PRINT May 2016

Heji Shin

Heji Shin, Jeany 1, 2016, C-print, 65 × 45".

IN A 2002 BBC DOCUMENTARY, Tom Ford, a longtime admirer of Mario Testino, summed up the renowned fashion photographer’s sensibility and subjects: “They’re not ashamed of being rich or being famous or being a little bit excessive.” Anna Wintour adds: “You want to be the woman in that glorious house . . . in that incredible dress.” And sometimes your dog has a similarly aspirational vision—or at least, this is what Testino’s 2002 campaign for a pet-food company suggests. The brand, Cesar, targets consumers who revere their pets and consider them a part of their own indulgent lifestyle.

Testino’s paparazzi-style black-and-white images for the campaign, which appeared on both billboards and the tins themselves, play on the resemblance of pets to their masters. In one photo, a French lady sits at a Parisian café with her terrier; in another, the same terrier looks cute and a little bit lost as it stares into the camera with a couple of shopping bags from expensive boutiques hung around its neck.

Going back to the 1960s, a comparison to Piero Manzoni’s sculptural work Merda d’artista seems almost inevitable here. Not only do dog food and shit startlingly resemble each other, but both the Manzoni work and the Testino campaign demonstrate that the fetishization of a cultural producer’s name and cachet is all it takes to turn something like dog food or shit into something desirable. Only, of course, in Manzoni’s case, the irony was intentional, and the product was a provocation, not a capitulation.

Animals are “poor in world” (the title of my first show at New York’s Real Fine Arts, where I showed a number of animal portraits) and often much nicer to work with than human models. But the unfunny Cesar images imply that your dog is a direct reflection of you—the same narcissistic feedback loop that Wintour seems to be describing when she explains the allure of Testino’s photos.

Heji Shin is an artist based in New York.