Acid-bright still lifes
Maybe it was Elad Lassry, maybe Roe Ethridge, maybe Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari’s Toilet Paper magazine, maybe just the zeitgeist; whatever it was, something has inspired a new breed of imagemakers to take up and shake up still life photography. Sam Falls and Lucas Blalock were at the crest of the wave, producing acid-bright, verging-on-the-kitsch images that took their cues from mid-century advertising but subverted them with heavy-handed painted elements (in Falls’ case) or deliberately clumsy Photoshop (in Blalock’s). Both have done well in the art market, but other young photographers have found more commercial outlets. Food photography in particular, which had been stuck in a bright, breezy, shallow-depth-of-field rut since the 1990s, has received a radical rethink thanks to photographers such as Bobby Doherty, Stephanie Gonot, Grant Cornett and Maurizio Di Iorio who are producing graphic, eye-catching and not necessarily appetising images for foodie magazines or design clients such as Lucky Peach, Wallpaper* or The Standard hotel chain.
Digital media and social networks have made sharing images easier than ever; the world has taken it to heart, and that includes the professionals. Young photographers such as Nico Krijno, David Brandon Geeting and Jeff Hahn are using sites such as Tumblr and Instagram to promote themselves, creating constantly updated streams of images rather than more formal websites and winning big commissions off the back of it – Geeting shoots for titles such as The Fader, Nylon, New York Times T Magazine and Bloomberg Businessweek and Krijno for clients including Nike, Urban Outfitters, Mercedes-Benz and Levi’s. Other photographers are launching successful group projects on social media, such as the influential Everyday Africa project, which is available as a traditional site, a Tumblr, an Instagram and via Facebook; meanwhile organisations such as the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam and Booooooom are setting up Instagram accounts and inviting photographers to take them over. The final twist comes from viral videos, images and gifs commissioned to be shared by fans. Ryan Enn Hughes was commissioned by Katy Perry’s management to create a more sophisticated take on the fan-created gif (still show left).
The self-publishing revolution shows no sign of slowing down; inspired by classic photobooks such as Daido Moriyama’s Another Country in New York or Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip – both of which were published by the artists – young photographers are abandoning the big publishing houses in favour of the fun and control of doing it themselves. Cristina de Middel’s Afronauts, published in 2011, has shown how a single self-published book can effectively launch a career (and become an extremely expensive collectible in the process); meanwhile organisations compiling the mass of self-published books are thriving, and the big art institutions are getting involved. Self Publish, Be Happy has staged events in The Serpentine Galleries, the Aperture Foundation and Harajuku Vacant plus a ‘photobook orgy’ in The Photographers’ Gallery, while Tate Modern is planning a self-published photobook fair next summer.
From Everyday Sexism to No More Page Three, the internet has offered feminists a new way to gather together and spread ideas, and led to a new wave of interest that’s been tagged either ‘networked feminism’, Feminism 3.0 or ‘cyber feminism’. Photographers have been quick to get involved, with sites such as Tender Journal and The Ardorous including many imagemakers alongside artists and writers, and individuals both using the web and commenting on the prevalent gender-relations depicted online. What’s interesting is how that work is filtering out into the mainstream, with photographers such as Petra Collins and Arvida Bystrom working with clients such as Vice, Vogue Italia, Urban Outfitters and Monki to create surprisingly in-your-face images, featuring unruly hair on every imaginable body part and even menstrual blood. Even American Apparel, a brand more usually on the wrong side of gender politics thanks to it’s sexy, risque ads has also got involved, kitting out mannequins with giant merkins in its New York store in January.
The new sleek
When The Gentlewoman launched in Spring/Summer 2010 it was a breath of fresh air. Stripping back the cluttered visuals and scattergun approach to colour prevalent in more mainstream women’s magazines, it brought a sense of mature sophistication – and a lot of black-and-white photography. In the first issues the ads seemed to lag behind, with fashion label Margaret Howell one of the few to promote a similarly understated aesthetic; whether The Gentlewoman was ahead of the curve or its launch helped to fashion a change is hard to say, but fast-forward to its Spring/Summer 2014 edition and there is a welter of advertisers who are using minimal monochrome – Repossi, St Laurent, Calvin Klein, Phillip Lim, Rag & Bone, Sandro and JW Anderson, plus Margaret Howell. Maybe it’s the economic crisis or maybe it was just time for a change, but suddenly high glamour doesn’t look so cool; things haven’t been this restrained since grunge shook up the scene in the mid-1990s, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Calvin Klein has chosen this moment to reissue its classic 1995 Eternity ad.
Diane Smyth is deputy editor of the British Journal of Photography