Outtakes

Anti-fashion fashion photography. Jonathan Dyson reports
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Fashion photography has come a long way from the studio-bound confections of Cecil Beaton and models wearing two tons of ballgown. The most arresting fashion image in the current Juergen Teller exhibition (at the Photographer's Gallery) is of supermodel Kristen McMenemy, naked, bruised and menstruating, with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth and Versace scrawled in lipstick across her breast. The "dirty realist" school of fashion photography, which began in the late Eighties in cutting- edge style magazines such as i-D and The Face, is now standard fare in Vogue and the other glossies. "When the new style first started, fashion photography was glamorous," says Val Williams, who has helped to curate an exhibition called Real Life? which brings together the leading British names in the anti-fashion school of fashion photography. "Then there came this experimentation with technique, a move towards realism, using non-models, grungy locations. At the time it was a breakthrough - it was about street fashion, it opened the floodgates for a new way of looking at clothes."

Real Life? features nearly 30 photographers, ranging from Wolfgang Tillmans who has used friends as models to make the photographs more "real", to Elaine Constantine, whose images, typically, look spontaneous and "snapped", but are actually carefully staged. All the photographs debunk accepted notions of beauty and aspiration, and the clothes often seem incidental, almost like product placement in works of art. But while the genre has its roots in the non-fashion art world of the Eighties and the work of documentary-makers such as Nan Goldin, the reality is that these photographs are there to sell a product or a dream, in the same way as any Beaton or Parkinson. As the question mark in the exhibition's title indicates, these images are not "real life" at all. In fact, Williams thinks photographers will return to the studio more and more in the future as the dirty realist style becomes increasingly ubiquitous and devalued. Like fashion, she says, "It's all about newness"

`Real Life?' is at the Crossley Gallery, Dean Clough, Halifax (01422 250250) from 4 July to 30 August and at the Levi's Gallery in Regent Street, London W1 from 14 July. An accompanying book, `W'Happen', edited by Jason Evans, is published by Shoreditch Biennale

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