the act of looking, making women's bodies less about being object and  more a verb, an active participant in the image.

Posturing, edited by Holly Hay and Shonagh Marshall, is out now, published by Self Publish, Be Happy Editions.