“However, I am interested in how we discorporate and re-corporate an image of somebody based on how they wear themselves to the public and what the conversation around the image of that person is by addressing their image and performance in it as iconic”.
How do we disassemble a look, let alone an “iconic” person when considering their image? Jeanne Damas is a noted French beauty brand operator whose line Rouje is a combination of all things allure in French custom-youth, beauty, and a sensibly arresting fashion aesthetic. None of these things interest me. I almost feel like interjecting a few Michael Ashkin lines as I pen this “Were it not for…. lipstick”, “Were it not for… various states of undress”, “Were it not for the bravery of….couture”, but that would make my cynicism rally against the newly formed regulations that I have imposed on myself regarding the matter and the result would be to chaffe against my supposed critical intentions. After all, what good can come of observations built on apathy and long-distance learning? I am sure Jeanne herself is a wonderful person. It’s just that I have little interest in fashion outside of a new pair of New Balance sneakers, some dad Cargo shorts and sleeveless Ringworm metal T-Shirts (Justice Replaced by Revenge album if you must know). However, I am interested in how we discorporate and re-corporate an image of somebody based on how they wear themselves to the public and what the conversation around the image of that person is by addressing their image and performance in it as iconic.
Vincent Ferrané ’s Iconography XXV Figures of Jeanne Damas (Libraryman) is a study int he form of a book that piques my interest. It incorporates some interesting parables not only about how we fetishize pieces of the female body through the lens, but also how we use those relics, sacred or other as manifestations of said obsessions towards the public status of the subject. For example, apart from the outstanding use of Jeanne herself (former model) as subject, Ferrané crops in on Damas, but also focuses her disassembly through dress, or lack thereof. He reduces the language of a fashion icon to strands of hair, Jewellery and other various “pieces of Jeanne”. The title itself suggests a heavy French indebtedness to Catholic tradition, but borders on the blasphemous (yay) in its use of title depicting Jeanne as an icon, her role in semantic gesture as “Figures of”, like Christ. In suggesting studies like this, Ferrané is in effect asking us to dissect like Christ, the body of the contemporary influencer as icon of the world. The ploy is in the title. The same type of studies, if you are historically interested occur in many paintings such as in the work of Francis Bacon, but also in photographs. The studies of a dead Che Guevara by Marc Hutten, his laid out in a form like the deposition of Christ from the cross, with successive photographs of his head, eyes open, glazed and staring to the heavens are also reminiscent of the image Salome and the head of the Baptist John and may be considered but one of the studies in iconography that photography as medium has been employed to carry out and re-distribute lending iconic permissiveness to the medium’s ability. In theatrical form F. Holland Day’s emaciated self-portrait of himself upon the cross is also noteworthy, but that is a large body of work to unpack. You can find a proxy to the shroud of Turin if you look at the lipstick long enough.
“The title itself suggests a heavy French indebtedness to Catholic tradition, but borders on the blasphemous (yay) in its use of title depicting Jeanne as an icon, her role in semantic gesture as “Figures of”, like Christ. In effect suggesting studies like this, Ferrané is asking us to dissect, like Christ, the body of the contemporary influencer as icon of the world”.
Before we consider this as praise, I am evaluating how the disassembly of the model (after Bellmer) is carried out to simulate iconography. Please note that I am considering this proposition within the borders of the fashion and the photography industry and not the obsequious needs of the the social contract community. I am using a historical lens and I realize that with this lens comes the fallacy of representation of the female form. I realize the problem with the use of the female body within fashion presently and all disclaimers aside, I am interested in the pathology that presents itself between collaboration, fame and the use of iconography. My position on the social matter is completely neutral and my interests are to discuss the images, but also the language of the book. I am omitting Charcot’s studies as a reference here for the reason that I do not want to pander towards complete Freudian psycho-pathology. I would opine however, that somehow if the subject were a Bruce Weber blonde sinewy boy man as model/subject, the discussion would be lost to the dustbin of non-concern.
Moving forward, these pieces of Jeanne are assembled into a surreal tableaux that Ferrané implies through the gesture of the body and its adornment. There are several references to Surrealist film, Man ray and even the cigarettes/involuntary sculptures of Brassai. If I look further in the historical record, I might also assume a position that to remove the stigma that I have achieved with Catholicism, that I might instead look to the studies of the Comtesse de Castiglione by Pierre-Louis Pierson as there are also notable studies of egocentrism at play in that work that remind one of the collaboration here. In defiance of not giving over to the complete narcissism by the subject of the Comtesse, the tactics that were employed by the photographer were to obfuscate her image-be it with a hair brush, close crop, or mask. The same occurs in Ferrané’s studies of Damas by employing a similar hair brush/mirror, close crop and also a reflection of her image in a magazine laid out as a still life in which the photographer’s flash pops off the page obliterating the face underneath ala’ Dirk Braeckman.
These references are clever machinations that help quantify the language of the title to their characteristic intent of making and re-making of a status (icon), not a person (Jeanne). Both operator and subject are acting in complete collaboration and the effect is noticeable. They are both performing the language of iconography and its ritual antecedents in reducing the body to particulars of worship. Whereas I do not want to consider the role of Jeanne as a muse as it would promote a negative connotation and slight her ability as less than 50% of the equation, I would suggest that Ferrané’s images seem to come from a place of professional obsession, not unlike the Comtesse and Pierson arrangement 150 years prior.
The book is beautiful and oddly haunting. The images are sexy, but engage in a dissonance in which you are not completely sure of their aims. They are enigmatic and the title and general product fully assembled is an interesting assertion about contemporary fashion photography that has also been hinted at recently in the work of both Senta Simond and Collier Schorr, who are also interested in direct collaboration, but have also found a way to re-interpret the body, particularly the female body in ways that are performed, but also truncated at points with crops focussing in on the body and model in a claustrophobic manner reminding the viewer of their proximity and gaze.
The association to Simond is particularly pertinent as her work streams a high indebtedness to Bauhaus and modernist aesthetics and Ferrané’s seem to stem from an interest in the Surrealist period, which are roughly within historical alignment. One major difference here in this discussion is how much you want to focus on Ferrané’s genitals and panic about his half of the authorship. The book is a success for me and I think in its wide brush strokes, it accomplishes its associative goals about the subject, the way we view icons and what influencing means today in terms of value to our daily lives. Highly Recommended!