Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Smile That Hides a Thousand Words

The Sartorialist

I’ve never really liked smiling in photographs. I always have, because I feel that it is somehow expected of me, but at the same time, I have always liked best the photographs in which I am not smiling.
It’s not that I don’t like to smile, or see other people smile. A smile shows that you are happy, at ease, and friendly. But in regards to pictures, if you are taking a picture in order to capture the physical person, shouldn’t it also be the aim to capture the emotional person as well? You see, I personally believe that smiling in a picture distracts from the things that can give the best clues about a person’s inner nature: the eyes. I am a true believer in the thought that the eyes are the windows to the soul. They can betray even our most private secrets.
This thought is perfectly illustrated in the famous photo of Marilyn Monroe by Richard Avedon:

Now look at this one by Andre de Dienes:

Yes, both pictures are lovely, and show completely different sides of Marilyn, but in my opinion, Avedon’s picture exposes something extremely personal about Marilyn that de Dienes’ photo does not. De Dienes’ photo shows a fresher, brighter take on Marilyn. She looks healthy, glowing and connects wonderfully with the camera, and yet, it lacks a distinct image of her inner self. This is what Avedon’s photo has. When the smile is removed, there is no pretense. There is only Marilyn, staring off into space. Avedon’s photo is special because your eyes go straight to Marilyn’s. They are truly the main focus of the photo and because of that, we are not distracted by any brilliant smile or perfectly arched brows. We simply see the woman, the pain, the ambivalence, the loneliness. At least that’s what I see when I look at Avedon’s photo.

What I think what this whole study boils down to is the thought that while a smile can outwardly say so much about us, for example, that we are friendly and open, it can also hide many inward emotions. It hides by distracting, by drawing attention to the opposite end of the face as the eyes, which could potentially reveal everything, even things we might not want people to see.

So, is it fair to say that smiling in a photo is a defense mechanism?  I believe in some cases it may be. Of course there are instances where a smile is real, where it matches what the eyes say as well, but then there are instances where I’m sure the smile is used to hide.

I know people who always smile in photos, no matter what. I have also known people who refuse to smile. My great grandmother was one of them. Even in her engagement photo she did not smile. But then again, she was quite a confident woman, and she probably understood that you can see everything you need to see through the eyes. So she never smiled in photographs. What became of that was a collection of photos that showed her when she was happy, when she was sad, and everything in between. Because she never smiled, the pictures that remain of her show the real her, every side of her, because she let the camera focus on her eyes, and into her soul.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Practical Decisions

Garance Dore

Practical is a word you will see me use quite a bit, I think. Especially when talking about clothing. I hate impractical clothing. And by impractical, I mean, uncomfortable, always-has-to-be-adjusted, does-not-flatter clothing. And I see a lot of that in high fashion.

There is a quote from my favorite childhood movie "Tuck Everlasting" that says "You must suffer to be beautiful, so say the French." Well, this season, one of the premiere French fashion houses, Chanel, has come out with a collection that I believe is anything but insufferable.

Look at the picture above. In my opinion, that is a practical dress. While I am unaware of it's fabric, the fine lines of it's design appear truely flattering to me. Notice the modest neckline (no worry of exposed cleavage), the moderate hemline (not too short, but just enough to show usually the best looking part of a woman's leg, the calf), and above, the fitted bodice and flared skirt, perfect for accenting and bringing out the natural hourglass curves of a woman's torso. The cut is also a timeless one, meaning it can be worn year to year with ease, and can also function within the spring and summer months quite perfectly. Wear it to work, or out on a date. It's the perfect Little Pastel Dress.

Now notice the shoes in the picture below:

Garance Dore
While they are a bit heavy looking for my taste, I can imagine that they would be very comfortable. A nice thick sole, perfect for walking. No heel. There is even a sturdy strap closure, which means no skinny straps biting into your feet at the end of the day. What this shoe lacks in delicacy, it makes up for in wearability.

And while I know that most women do not have the money to spend a few thousand dollars on a pair of shoes or a dress, the very fact that these practical design elements are in a high fashion collection now, means that eventually they will turn into the trends your average woman will see at her local Macy's or JCPenney. It is important that major fashion brands make decisions such as this, gearing their collections towards timeless wearability and comfort, because these decisions have the power to liberate women from the thought that we "must suffer to be beautiful" by making practical clothing cool again. So bravo, Chanel. Yet again, you make me smile.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A "Bullet" Image

The Sartorialist

One of my favorite photographers, hands down, is Scott Schuman of "The Sartorialist." I have been a loyal follower of the blog for a few years now, and I must say, Mr. Schuman is going in a very refreshing direction with his latest photographs.

Typically, when I think of a Scott Schuman photograph, I think of good composition and good coloring, but more than that, I think of his talent of being able to capture people in a way that truly suggests something about who they are as a person, even when his subjects are in a stationary pose.

That same sense of emotional photography has been taken into his latest posts, but perhaps a little modified: Schuman, in my opinion, is now focusing on social commentary as well as person-to-person commmentary. The above picture of the girl on the bike is an extremely emotional picture for me. To me, just like all of Schuman's photographs before her, he has captured the full person in one shot; she is strong, no doubt. This is predominantly shown in the bottom half of her, the determined flash of orange, accompanied by the sturdy and practical lines of her shoes. The fine leather belt. All components that, to me, speak of an immensely confident woman.

But then the top half of her, a contadiction. She is all fragility and vulnerability on the top, her back exposed, the color of her shirt nearly the same color as her alabaster skin, almost giving the illusion of nakedness if it were not for the two delicate straps crossing her gracefully fit shoulders.

And then there is her leg. Gold, like a king's crown and, in my opinion, a lovely symbol of her own personal power.

This woman is truly fascinating, and yet we have probably never seen her in any other form of media but this one. The blog's comment forum is bursting with remarks on how, dispite her prosthetic leg, which is a blatant imperfection in a society that glorifies absolute perfection, this woman is so beautiful, so sexy.  I whole-heartedly agree with all of those comments. To me, the emotional poignancy of the implied story behind her leg makes this photograph more beautiful, more real, than many of the other, more sensationalized images of beauty I see in the media today. By putting this lovely girl out into the world through this tasteful photograph, especially through a fashion blog, Schuman has praised another form of beauty that sometimes gets a bit forgotten in our prefection-hungery media: the beauty that comes with an implied story of strength, recovery, and confidence. People are not born wholely beautiful; they are made wholely beautiful by their own strengths and weaknesses, and for me, that is what this girl represents.

Another image that caught my attention the other day was this one:

The Sartorialist

Yes, that is a beautiful, fashion-conscience girl standing next to a man who is riffling through a garbage can, probably for his next meal. This image holds so many thoughts for me. So many. I could talk about so many things regarding this photograph, and I might in later posts. But for now, as I gather my many thoughts, all I can do now is applaud Mr. Schuman for his great sense of empathy in his recent works. He is a brave man to shoot such an image that is so loaded with societal implications. It's what I like to call a "bullet image" because it hits you in the gut when you see it. The picture of the girl riding the bike is also a bullet image. And quite frankly, I hope to see more images of this nature trickling through the media.