Why, in a time when women have made staggering progress towards equality and empowerment, are we still visually fed images of weak, distressed, dead, dying and abused female victims in high fashion as sexually appealing? The exploitation of shock methods and manipulation of image by fashion photographers is nothing new. Neither is the depiction of dead or abused female models. Typically, the deathly narrative in fashion is a reference to how quickly beauty can turn to disgust and acknowledges fashion’s constantly transient state of death and renewal of what’s in style. This theme is tackled through different artistic approaches but often result in constructing a narrative fantasy, glamorising death and abuse.
The image above, depicts a model wearing sexy lingerie, draped across a luxury car with her identity concealed (because apparently it doesn’t matter) and an abusive male strangling her with a tie. The star of the image however, is the suit because after all that’s what Duncan Quinn is advertising. Buy this suit, and you too can be powerful and dominate women. Maybe you could even have sex with them first and have the same luxury car. It’s promoting a powerful and dominating lifestyle that’s associated with the suit. When viewing these types of images, it’s important to recognise that the fashion photographer has a significant degree of creative control over how garments are represented. This construction of image and scene stems from a deathly narrative that distracts the viewer’s attention from seeing the clothes as commodities. We, the public, are visually fed images of violence against women that negate the impact of domestic violence so brands can increase their sales. Clearly, this is not a justifiable or ethical motivation but nonetheless, we see it every day. And the result? It plays-down the seriousness of domestic violence.
In the book, Fashioning Fiction in Photography Since 1990, it was observed that
“Readers of fashion magazines or viewers of fashion pictures were no longer just observers, but implicit participants. As fashion photographers changed the model from objects to active humans in realistic situations, they began to make the viewer an extension of these situations. Everything -model, clothing, background, lighting , situations, image and viewer – participated in a narrative fantasy (Kismaric, Susan and Respini, Eve. 2008).”
By participating in this deadly narrative fantasy, the viewers are associating violence against women and the female victim as sexy, ignoring its very real consequences. In 2015, the Bureau of Australian statistics released that in Australia, “women accounted for almost two thirds (65 per cent) of the total number of victims of domestic violence related homicide (White Ribbon Australia. 2016).” Violence against both genders is a significant issue in Australia, however further statistics on the landslide majority of women victims of violence and abuse are profoundly disturbing and can also be seen here.
I’m calling for a change in the representation of women in the fashion industry. Yes, we see some empowering images of women, but we also see degrading high fashion images that put death and violence on a glamorous pedestal. Even in a time when gender equality is moving forward, the fashion industry is moving backwards, reaching to an audience that doesn’t want to hear its demeaning message. You see, the reality is, death is not sexy – it smells, bodies rot, maggots appear and bodily fluids emerge. It’s a nasty process, generally hidden from the public. A corpse is not flirting with anyone, violence destroys lives and women are strong, not weak.
Written by Sarah Channer
Kismaric, Susan and Respini, Eve. 2008. Fashioning Fiction in Photography Since 1990, 2008. London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 31-32.
White Ribbon Australia. 2016. “Homes are crime scenes as domestic violence accounts for over a third of all homicides.” Last modified 29 July.
Winn, Sandra. 2008. Tradehuntermarketing. “Duncan Quinn Suit Campaign Depicts Strangled Woman.” Last modified 31 December.