Alejandro Acin, Claire Lawrie and Karen Knorr’s projects present three very different but equally critical, takes on the marketing fantasy of fashion photography, highlighting the labour behind the glossy facade, the fallout after the trends have moved on, and the gap between the dream and the everyday.
Fashion photography, whether it’s editorial or advertising, shows off clothes currently or soon to be up for sale. It also adds a layer of fantasy that, whether it’s high-octane glamour or anarchic heroin chic, creates a dream-like world that consumers buy into when they shell out on an item. In doing so, it helps create desirable commodities divorced from the less appealing realities of their production, and endowed with values beyond their pure utility. In Marxist terms, perhaps, it helps create commodity fetishes. That’s not the kind of photography that Photoworks Annual has picked out in its Open Call, though all three selected projects are concerned with the fashion industry. In their own ways, Alejandro Acin’s series A Trading Journey, Claire Lawrie’s Mike and Karen Knorr’s Ladies all complicate the usual relationship between fashion photography and the rag trade, by highlighting the labour behind the glossy facade, the fallout after the trends have moved on, and the gap between the dream and the everyday.
A look behind the scenes in the fashion industry, Alejandro Acin’s A Trading Journey is the most directly subversive—and, perhaps, directly political—of the three. It’s shot in Guangzhou, China’s third largest city and busiest commercial hub, where a quarter of the clothes produced in the country are now made, and where big international fashion brands go to source garments, shoes and accessories before marketing and distributing them around the world. Finding his way into some of the huge wholesale markets in the city, Acin records the overwhelming reality of stalls crammed with goods on sale. ‘Being there is like walking through the backstage of internet trading platforms such as Alibaba, where everything gets packed, wrapped and stored in containers ready to be shipped’, writes the young Spaniard, who is now based in Bristol. ‘Rather than focus on production, with these photographs I want to question the role of photography within the fashion industry by showing the unseen labour and mundanity behind fashion’s supply chain, and the way in which “poor images” circulate within this context. Glamour and prestige are stripped down to show what happens every time an online order is placed.’
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