Despite being an industry worth $3 trillion, fashion is still often viewed as frivolous and inexplicably linked with the glamorous, over-sexualised celebrity culture of the 2000s. Shonagh Marshall, a London-based fashion curator, who previously held the position of curator at Somerset House, began to notice a shift away from such ideals while curating Hair, an exhibition of Sam McKnight’s work in 2016.
“After working so intensely on Sam’s body of work – his career spans forty years and comprises of some of the most iconic fashion images from this period – I began to notice a shift in the way the body was being posed in contemporary fashion photography in comparison,” Shonagh recalls of the beginning on her project Posturing. Made in collaboration with London-based photographic director (at Wallpaper* Magazine) Holly Hay, Posturing spans three mediums and presents the case for a fashion industry that poses bodies in more haphazard, surreal positions.
Beginning with the exhibition Posturing: Photographing the Body in Fashion, the duo later commissioned Coco Capitán to respond to the theme resulting in the film Filming the Body in Fashion, now finally landing on the release of this book: Posturing: Writing the Body in Fashion. Featuring the work of Charlie Engman, Estelle Hanania and Joyce Ng (among many others), the publication features photographs which – instead of positioning the body in the optimum angle to make the garment desirable – turn human figures into sculptures, in a celebration of aesthetic oddness.
Split into two, Posturing: Writing the Body in Fashion, contains a host of interviews with photographers, stylists, set designers and commissioning editors. “This project was an incredible opportunity to talk at length with a group of photographers and those they collaborate with,” Holly remarks, “I am so familiar with this work but this was a chance to really learn about their process.” As opposed to a magazine, where images are presented standalone, often without context or background information, Posturing provides real insight. “Isolating images from their stories and presenting them, firstly printed and framed in an exhibition, and then on their own page of a book, really highlights the visual clues in these pictures,” she continues.
The exhibition was held in November of 2017 but the book was published by SPBH Editions in April 2018. Shonagh explains how: “Having the time between the exhibition and book offered a space for analysis, we could step back and really think about the conversations that arose from exhibiting this body of work.” Having learned so much from the exhibition, the pair were left with questions that the book allowed them to explore. “The book is a lasting object that really puts a pin in this aesthetic movement in fashion photography. We believe these images will be looked back on in decades and represent a really important moment, a book feels like a very nice way to celebrate that,” Holly adds.
With the images organised into a visual essay by Holly, followed by a series of ten interviews, Posturing offers a space to examine the current state of the fashion industry, without presenting a set of conclusions. “In turn,” Shonagh concludes, “this gives a chance to discuss the wider fashion industry touching upon casting, money and the way the times in which we live are affecting the work that is being produced.”
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