i’ve had a double-think

My aesthetic experiment is going to be tweaked before it’s even begun, Dear Readers.

Do you get the sense that the model and/or photographer give a fuck what you think about her?

Last night, while I was browsing fashion magazines at Chapters (and spent entirely too much money to bring them home), I realized that the aesthetics of sewing blogs doesn’t mimic fashion magazines. Not really.

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Though I’ll grant that in my quick search, women definitely produced more sexy/pretty self-portraits than men, and I’m sure it’s no accident. Still, overall, there were very, very few friendly and approachable smiles on someone trying to be generically pretty.

Nor does it mimic self-portrait photography.

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Yup. There’s your standard sewing blog aesthetic–courtesy of Sears.

It mimics catalogues.

Which is depressing as hell (to me, anyway). What does it say about us and our relationship to our creations that our immediate impulse is to present them as products for sale? Is it just that that’s the easiest kind of picture to take? Is it our default relationship with the clothes we wear and enjoy–posed on a friendly, unintimidating, quietly pretty model? What do you think about the implication–that we are essentially producing free advertising for fabric and patterns?

A more expensive catalogue (Anthropologie), same visual aesthetic. Yes, I’ve been told that I think too much before.

A very quick, lazy-Saturday-morning perusal of fashion photographs and self-portraits vs. catalogue images makes me wonder if the main difference isn’t that in fashion photography and self-portrait photography, it doesn’t matter if the model looks pretty or not. She (or he) might actually look tired, sick, angry, ridiculous, whatever, so long as the overall image is pleasing and interesting, and in fashion photography, it demonstrates something unusual or noteworthy about the clothing–construction, the way it moves, reflects light, what have you.

I’m not going to include photos from sewing blogs–I don’t want to criticize anyone, and I think this is the kind of thing that would be hard not to take personally. But it’s easy enough to find them on Google and then you can make up your own mind, or tell me I’m full of it.

I’m still going to be focusing on interesting over pretty, but I’ll be thinking about it differently. Anything goes, so long as I don’t look like a page from a Sears catalogue.

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8 thoughts on “i’ve had a double-think”

  1. I love fashion photography: at its best it’s art. In any selfies I take, I look more catalogy (!) as it’s just easier to shoot. But I try not to smile. I strive to avoid the Sears look! 🙂

  2. Apparently the newest catalog picture style (and by catalog I mean retail website) was popularized by Zara and features a three-quarter shot of an unsmiling model purposefully striding toward…..who knows what.
    Least favorite sewing blog poses (I know, easy for me to say since I avoid all cameras and don’t have a blog.
    1. Twee, lean slightly to the left, lean slightly to the right, look wistful. Bonus points for pigeon toes and rainbow colored hair.
    2. Put hands or fists at waist level, elbows out to sides, push in hard to indent waist.
    3. Skirt or pants shown only from front, maybe maybe from back at just the right angle, never from side. Bonus points if too tight to actually sit down

    1. Hi! thanks for commenting. 🙂

      Really! I hadn’t seen that one. I’ll have to check it out, just for inspiration. 😉

      For some women, those poses really work, and it’s clearly what they’re comfortable doing. It just wasn’t working for me, and being me, I had to over-analyze. That’s true that you don’t see a lot of sitting poses with pants and shorts. I hadn’t even thought of that before.

  3. Hi Andrea! I’m a new reader – I found your blog through a comment you left on Coletterie and then again from some of your comments on Charlotte’s blog, Seamripped (also a newish reader there). When I’m at my most cynical, I worry about the very thing you pointed out – that our photography and blogging produce free advertising for patterns and fabric. (That’s part of why I’m not too worked up about the idea of free pattern testing; how different is it from reviewing a pattern on our blog? In the case of the pattern testing, the ask is more explicit.) When I’m not feeling cynical, I focus on what I like best about sewing blogs – sharing a creative process with other people who care.

    As far as the photography itself, my thoughts are all over the place. I like seeing real people in the clothes they made; even if sewing bloggers are a self-selecting group, it normalizes a bigger variety of faces and body types than I’m used to seeing in association with clothing. A lot of fashion blog photography turns me off. I like photography that shows off how sewing projects work on a body and I like construction details – both of which can start approximating catalog photography. The smiling – I can take it or leave it. I like sewing approximately 100x more than I like being photographed in my creations, so my goal is usually to get photos my clothing at the pertinent angles and some detail shots quickly, and without feeling like a total jackass. And yep, sometimes that includes putting a hand on my hip and smiling – a shortcut to looking “presentable” and mimicking other imagery I’ve seen. All that said, I’ll be following your experiment with interest! – Morgan

    1. I’m not too fussed about producing free advertising for patterns etc.–by its very nature, whenever I say something positive about a pattern or fabric, I am potentially helping to sell it. I think what interests me with this is that the visual language we use falls so easily into the same visual language used by advertisers, as if we see ourselves as products or consumers so inherently that we don’t even think about it. It’s true that, as Jen said, those are sometimes the easiest pictures to take–stand in front of your mirror, cock a hip, smile! And I get that. I also get that it’s sometimes the easiest way to communicate certain details about a pattern or finished project. But sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you don’t see the details at all because of the way that image takes over the screen or the presentation. Sometimes the mess behind the person in the mirror overwhelms the garment they’re wearing. And I think too that our unconscious comparison of the image on the blog with what we’ve been trained to see from catalogues can interfere with our ability to really see what we’re looking at. You know, we expect to see a young, slim, attractive woman with a smile, and when what we see varies from that, that difference can be highlighted in a way that is both somewhat devaluing of the person and takes attention away from the garment.

      I overthink things, and I’m not expecting anyone else to agree with me or take up the standard, or whatever. But I do know that the stand-and-smile-at-3/4-view thing was bugging me, in my own pictures, for quite some time–certainly since May–because it feels very much at odds with how I think about myself, why I sew or create things, and the role of my body and body image in my own life. If it’s working for other people, by all means they should keep doing it. (Including you. 🙂 ) But I’m going to mess around with different ways of approaching it until I find one that works for me, and being me, I had to find a very wordy and obtuse way of saying so.

      I also find that the sewing blogs where the pictures are expressing something different are often my favourites. Esther from the sticks, for example. She’s bringing a very artistic and informed eye to the visual presentation and as a result it is just so damned interesting. I’m not going to go that specific route, of course, but man she’s good.

      Thanks for commenting and visiting, Morgan. 🙂

      1. Haha, I’m not sure I’d say those poses are working for me. Maybe your crusade will inspire me the next time I’m taking photos and some magic will happen. Or maybe I’ll just take that hand off my hip and stop smiling, much to my sister-photographer’s chagrin. 😉 In all seriousness, I appreciate the wordiness and the overthinking!

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