PRINT December 1990


Photo Allure

FASHION IS ALWAYS in the news, although news images of fashion are fairly unenlightening. Maybe that’s why assorted figures in the fashion world are taking up cameras themselves, rejecting the notion of photographic “professionals” in a quest for personalized commercial expression. One leading photographer manqué is fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who shoots his own ads and has even published a pricey tome of his photographic efforts. Going one step further, he has also introduced a thematically related personal-grooming product named Lagerfeld PHOTO. A new fragrance for men, it is packaged in high-tech black plastic with a digital-print logo and embossed, focusing-ring details.

Now some women are going to have a problem with Lagerfeld’s aroma. It’s not just that the fashionable men who wear it will stink, which they will, because PHOTO smells like a chemical spill and is impervious to soap and water. The primary problem is the ad Lagerfeld is using to peddle his odoriferous brew: a selection of black and white photos tinted blue starring a guy in a black turtleneck and a blond in a white towel.

The scenario here is boringly obvious. The guy peers at the blond through a wide-angle lens mounted on a camera that is not a Nikon but may be a Leica. She poses coyly, while the ad copy claims that this is “the new fragrance that zeros in on a man, a woman, and a camera. A relationship charged with sensuality and excitement.” So this bottle of gnat spray is—surprise—functioning as a metaphallus. And the male gaze is being routed through the nose, not the eye, with eau de PHOTO arousing with synthetic scent what was lost when looking replaced smelling. Once a man filters the woman of his dreams through a barrier of both photography and PHOTO, he will presumably end up with sheer essence of Female.

The attractions of this kind of voyeurism are clear as glass. But we’ve discovered that there are men out there who’d still rather touch women than emote through the prophylactic of the camera. Unfortunately, the women they want to touch are life-size, inflatable, anatomically explicit—and plastic. Such a creature materialized at Giants Stadium in a section of lower-level seats between the 30-yard lines during the third quarter of a game last fall between the Buffalo Bills and the stateless Jets. It seems the Jets fans got bored with their losing team. Out came the blowup female and voila!—the fans’ mood brightened. According to New York Post columnist Mark Di Ionno, the little lady was “passed around,” all the while being punched, choked—“one goon repeatedly smashed the doll in the face”—and, finally, gang-raped (simulated, of course). Some men don’t need eau de PHOTO to get it on.

To his credit, Di Ionno wrote an entire column venting his outrage at this exhibition of just clean fun. And no one escaped his ire. He pointed out that these weren’t “the cheap seats,” making it clear that the working class shouldn’t take the fall. “Worse yet,” he continued, “is that it happened right below the press box—in full view of officials of the Jets, Giants Stadium, and NFL. Yet no security man appeared on the scene to stop the mayhem. And not one fan had the courage to take the thing out to security.” Di Ionno didn’t stop there, either, going on to lambaste the “macho jerks,” drunks, and other offenders who are increasingly violent in general and abusive to women in particular, not just in sports, but everywhere. New York Times columnist George Vecsey also mentioned the incident, in one sentence at the end of a column discussing other, more fitting aspects of the sport.

Missing in all of this was a picture of what must have been a highly photogenic scene. Even when reproduced in the grainy black and white of newsprint, the contrast between the smooth, rounded surfaces of the inflated plastic and the rough wool of the fan’s team jackets would have made a thrilling contrast. And the dynamism of the choking, pummeling, and gang-raping would have made for some breathtaking compositions. Certainly, any man who’d splashed on PHOTO would have had the creativity to see esthetic pay dirt in those fans, although the sports world would rather see this as an insignificant blip—like the New England Patriot player who allegedly exposed himself to a woman reporter in the locker room (another enchanting image)—rather than an actively acculturated behavioral maladjustment.

But a guy who is serious about the weaker sex won’t be satisfied with either chemical allure or inflated body doubles. Not when he has a tool as powerful as “model consulting” close at hand. “What is model consulting?” queries an ad in International Photographer magazine, wanting to clear up our confusion right off the bat. “Many photographers join the Model Consulting Program to solve the age-old problem of finding models for other aspects of their photography work or hobby without potential models being skeptical of their intentions.” This is the product for those too frightened or too civilized to choke a doll or unzip their pants. Bona fide model consultants receive, for only $295, a model-consultant’s kit that contains the credentials needed to “recruit” models to pose, including a model consultant’s ID card, certificate, and 500 business cards, along with model-interview forms, model-portfolio contracts, model-portfolio checklists, and an “Exposure Directory.” All you have to do is approach the women you’re interested in as “models,” sign them up for an indeterminate fee to the International Freelance Models Organization, deduct the $10 per “model” you make for your efforts from the fee you owe the International Freelance Photographers Organization, and you’re launched on a lucrative career in which you could begin making $80,000 or more per year in only 10 weeks!

Now, this is one fantastic solution for both the fans who manhandled the dummy and the style mavens who are banking on PHOTO. An easy, mail-order purchase of a model-consulting kit could put them in touch with more women than they ever dreamed possible. Perhaps the violent, loutish, or merely distasteful behavior that Di Ionno condemned could be rerouted into the obsessive, sublimated creativity of “model” photography, encouraging various sorts of misfits to retreat to their darkrooms or consulting kits.

On further reflection, though, it seems that all model consulting does is reinstitutionalize the harassment of women by no doubt unattractive men, many of whom will probably be wearing PHOTO while they hand out their model consultant’s business cards. This is a bad idea. Never mind.

Carol Squiers is a writer and curator, and senior editor at American Photo. Her column appears regularly in Artforum.