4.9.08

I'm not sure how many people reading this have already heard of the fuss created over the Vogue India editorial that featured poor people as models for designer accessories, and the reason I haven't posted about it for so long was simply because I wanted to get a few thoughts in order.
First things first- irrespective of the idea behind the shoot, why on earth did it take nearly a month for anyone to notice it? The editorial ran in the August issue of Vogue, and nothing was heard about it till the very end of the month. If it was really such an utter outrage, I'm rather sceptical of the idea that someone wouldn't have caught on and complained sooner.
Secondly, I've seen the editorial (but I didn't buy the issue thanks to the people they put on the cover) and truth be told, the problem isn't with the images themselves- the people who are featured as models are much more front and central, for lack of a better term, than models usually are on a fashion shoot. And truthfully, on first sight it didn't even look like an accessories shoot at all- I wouldn't have known what the things being modelled were if Vogue hadn't used text to indicate them, it looks like they're just there by accident and happen to be expensive. Fashion magazines do worse than this all the time, if one really wants to talk about the ethical issues behind using poor people as the subjects of fashion photography- what about all the 'background' locals on fashion shoots set in 'exotic' places? Vogue India's not the only magazine to do it.
Which brings me to my next point- the text. Which is the single most problematic part of the entire thing. Magazines often choose not to name their models on the page, but in a situation where I know most of the models' names that doesn't really anonymise them too much. Choosing to use actual people in a shoot and then not naming them- but using the text to name the accessories, loud and clear (well, of course, since it's an accessories shoot) was just plain wrong, IMHO. I get that it's all about the advertisers, and in one way it's a score for Vogue India because the images are much more interesting than anything else I've ever seen from them, but it could have had a lot more meaning if they'd, I don't know, done a short interview with each of the people being photographed? I know I'd much rather read that than yet another gushy puff piece about some socialite with X private jets. I've criticised Vogue India often enough in the past, but really, they could have done so much better. And Priya Tanna's (the editor-in-chief) response doesn't make it any better, really.
Lastly, about the opinions being quoted in the New York Times article in the link. I understand fully well that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but having seen Kanika Gahlaut's column in the Mail Today and her book, I'd take the opinions of a wannabe third-rate chick-lit author with a large pinch of salt- she's about as bad as Liz Jones in the Daily Mail. Her writings about fashion, as far as I've seen, have tended to spew venom on the field (sure, we know it's silly and takes itself a bit too seriously at times, but outright condemnation is a bit much, hmm?), and really, if you want to see a sample of the kind of things the lady writes, look no further than this place- it might be of particular interest to girl bloggers. And if anyone wants to talk more about India's new economy and the fact that Vogue even exists here, mail me.
image from the New York Times

13 comments:

WendyB said...

"Choosing to use actual people in a shoot and then not naming them- but using the text to name the accessories, loud and clear (well, of course, since it's an accessories shoot) was just plain wrong, IMHO. " -- it is odd because with these kinds of spreads people usually are named. Even so, I think the whole thing is a tempest in a teapot.

seuibo said...

mm, agree with you. while the spread itself was of questionable taste, the comments ("fashion is no longer a rich man’s privilege. Anyone can carry it off and make it look beautiful")of the editor seemed to imply that she's either hopelessly naive or plans to carpet-bomb the villages of India with accessories. :)

Sal said...

As a non-Vogue reader I'm intrigued to learn that this article didn't generate any ill-will for an entire month. What is THAT about? Did someone just suddenly smell publicity and decide that it was stink-making time?

ambika said...

I missed this brouhaha but definitely find it interesting. Like you, I think I'd need more time to form an opinion because I'm not quite sure what to think at the moment...

fashionaddict said...

I was quite intrigued by the images, because I'm not particularly opposed to the concept itself - if anything, it reminded me of the way poverty sits side by side with wealth. And the images were not demeaning to the wearers. I just hope Vogue at least paid them for their work? I mean, they are posed subjects.

Priya Tanna's response, however, was rude, ignorant, pretentious, a waste of space. The 'power of fashion' comment is very huh?-inducing, while the 'you can't take fashion too seriously' bit smacks of a cop-out. Would it have been so bad to say the magazine was trying to be deliberately provocative?

rakesh yadav said...

m also laiking d jeppanes garl. so waits 4 d repli.

Blue Floppy Hat said...

Wendy: Yes, it is a bit overblown but the editor's response was totally stupid. And yeah, the not naming did leave me uneasy when naming is normally done for these spreads..
Seuibo: *snicker* yes, that is what it ends up sounding like. The spread itself I have no issues with (assuming that the people in it were paid), it's just the way the magazine handled the rest of it- the lot naming, the flip response.
Sal: Exactly! Not one news outlet seems to have pointed that out, and truthfully, looking at what the people quoted in various articles have said, I absolutely agree that they're just publicity-hungry and looking for an easy target.
Ambika: It's hard to make up one's mind about these things, IMO the fault lies on both sides but the way it blew up was just daft.
Fashionaddict: The reason why I wasn't offended by the spread was just that- it did make me think, for the few minutes I was holding the mag (and the images themselves are much better than the average Vogue India editorial), but Priya Tanna's response makes me think that she really didn't get it.

Romeika said...

I only got to know about this editorial yesterday, on a blog written by a brazilian, therefore in portuguese: http://sindromedeestocolmo.com/archives/2008/09/4296.html/

She criticized it way more than you did, and watching the pictures and what she had in mind, plus her effective arguments, made me think this is totally wrong, and a bad taste idea to say the least... As you pointed, at least if they had done a little profile interview with each of the people, it could have sounded more ethical. Perhaps.

Blue Floppy Hat said...

Romeika: I read the link you gave (in Google translate, so I'm sorry if I don't understand things because of the language barrier), but truthfully, I really don't think the images themselves were a problem- it was the text that highlighted the accessories, and Priya Tanna's clear lack of understanding of what her team might have been trying to do, that annoyed me. And another thing that really annoys me is the generalisations people like to make about India- yes, there are poor people here, and yes there are stinking rich people who spend too much, but statements like 'Indian women look better in sarees' etc. are irresponsible, it's wrong to stereotype and fetishise a whole nation like that. Or the sweeping comments condemning globalisation- I don't know if any of the people making such comments really has an idea of what it was like to live in a country with a closed socialist economy.
I absolutely agree with you that the spread turned out tasteless, but it had the potential to be so much better. As it stands, it's just become a platform for people to attack fashion, our clothing choices, and the Indian economy (as if things were so peachy for the poor before liberalisation in 1991- nonsense!).

Romeika said...

The person who wrote that post was really annoyed by the fact the magazine was using poor people to sell the luxurious accessories, but like you, she was also very annoyed by the editor's response to all the criticism. I don't think she agrees with such awful stereotypes by any means, so it was definitely some misunderstanding caused by the translator.

I haven't read people's comments on globalisation, but I agree with your last statement.

susie_bubble said...

I hated the whole concept of this shoot and thought it poorly handled text, images and execution and now even the defense of the backlash....

heleen db said...

I agree on every remark you made.

yumiko said...

i really dont care about what the press thinks about this. i dont even care about the accessories featured in this. what i really like was how these "poor" people looked so happy and the clothes they were wearing were all so pretty. like, the picture you have here, the picture is taken really nicely. the lady that's laughing looks beautiful.
i think the accersories werent really necessary tho

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