Is Fashion Photography Inherently Predatory?

While the fashion industry has been quick to cut ties with a number of influential photographers in the wake of serious sexual abuse allegations against them, a recently published editorial by The Cut argues that the mentality that allowed those photographers to thrive still persists.

Penned by a veteran of the editorial side, Stella Bugbee, the piece paints a dark picture of the forces that inspire both the images and the people (mostly men) that take them, tracing bad behavior and scared-looking subjects back to the ‘60s.

And throughout both her career and the careers of Weber, Testino and Richardson, “‘Fashion’ meant something provocative, fraught,” Bugbee writes. But, “photographers could hide behind the excuse that they were just pushing us into uncomfortable places in order to challenge norms.”

“We used the word twisted a lot, with scant irony or concern for morality. We needed to trigger a twinge of desire — the frisson of the unfamiliar. We used the word sick as a compliment.”

It’s a level of self-reflection that’s both startling and, ultimately, necessary. If some brand of transgression is needed for fashion to fashion, how does the industry promote creativity without sacrificing the emotional and physical well-being of some of the more vulnerable people (models) in the orbit?

Bugbee argues that inclusion is a good place to start, and that allowing for more diversity in all areas of the fashion editorial process would solve a lot of the problems that the transgressive DNA brings on.

“Transgression looks and feels very different depending on who’s doing the talking,” she writes. “So let’s tear down the old process that let a few gatekeepers choose virtually all the images we saw.”

And while that does sound like the right move (it most definitely is the right move), Bugbee still wonders, “Can the fashion world find those images interesting?”

You can read more about it at The Cut.

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