Khaki Swing – Gap 1998 by Gap and Matthew Rolston
While a fashion performance of this scale takes a large team, the focus of this campaign could be placed on photographer Matthew Rolston, and the cultural consequences of the spot itself. Set to Louis Prima’s Jump Jive n’ Wail, a cast of dancers of various races swing, hop, and throw each other across the stage, all wearing pairs of the titular Gap khaki pants. What Rolston brings to the table is his unique focus on the subject of his photography. Known for his revival of glamour photography(Krier 1991), Rolston’s composition manages to center an advert full of movement around the plain pairs of straight-cut pants that every character is wearing. When we watch the commercial, we’re looking at something we know is exciting, yet we’re staring at a pair of khaki pants. He’s made them exciting by association.
The commercial has an amazing talent for borrowing extensively, from Rolston’s aforementioned glamour photography, as well as techniques of snapshot photography, performance and appropriation by way of subculture. Rolston’s set is stark white, giving us a static point to rest the eyes during all the commotion. Because dancers are often in the air throughout the spot, it gives an excuse for the camera to be angled a little higher, which means that though the horizon is filled with actors, we still have almost 50% white-space (literally in this case) for most of the spot. There is a cast that is racially diverse, which may seem a little progressive, until you notice that none of the couples are mixed-race. The performance has a sense of rebellion and freedom to it, where dance and music have always had a connection to breaking away from tradition, yet it’s a style that grandparents at the time might be more familiar with. It’s a composition eerily foreshadowing of the famous black turtleneck that would follow in making a product that everyone had to have. Rolston, and Gap’s creative department were trying to please everyone, and apart from the subculture of swing revival showing up at the time (who would surely be up in arms about one of the actors wearing sneakers), they largely succeeded.
Krier, B. A. 1991 Guardian of glamour: Photographer Matthew Rolston focuses on images of the past to capture today’s stars, Los Angeles Times, 22nd October 1991, viewed 23rd August 2015,