Sometimes fashion photographers take extreme risks by combining editorial garments with controversial scenarios in order to capture the most provocative shot. When done right, the payoff is huge, and the image is not only beautiful, but also evokes intense emotion in its viewers.
A recent editorial fashion spread in Vice Magazine definitely evoked intense emotion in its readers, but not in a good way. The series of photographs, from the “Women in Fiction” issue, featured several women engaged in acts of suicide. The spread, titled “Last Words,” was intended to evoke the deaths of famous literary women, such as Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. Readers were disturbed by the depictions of actual suicides, as well as by the lack of literary credit attached to the women, despite the issue being dedicated to women’s literary achievements. The models’ clothes were described at length in each shot, but no context about the depicted authors’ literary achievements was given.
Fashion is supposed to be about risk-taking and provocative, inspired clothes, but when does it go too far? It goes too far when the images captured are less about fashion and more about shock value, at the expense of real human beings. Out of the context of Vice Magazine, would the images have been well received as artistic images not pertaining to literature or fashion? It seems unsettling that the publication would publish such controversial, triggering images under the guise of “fashion.”
Vice is no stranger to controversial content, but even they recognized the outraged public reaction and pulled the spread from their website. However, print versions containing the fashion spread are still circulating. Some social critics are suggesting that the magazine is receiving exactly the reaction they had hoped for; the press surrounding this suicide photography scandal is probably more than the publication would have received for its “Women in Fiction” issue otherwise.
For more information about the photographs from one of the first sites to comment on Vice’s spread, read this article from Jezebel.
Photo by Annabel Mehran