Art, naked people, and porn: The Great Debate, Fashion and Glamor

What’s the difference between fashion and glamor? Anyone? Bueller? Fashion sells something, clothes, jewelry, perfume, hand bags, shoes, etc. Glamor (or glamour) sells the person, typically a woman but not always.

Glamor was born out of the 30-40’s Hollywood actors portraits. Often need for promotional materials, magazine interviews and the like, this type of portraiture was different. Traditional portraiture seeks to reveal a person’s character or inner self through their likeness. It’s supposed to be true to life. Hollywood Glamor was supposed to be larger than life, dramatic, flawless (heavily retouched), and opulent. Glamor doesn’t reveal any deep truths about a person, actually it seeks to conceal that. Glamor is intended to show most people someone better than themselves, more perfect, more beautiful, living a richer lifestyle.

Fashion photography has existed technically as long as people have been selling clothes using photographic images. Something changed around the 50-60’s were it became less about the clothes and more about the lifestyle. Fabulous locations, flawless models, conceptual, often oddly so, etc.

Both are similar so how can you tell the difference between the two? And what does any of this have to do with art, porn, or naked people? Ah ha! I’m glad I asked! The easiest way to tell the difference between fashion and glamor is to look at the model. If the model is NOT looking at the camera it’s most likely fashion, the likeliness goes up if you can’t see the model’s hands. See, when we see another person, whether in real life or print, we first look at their eyes to make a connection with them. The second place we look is at their hands to see what they are doing because what they’re doing says something about them. Fashion doesn’t want you to make a connection with the model, they’re just a hanger with a head. Fashion wants you to make a connection with clothes or lifestyle, because it’s easier for you to place yourself in that picture if the person in the image is less personified.

In the 1990’s Victoria’s Secret did something that changed everything. They conflated glamor and fashion. Everyone’s seen the catalogs and many of the stronger images are about both the person and the clothing. Well, in that glamor isn’t really about the person, but the character that’s better than you that they play. VS was the first company to successfully meld the two on a grand scale. But that’s hardly porn.

Nope, where porn touches glamor is in December 1953. Some may recognize this as the first month ever for Playboy magazine. Hugh Hefner, in his first issue, immediately hit on a winning combination. Glamorous Hollywood style lighting and styling, with naked women. It was an instant success. Playboy magazine has always been a mixture of glamor an porn and probably will always be as long as it’s in print. In fact, I’d say that Playboy is more glamor than porn. Sure there’s boobs and a little full frontal, but if that were in a movie it’d only be rated “R” maybe NC-17 if there was enough of it. By focusing on the woman as much as her nudity Hef actually made the least porny porn that could possibly be made.

Porn and glamor sure, but porn and fashion, surely you must be joking? Nope. For a long time there’s been nudity in fashion photography. Look at some of the greats like Helmut Newton, some of his work crosses porn and art paradigms. But to see fashion porn, one must look no further than American Apparel or Terry Richardson. Terry Richardson is a phenomenon in photography that perhaps few people can understand. Where many if not most photographers seek to raise a subject up with their photography, Terry seeks to pull it down. Where down? Down to a 1970’s low budget porno look. Armed with a handle mount vivitar 285, Terry is able to pull any subject, from our president to popular entertainers, down into the sleeze. The man has more than a couple sexual harassment complaints from models and if you have “Work Safe” mode turned off, the above link leaves little wonder as to why. Perhaps he grew out of the 90’s “heroin chic” or perhaps the fashion industry just grew tired of looking at itself, no matter what the reason why he came about, there’s no doubt that this gross sheen of Terry’s photography looks interesting on people. That’s what keeps him around.