This article was first printed in PETRIe 66 (2014).
The traditional dynamics of the fashion shoot are continually changing, largely thanks to the rise of digital technology. Not only are our mediums of transmitting and circulating images developing at a rapid rate of knots - so too are the methods being used to capture each moment before presenting it to a voracious and hungry audience.
Graphics editing software such as Adobe Photoshop have, over the past two decades, significantly influenced how we shoot and perceive images, repeatedly advancing our perception of what is possible within a fashion photo shoot. However, taking technology that one step further in the new millennia is the latest craze: 3D scanning. Its current reverberations are widespread; and, while many might argue it to be nothing more than a passing creative fad, others will likely gesticulate this to be so profound and innovative a development that it could hold the potential to see both stylist and model lost from the photo shoot altogether in years to come. It is, without a doubt, divisive.
In reality, 3D scanning is not actually that ‘new’. It has been around for some time; think CT (computer tomography) scanning. Although this lingo might be more familiar with an evening spent watching Casualty or Holby City on television, a CT scan is in fact a medical imaging method used widely by hospitals to generate a 3D image of the inside of an object, such as the body, composed of a selection of 2D X-ray images. Body scanning has also been instrumental in recent years within the video game, computer graphics and movie industries. While 3D computer artists generally create their content from scratch, they quite often have to incorporate real-life objects into their models in order to produce highly realistic digital objects, visual effects or computer animations. Think games such as The Sims or movies such as Shrek.
The truth of the matter is not so much that fashion has stumbled across pioneering and ground-breaking technology, just that it has been slow off the mark in its reaction speed. While the fashion industry is often thought of as bringing something new or innovative to society, quite often it is in fact just introducing something that has been there all along, only now re-appropriated as a new concept for fashion. Stumbling behind other industries, fashion has – largely - welcomed 3D scanning in with open arms, particularly when it comes to the production of custom-made clothing. High-end fashion store Selfridges has been offering a 3D scanning service since 2011, with accuracy increasing over the years, allowing customers to experience a personalised jeans fitting service.
Meanwhile, in 2012, Arden Reed took this technology to the roads of America, travelling far and wide and incorporating it within men’s fashion, scanning customers and ensuring their suits offered an accurate and sharply tailored fit. In 2013, Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen took 3D printed designs, made using a pulsed laser and computer, to the runway for her Spring/Summer ‘13 Haute Couture collection. By March 2014, tailoring start-up InStitchu had partnered with mPort to launch 3D body scanners in shopping centres across Australia; the customer steps into the private booth, has their precise body measurements captured by the scanner, and then uses the InStitchu website and customisation platform to design their perfect suit. It is then sent to a team of tailors who create the suit and deliver it straight to the customer.
However, while the producers and production of clothing have swooned to the possibilities of 3D scanning, the realm of the fashion shoot has thus far steered clear. There has really only ever been one name that truly springs to mind when it comes to thinking of someone that has made revolutionary and thorough headway with this digital trend within his photographic fashion work – and that person is Nick Knight.
Although Knight was not available to comment to PETRIe 66 on his work, he writes on his website that 3D scanning has been, “a central theme of SHOWstudio’s content and vision.” Over the past 10 years, he has - to name a few - scanned the likes of Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Lady Gaga and Daphne Guinness.
Assisted by Kev Stenning from Rapido 3-D, Knight has then moulded these scans into sculptures, pushing the parameters of each creative medium to form an entirely original image. As he writes when talking about his initial experiences: “The 3D scan showed the model as a surface as if they were egg shells delicate and precise. What I loved most was that the scanner could not tell if a reflection was a solid object and whether that object was coming towards it or receding away from it. Confusing the computer became a game and confusing this one made it create forms that followed a logic unknown to anything I had seen.”
One of his best recognised integrations of digital scanning within the traditional fashion shoot came when he joined forces with celebrated stylist Jane How to recreate her favourite looks of the Spring/Summer ‘00 ready-to-wear collections using sweetie wrappers, cupcake papers and doilies; he then recorded the result on a 3D scanner. This experiment produced a bizarre yet intriguing and elaborate collection of distorted images. The viewer sees the model’s head from an array of cumbersome angles, with the cacophony of colours angling themselves together to create clashing yet intriguing results. These images are available to view on his SHOWstudio website under the page titled ‘Sweet’.
For such futuristic and forward-thinking fashion images, they could almost be described as appearing regressive in image quality. Employing all of the primitive and underdeveloped features of virtual characters from early computer and video games, the images highlight the cutting edge, and often controversial, aspect to such invention. It is unquestionably new terrain. As How commented to SHOWstudio in retrospect, “we didn’t really know what was going to happen when we started shooting it. Nobody had ever shot fashion in 3D, and then animated it before.” Despite this innovation, the technology crucially did not impact upon How’s creative freedom. As she noted, “the technicians advised on clothing that wouldn’t interfere with the scanner but Nick told me to do exactly what I liked.”
Since then, Knight has continued to work with the 3D scanner in a variety of mediums; he used a 3D rendering process to create a 25-foot interactive sculpture of Naomi Campbell for his ‘SHOWstudio: Fashion Revolution’ exhibition at Somerset House, London, in 2009. At the time, he explained to The Independent: “Photography is completely changing, and one of the things that’s doing this is 3D scanning... you get a 360-degree view of [Naomi], and because it’s all digital, that data can be used to output real objects. You can lay one image over another and create sculptures that would never have been conceived if you were chipping away at marble.”
For Lane Crawford’s Spring/Summer ‘13 campaign, Knight went on to create an eclectic and vibrant fashion film and campaign images using 3D scanning and motion capturing, never lifting a camera once. Meanwhile, on his Instagram feed in early 2014, Knight posted a photo of Teenwolf and Arrow star, Colton Haynes, being 3D scanned as part of a Diesel campaign he was working on. Knight’s passion for the creative task has remained steadfast. When asked on stage at the Vogue Festival 2014 where the future for photography was headed, he surmised in three words: “The virtual model.”
THE VIRTUAL MODEL
So how accurate is Knight? Is there a possibility that one day the real life walking, talking, breathing human model will become redundant? Will we still need to source out the next face and body of the fashion industry when the computer could generate another so easily? Are these the words of someone pushing the industry forward in courageous and insurmountable ways - or is this just the talk of a creative mind looking to make waves within his craft, seeking to gain attention for attention’s sake?
The virtual model is a concept we saw briefly on the runway in 2006 when Alexander McQueen, ever the techno-magic and creative visionary, included a state-of-the-art hologram of Kate Moss within his Fall/Winter collection. Produced by video maker Baillie Walsh and art directed by McQueen, an ethereal Moss rose above the audience in a billowing white dress with all the magic and fragility of an apparition.
In April 2011, for the Autumn/Winter runway show in Beijing, Burberry - unquestionably the best recognised digital pioneer within the industry - defied all expectations and previous experiences by bringing the virtual model to life on the runway using the hologram; British band Keane played in the background. Those watching saw familiar faces clad in the latest collection walking into their mirror double, before both digital images either exploded or transformed into another person or outfit. They also witnessed the same model being duplicated time and time again as she walked down the runway, her previous steps captured virtually behind her.
However, in between these two shows, and in the years that followed, the virtual model has barely resurged. Names such as Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Edie Campbell and Sam Rollinson have instead all grown to exponential heights, keeping the traditional ‘human’ model as a much-loved mainstay on the catwalk. Their popularity has reached such levels that, arguably, they have each become celebrities outside of the fashion industry parameters.
It is for this reason that Knight’s work continues to seem so cutting-edge and pioneering. His virtual model remains relatively singular in its execution; others have not kept pace. Is this because no one else really agrees with Knight that the virtual model could overhaul the industry - that no one else sees the same beauty in the distorted and blurred images as Knight does? Perhaps it is because it has had its moment; the novelty is gone. Maybe it is something the industry just does not want; or is everybody else instead missing the huge flashing red arrows hovering over the virtual model, which only Knight alone has recognised will lead towards success?
In reflecting upon this, it would seem there is perhaps potential and room available to overhaul the industry with the introduction of the virtual model to the traditional fashion shoot. It is widely publicised that magazines are working under tighter budgets thanks to the continued economic pinch, elevated costs of working in the world’s capitals, and the need to secure the majority of funding through advertisers. The shoots that fill their pages do not come cheap, especially given the far-flung locations many involve. This becomes an even more pertinent problem for those publishing on smaller scales. Imagine how straightforward and cost-effective it would be if every shoot instead took place in the same studio in London, using just a 3D scanner and computer for production. No expensive air fares, no unpredictability, no time spent filling out endless carnets. It would allow for complete artistic license on where the shoot could have taken place, with the destination just digitally doctored into place in the final stages of editing.
Even more savings could be made for the shoot budget if the model was not required, other than for a brief 3D scan, before the computer completed the final stages of the shoot. In fact, if the photographer in question already had a database of pre-scanned models, then the model’s extinction would be entirely secured. A financial saving would be made. Ding, ding, ding - think of how many pennies would stay put in the pot. Adding to that, the stylist could then be taken from the equation too. More dings. After all, would a stylist really be needed on set to spend time organising and arranging the clothing when the computer could do it so much quicker and more efficiently? A database could be created for PRs and designers to upload digital outfits, from which the stylist could select looks from the comfort of their office desk. The photographer in the studio could then upload these choices to the model, switching easily if the aesthetic is not quite what the stylist had in mind. The stylist would never need to even set foot on the fashion shoot.
The clothing could be draped to suit the model’s frame, whether real or changed, to suit the story; forget worrying about whether she has the correct proportions - it would cease to be an issue. Collections from various seasons could be quickly compiled together without teams of fashion assistants and PRs calling in endless samples and flying items at expensive shipping rates across the globe. Pollution would be cut, productivity maximised, output minimised: a win-win situation all round.
Given Knight’s relentless pursuit and exploration of 3D scanning technologies and his close work with many designers on their campaigns, this could all be only a matter of time before becoming reality. Inspired by his creative aesthetic, the work of other fashion photographers may well see the virtual model filtered into their shot more often too.
Polish-born, London-based photographer Jakub Koziel completely agrees with Knight’s ethos. For him, the virtual model is also the future of fashion photography. It is by utter chance that I discover this though. The article has been completed, despite you reading Koziel’s thoughts almost at the start. It is ready to be laid out by the Art Curator.
About a week after submitting, I’m enjoying dinner one evening with Richard Walne, Zadrian Smith - the Chief Curator - and Koziel. We have been talking about photography and the shoots that Koziel has been doing lately. He is telling us, with passion dancing in his eyes, about the energy of his latest model; she had gone into the set, put some Kurt Cobain on, and danced her way through the photos. It had brought the shoot to life, he told us. “She was amazing.”
Then, entirely out of the blue, he proclaimed at the table: “You know, though, the future of photography is with the virtual model.” I had almost choked on my noodles in surprise and, turning to look at Smith, found we were both equally as open-mouthed. Koziel looked at both of us with wonder and bewilderment, unsure of what had come over us. “I’ve got to quote you in this article I’ve written,” I told him - and so, here talks Koziel. Possibly the most organic interview I’ve ever stumbled across.
As he explained to us: “Virtual models are the models of the future... technology is getting more and more relevant to our day-to-day lives... google glasses, 3D printing; the way we communicate, the way we shop... we can’t even go for a run without making sure our efforts are measured by the Nike bracelet... Fashion has been really ahead too, and we’ve experienced a massive development with the way we experience fashion shows or even the way we shop for the clothes.”
He continues: “Let me give you an example of how this could work: Cara Delevingne, the girl, makes thousands of pounds every single day by appearing in different locations, whether it’s a show, photo shoot, commercial or simple ‘celebrity appearance’ at some launch. But Cara, the iconic model with the bushy eyebrows, can only be in one place at one time - shocking, right! So now imagine that it would be possible for a brand to buy a licence to use Cara’s hologram in their shop window... Obviously such licence could be sold to multiple brands at the same time... and you can only imagine how much profit it would make to Cara and her agency.”
So it would benefit both the industry and the model, then? As Koziel explains: “A ‘hologram file’ with a real-sized model would improve the industry and make it so much easier... instead of flying a model to New York for a fitting, missing some other important casting in Europe, you could just send her holographic file to a client... then, let’s say they could also print it off using 3D technology; that would let the client see the model’s measurements, but also see how the clothes fit and look on her. This saves not only the travel expense, but imagine all the precious time that a model could save by not wasting time on travelling to the other side of the globe.”
He references the Burberry show in Beijing, with the holographic models walking the runway, completely changing the whole show experience. Surely that is the future of fashion week, he asks us? Rather than flying the same models to four different countries and putting them through a gruelling schedule for the same editors to watch, why not use holograms or pre-recorded segments? The real models could still work, but would perhaps just focus on the bigger shows or other aspects of fashion week.
Smith interjects. Of course that shouldn’t happen. As a stylist, he wants to see how the clothes hang on the models. He wants to watch their ability to drape, float and move. If he wanted to just see a digital version of an outfit, he’d watch the shows online; something that almost every fashion brand now offers as part of the digital takeover of the fashion industry, in which every computer screen has become the front row. What’s the point of going if you don’t see the real thing, Smith asks?
As a bystander with passion vested in neither styling nor photography, I find myself absolutely fascinated by what Koziel is saying. Rather than seeing it as a negative development for the traditional photo shoot, in which livelihoods are threatened, it seems there is actually a way for it to be advantageous to all parties, pushing the industry forwards in ways not seen before. Koziel reaffirms this: “The human model will never get fully replaced... people need to relate to a model - that’s why models nowadays are not just models... they are role models, people we want to relate to and we aspire to be. Gisele Bündchen became a billionaire Brazilian woman, not because she is beautiful - it happened because she is a savvy businesswoman, knowing how important and powerful your image is.”
I notice in our conversation, as I realise repeatedly throughout writing this piece; the photographer and stylist will never quite agree on the inclusion of 3D scanning and the virtual model within their work and its future potential. Perhaps this is because of how they perceive technology; or because of the different role they see clothes and people playing in their images; or thanks to how it either inhibits or opens up creativity, depending on the context in play. Perhaps it is because of how it will infringe upon their upcoming work, and the relevance of their role within the industry.
For Koziel, interestingly, the stylist cannot be replaced. As he elucidates: “A stylist’s job is to create something out of nothing - it can’t be done by a machine. A stylist uses his or her knowledge, as well as intuition and talent, to build up a mood... styling is a very hard job - it’s super personal and individual – but, at the same time, you need to have the ability to know how your work will present itself and attract commercial profits.” He elaborates: “A stylist is crucial on any photo shoot or video production. As a photographer, my main job is to be able to create the mood and atmosphere with the lighting, composition, etc. It’s also important to be up-to-date with what’s happening on the fashion scene. But it’s the stylist that creates the magic really... to be a good fashion photographer, you need a good stylist on your side... so you can do your best in terms of photography, and have somebody who created the fashion part of it.”
So what about his own trade - where is that headed? “From a photographer’s point of view, this vision is quite scary... you can see a few trends happening in photography... a lot of respected photographers are going back to basics - shooting with one light, plain background, keeping it minimal and simple, for example, Patrick Demarchelier – but, when we look at Mert & Marcus, they are pioneers of post production - their work wouldn’t exist without the digital manipulation... so it’s hard to predict where photography is heading... but, for sure, fashion is after variety – you can see lots of different mediums being used to capture an image.”
Koziel continues with what he perceives to be the inescapable truth: “Technology is something that tends to replace a human being... I am sure we are far away from that, but I am also sure one day, photography will be extinct. There will be ‘artists’ creating an image digitally, from scratch...” I find myself surprised at his answer; for Koziel, though, it is the future. The virtual model should work simultaneously alongside the human model, the stylist cannot be replaced, but the digital revolution unquestionably has the power to overthrow the photographer - his own craft.
As much as many may fight against this system, for Koziel, it is inevitable: “This is something we won’t avoid, whether we want it or not...” He continues, “fashion is a multi-billion industry, and if there is anything that can regenerate more money, it will be embraced. Fashion went through the industrial revolution; now it’s time to let the digital revolution do its job.”
For the South-African born, London-based art director of RUSSH magazine, Michael Donkin, he also believes we should be taking heed of the work being produced by Knight. “I am a huge fan of Nick Knight and what he stands for. Whether or not you like his aesthetic, his relentless commitment to experimentation is deeply inspiring. I like his commitment to trying new things. That’s what makes him interesting to me.”
With this in mind, does Knight have the power to change the industry within which he is working? For Donkin, to a certain extent, he does. “I would hope that his constant boundary pushing will inspire people to try new things. He is embracing digital, not just from an aesthetic point of view, but also from a distribution point of view through SHOWstudio and Instagram; this, I think, is extremely important.” However, having influence enough to sway an entire generation of photographers will be no mean feat, even for someone as well respected as Knight. As Donkin comments, “I think Nick is a lone voice in many ways. Fashion is, despite appearances, deeply conservative and not many people are willing to risk things.”
What if the entire industry did open its eyes a little more to the potential of technology - if, for argument’s sake, everyone did decide to take more risks? Despite his optimism for Knight’s work, for Donkin, this would not be enough for 3D scanning to become the future of the industry. “I personally don’t think the idea of virtual models will catch on, but I’m totally in favour of people experimenting with new ideas.”
Could 3D scanning and virtual models ever have the potential to replace the stylist on the fashion shoot? His answer is incredibly precise: “No.” I ask him to expand. Does he believe this to be the case because he feels the stylist is so integral to the fashion shoot, or is there something else? For Donkin, the answer lies in the functioning of the entire team together. “I don’t think we can make blanket statements regarding the importance of any one person on set. A stylist can be the difference between a bad shoot and a good one. But a hair stylist could also be that difference. Or the model. Or the set. Or the makeup.” He continues: “I believe in a strong vision. It doesn’t matter who articulates it. On some shoots, the stylist can be absolutely integral for getting everyone to pull in the same direction. On others, that same stylist can be secondary to the vision of the photographer. It totally depends on the individuals involved.”
Ultimately, in Donkin’s mind, there is something about the human mind - about a collective creative team working together - that a computer quite simply cannot recreate. The thought processes, the direction, the influence – they would all be lost. I ask him to expand, to really push the idea of the stylist being replaced altogether. It would never entirely happen, he replies: “At the end of the day, surely a stylist needs to choose the items to be 3D printed? Someone has to say ‘this dress is important. Let’s shoot it’. Yes, we will save on transport by not having to store samples, but when it comes to putting a story together or combining garments in interesting ways, the human eye is still invaluable.”
Donkin continues on this train of thought when he moves on to discussing virtual models: “Perhaps the main purpose of fashion photography is to show us how the clothes look on a person as opposed to hanging on a rail. When on a model, they become something ‘real’. People can look at the image and aspire to it - even if looking like Gisele is out of reach for 99.9% of the world’s population. I don’t believe people would aspire to look like a virtual model.” He maintains: “In the 21st century, the really successful models are people whose story we respond to. We don’t just love Cara Delevingne for what she looks like. Her personality is a huge factor in her popularity. It’s the mystery of Kate Moss that attracts us to her. Virtual models, because they aren’t ‘real’, won’t have that same pull.”
Despite this, Donkin believes we should not discredit technology and its developments altogether. It has, in many ways, entirely revolutionised the way we look at photography. As he explains, “the camera phone is the most important development in photography since colour film was invented. It has huge ramifications for the creation, distribution and consumption of images.”
“Photography is becoming a tool for individual communication - much like emojis or text messages. We are increasingly using photographs as part of a conversation. Instead of telling someone what we’re eating, wearing, doing – we send a picture.” We should remain open to the possibilities that technology presents, but also be aware that it exists alongside us, not in replacement of us. Only the human eye could ever truly capture the essence of life, because it is the only witness to everything the mind and body feels. It lives.
Ultimately, producers of images - whether pursuing traditional or unconventional mediums of presentation – need to be aware, as far as Donkin is concerned, about how their audience’s ever growing repertoire of image experiences, and constant exposure to photographs through everyday life, affects how they receive new work. “I think there is a chance that visual media as a whole is going to become less and less valued. The more readily accessible something is, the less we value it. If you follow all your favourite people on Instagram, you have essentially curated your own fashion magazine. For free.”
He continues: “Perhaps the music industry offers an interesting example. Music is basically free now. People don’t pay for records, but they do pay for concerts because it’s a tangible experience. I think something similar could be afoot with regards to visual media. Perhaps the huge success of the Alexander McQueen retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is a sign of things to come. People were able to experience McQueen’s world in the first person as opposed to through a screen. At a time when more and more of our time is spent looking at a screen, it seems to me that valuable experiences will be ones that offer you something that is impossible to duplicate.”
Like Donkin, New York-based photographer Nick Bean respects and admires the work of Knight in many ways. 3D scanning in terms of photography, he tells me, is “very much an experimental/artistic endeavour,” with Knight achieving “some very interesting results with it.” However, for Bean, “it remains in the sphere of Fine Art.” 3D scanning and the virtual model is not necessarily the route forwards.
As Bean continues: “I don’t think we’re at the point where it’ll change our perception. The human eye and brain are very adept at discerning the subtle differences between even the most advanced digital rendering and reality. There are millions of things that change every minute in a real person, in ways even the most advanced computer will never fully grasp.” Bean raises a particularly intriguing and valid point. I concur.
For Bean, both the virtual model and 3D scanning, while innovative, will never be a threat to the traditional fashion shoot. He surmises, to which I nod my head: “Remember the supposed death of print media? I can’t remember seeing more magazines than now. From countless international editions of established magazines to small independent publications: people want something tactile and real. And when it comes to models, it’s the same thing. They want that real aspirational girl or guy. Even if they are in character, I don’t think an avatar could ever replace that.”
It is not just the model that should fear not; the stylist, as far as Bean is concerned, is also safe from being eliminated from the set. “Fashion is about fantasy, but still rooted in the real world - same with styling. How could a digital rendering ever give you that ‘accident’? That magic when a dress is caught in motion at a specific point in time. How can you replace that? To me, the best stylists touch and feel the clothes as well as look at them. There’s no reason for that to change.”
So where does Bean think the photography industry is headed, if 3D scanning is not the answer we are looking for? “I think it’s getting more and more competitive and that it’ll be harder and harder to really stand out. There’s so much talent out there. Big corporations have really killed a lot of revenue streams that photographers had access to in the past. Things like stock photography are no longer viable. I think there’ll be more and more crossover between still and moving images, and that photographers will need to have a much broader skill-set in order to compete.”
As he continues, “even 10 years ago, you could look at an image and know exactly who shot it. I think that now everything is so referential and that a photographer needs to be able to showcase their style in a variety of different ways.” Most importantly though, photographers must re-educate their audience and reign in their scope for just one moment, to appreciate (and to teach appreciation for) just what has been achieved thus far. As Bean elucidates: “Before photography, people had to achieve realism in art for centuries. I think that with the arrival of digital photography and the saturation of our daily existence with imagery, we might have lost sight of just how amazing it is that we can capture reality to such an amazing degree.”
London-based street and club style photographer Paul Hartnett, who has captured the Punks, black-clad Gothics, the New Romantics and the numerous decades in between since 1976, concurs. He notes, “I think in a way, all this visual bombardment and all this contamination of the consciousness, that happens each and every day to so many people, in a way needs to be side-stepped - because I engage with people who are so over-stimulated that they can’t focus, they can’t concentrate, they are kind of dizzy - and visuals are so everywhere, that they can’t focus on what’s valuable.”
So what does Hartnett think to Knight’s work, and the potential for a complete digital overhaul in the way we view the traditional fashion shoot? He pauses, thinks, and then begins in a very serious yet calm manner: “I’m not interested really in digital fucking about; for me, I’m interested in the human spirit. I think that Nick Knight needs a good kicking.” I laugh nervously, not sure if he’s being serious. He is.
“Darling, I’ll repeat that... I think Nick Knight needs a good kicking. I’ve seen a lot of his digital shit, and when I compare his digital shit to the work of fine art printers such as Bob Wiskin or Debbie Sears or Peter Guest or the colour work by printers such as Artful Dodgers, and I look at that shit that is on the walls at Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio - I would really like to put some steel toe-capped boots on and kick his fucking teeth in. And you can quote me on that. I think Nick Knight needs a good kicking... I think Nick Knight is a wanker. I think a lot of digital work is wanking about. I think a lot of people need to try harder.”
While strong in his perspective, Hartnett is not entirely anti-Knight, or those inspired by him. As he tells me: “It’s an interesting area and I think ultimately diversity is good. We need crap and that’s why Nick Knight is so, so generous to us, because he does keep on presenting images to us of tedious old cunts like Kate Moss for consumption – and really, Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne really do need to be slaughtered. Tedious, tedious, tedious tiresome cunts. You can also quote me on that.”
The virtual model is, quite evidently, something that Hartnett does not aspire towards in his work. Part of this is due to the way that it would eradicate human inspiration from the work and life of a photographer. For Hartnett, having a muse has always been important: “Since 1976, I have been attracted to certain people - so I have, as an artist, been attracted to a muse every once in a while. My first muse was a girl in the next road to me, who was Soo Lucas, also known as Soo Catwoman - one of the first punks to be part of the Bromley Contingent; and sharing her bedroom was one Sid Vicious, and he was a muse - and Steve Strange and people attending his first clubs such as Billy’s, such as Myra and Hilda and George O’Dowd, and going to Blitz and going to Leigh Bowery’s club, Taboo, and meeting Trojan.”
Enigmatically, he continues: “I mean, Trojan was a huge muse for me because I could never focus on him; I could never pin down what he was, who he was, why he was - and so for me, a raw and real person is magic. For the last three years, I have been very attracted to someone called Ralph the Barber, whose real name is Ralph Orton, who was in a band called Expulsion, and was somebody I saw every year at Rebellion Punk Festival as a young skinhead, but I couldn’t pin down his look.”
“I seem to be able to photograph Afro Caribbean men and women in a way that’s very good and intimate; I am very good at photographing hair and makeup; people that have extreme fetish elements and I am not sure why - I think it is because of my development with Benedictine monks. To me, enigma is great, but it has to be human enigma. I am not interested in dolls.” So what does Hartnett believe we should be focussing on, and where does he perceive the future to be headed for photography, if the answer is not the virtual model? It does not take him long to think of a suitable answer. Unlike Knight with his robot-inspired scanners and computers and teams of technicians, Hartnett believes the future lies in the original craft. “What I am interested in is a kind of fine art approach - particularly visuals from the past, that can be, in a way, scrubbed up a bit and represented.”
“At the moment, I am working with the best photographic printers in the world - so my work, my black and white film negatives, go to the likes of Bob Wiskin at Grade One Photographic, who prints the likes of David Bailey, who prints Vogue - all kinds of archives for the V&A, the Natural Portrait Gallery. I work with Peter Guess at Image, Debbie Sears at In Black & White, and we produce prints that need to be re-worked and re-worked, and sometimes I will do 10 to 12 test prints before we actually get to what I want.”
“Sometimes we will use very subtle toners, or we’ll go for a key line or we won’t go for a key line - or we’ll go for a massive border or we won’t - or we’ll actually produce a salt print or a tintype, or we won’t. And so, in this age of digital wankery, my focus is actually on going the other direction, which is silver gelatin prints – traditional printing, and printing that is very time consuming. To produce this sort of print, to get it right, takes print after print after print - but when you get there, my god, you get something that is way beyond the kind of Xerox quality of digital.”
Essentially for Hartnett, the future for photography is about reverting backwards to begin, and then moving forwards; going back to that original essence found historically within the photography industry and craft, and then finding new ways to capture it and distribute it to the masses in a way that will capture their distracted attention, and revitalise their senses for what the visual image really means.
It is about constructing and editing the image using traditional techniques and real people, instead of reverting to Photoshop and 3D models. As he explains, “I do see Photoshop, and a lot of technological developments, as being crap. I think that there can be really great moments, but I think there can also be mass produced Emperors’ clothes. Do you know what I mean? I think it’s a real shame when people lose contact with other people and they start producing images that are really infantile. If you look at Disney and those kinds of cartoons and then you look at fabrication, I just think it’s a real shame to lose contact with humans.”
As well as producing these carefully crafted images through traditional techniques, Hartnett believes we should be collecting such artworks as well. Indeed, with our modern-day ability to snap hundreds of photographs on our smartphones within seconds and delete them as quickly as we took them, the visual image lacks longevity in the 21st century. Its existence can be fleeting. Hartnett feels part of the challenge for the future of his industry is not about developing digitally enhanced and doctored images, but instead about retaining what has already been produced - and preserving the memories of humans who once walked amongst us.
Hartnett explains in detail: “Over the last 15 years, I have been collecting vintage photographs from the dawn of photography, to present such visuals to a new audience. The images I have collected are ambrotypes, tintypes, real photo postcards, silver gelatin prints, albumen prints - all different kinds of different processes. I have attended auctions, photographic fairs; I have advertised in anorak publications, such as Picture Postcard Monthly - and what I have amassed in a very low profile, very quiet, secretive almost manner has been one of the most phenomenal collections of this kind of street and youth culture.” As he continues, “I have spent thousands of pounds collecting such visuals that reflect changing hairstyles, fashions, sports, leisure, pastimes and so forth – from babies to toddlers to youth to adolescents to young adults to adults to the elderly. What I have been doing in a very remote and isolated way in terms of collecting, rather than accumulating, is thinking how will these be useful in the future.”
For Hartnett, this array of images is not simply about creating a personal collection of photographs, but is about giving something back to the future of his industry to help it progress forwards and develop further in the way it considers and reflects upon images. As he avidly tells me, “I have spent so much time working on this... I am very passionate about what I have collected. This has been my life, but I do believe we all hang by a thread... all of this is carefully geared for future preservation and future presentation and, in a way, that’s my gift to planet Earth.”
“I long for a time when there will be the technological developments to be able to present these to voracious eyes. I look at such images - of remarkable tailoring and remarkable hairstyles - and just think, I need to project these into the future for people to adore; that is what I have been doing. Long after I am dead, they will be consumed by people in Japan, China, Russia, Lithuania, Tunisia...”
The key, however, is finding ways of engaging such a globally dynamic and ever-changing audience. Presenting images in innovative ways is therefore imperative for Hartnett. “What I have been considering over the last three or four years is how to actually present such visuals to an audience who have an interest in street fashion, style, culture and maybe club culture as well... presenting these images in the standard way would be defunct, would be useless...” As he continues: “I feel that to present such visuals in a standard format where you mount them and then frame them just feels stuffy. To scan them in a standard way isn’t really going to be exciting to an audience who have been brought up on the Internet; an audience who have been brought up on video games, who have been brought up on all kinds of screen jerk offs.”
While this may prove a challenge for many, Hartnett is full of ideas for how he can present these historic photographs to a future audience, opening up the global accessibility of these images and enticing a new set of eyes in. Ultimately, the answer lies in 3D. It would seem that while he does not approve or appreciate the digital and arguably innovative work of Knight, he does not, however, disagree with 3D entirely. In fact, bringing another dimension to the visual image is something that particularly stimulates him. As he explains when talking about the photographs, “the whole 3D thing is really exciting for me. The future of all of this collection will be 3D.”
For Hartnett, that means numerous things - none of which include the virtual model. A particular fascination for him is the idea of hologram: “The idea of holograms and stuff is like, to me, totally - it’s like a magnet, what a draw... at the moment, I am really enjoying pornography and having a page of pornography open on my coffee table for a month or so; you know, some cute rough piece of rent from Prague in your living room via some kind of 3D hologram format is hilarious.”
The second way Hartnett believes these images will be brought to life for his audience is through a 3D digital screen. As he explains: “It has to be a digital screen, a block, a giant wall - I think that in the future it is quite possible that we will have within our homes screens we will be able to pop something into, some kind of mechanism, some sort of object - it might be a DVD - it seems quite ridiculous popping on a CD or DVD - they seem so outdated already. Probably some kind of download, sort of app or new development, some sort of new connection, where we can then be connected to this screen, which would be of wonderful quality.”
It would contain high definition images - those he has so carefully collected, stored and archived. “We’re talking about something that is high, high, high definition where you can see the eyelashes, where you can see the earring, where you can see the shape of the curl over the ear, or the embroidery, or the cuff, or the detail of the diamond - that kind of detail in the scanning – without Photoshop shit.”
Despite his love of looking backwards at the careful processes of his craft and the beautiful results he can form, Hartnett feels the ever-evolving transition in which new and exciting ideas are created is equally as important. As he notes: “There will always be self-absorbed, self-important, self-indulgent, self-deluded wankers about – and really, Nick Knight should be ashamed of the shit he is producing at the moment. However, as human beings we are like these superbugs now. We can see, absorb, assimilate, evaluate, assess very quickly, and that’s why the whole 3D thing is very important.”
While Hartnett desires to have his historic photographs seen by the mainstream, he is all too aware of how careful he needs to be with his audience. As he explains: “People are so visually sophisticated now without having gone down a route of tutoring or enhancement; people are wanting things but people’s eyes are so fast now. It’s like they’re multi-tasking, so you have to visually bombard, but within the visual bombardment, you need to be selective. Within the visual bombardment, you need to edit - and you need to really focus the eye and you need to be aware of the needs of the audience - to not challenge, but reach us where we are.”
It is within this notion of visual bombardment that Hartnett recognises the need to occasionally pull the reigns in on the excitement that digital developments can bring. “While I love technology and I love the technological developments and so forth, at the same time - why am I living in Hawarth, West Yorkshire, on the moors, with horses by my kitchen window, with foxgloves?” His point, it seems, is that we should not forget to look up once in a while. Visual bombardment is available within reality all the time; it is not just digital. We need to be aware, be present - away from our screens. For all the exciting advantages of virtual models, there really is something to be said for human enigma.
The photographers have been strongly divisive in their thoughts on the work of Nick Knight: but what about those who actually style fashion editorials? The people whose jobs could potentially be at risk thanks to technology. What do they think about the development of 3D scanning? Barry Kamen was a member of the original Buffalo Collective (Kamen and his brother Nick were two of Ray Petri’s favourite models; he sketched Petri’s last breath before he died in 1989), and is an artist and stylist.
Is he a replaceable entity? “No, nothing will replace the human. We respond on a deep evolutionary level to looking into another human’s eyes.” That is not to say, however, that Kamen is adverse to the ideas that Knight is pushing forwards in his work. “Nick has always grasped new technology and I will always applaud him for this; there is always space for new ideas, new concepts and pioneers. All new technological developments are more than welcome, they should be embraced and encouraged; 3D scanning and printing is a truly interesting and enormously exciting development, which will probably altar our entire relationship with objects and commerce. Every industry will be affected, not just the creative.”
However, for Kamen, there remains a ‘but’ to this enthusiasm: He continues: “but all new ideas are born from the human mind and creative spirit; the technologies themselves are only tools to develop the ideas born from the mind and the human condition.” While the stylist’s work can be enhanced or encouraged by technology, in Kamen’s mind, the latter only ever plays secondary to the former.
It is at this point, that I ask for his crucial definition on what makes his job role so important during a fashion shoot. The stylist, he tells me, functions on multiple levels in a way that no computer or scanner could ever replicate: “The stylist can take several different roles within a fashion shoot. From making sure the clothes look at their optimum, to being the art director of the entire shoot. The way I like to work is to encompass both of these aspects, and all points in between. To set the concept, choose the team and cast, and nail the looks. Every detail is essential. Every member of the team has to know exactly the direction of the shoot and be pushed to work at their creative best to achieve a shared goal.”
I ask about his thoughts on Ray Petri, arguably one of the greatest stylists of his generation, who shaped the Buffalo Collective and has continued to inspire a whole field of creative minds. When Petri was working, the idea of a stylist and what they could achieve was still being defined. Indeed, the concept itself is actually relatively new; even Lucinda Chambers, fashion director at British Vogue admitted in her interview with SHOWstudio that when she first began working, a stylist was in those days better known as a fashion editor. This “thing” as she called it, was very much a new concept, being carved out by the people now seen as key influencers.
Despite the job role ambiguity, Kamen explains: “Ray Petri shifted the male fashion image beyond photography to content and context. He applied all of his unique experiences, environments, and desires into a vision of what he saw was happening or about to happen in a global, cultural context. His skill and precision was painterly, born from studying classical portraiture and an insight into the male emotional condition. All his work was centred around the expression in the eyes. Casting was the key, love was the vibration, deep knowledge of style and beauty his foundation. He communicated all this clearly, without too many words, to his handpicked team of excellence. We all knew his vision and shared wholeheartedly in his dream.”
Kamen here reiterates that value, which the stylist brings to the fashion shoot, but that the computer or scanner could never possibly manage: the eye. Not just the two impeccably captured eyes of the perfectly selected human model. I mean the creative eye; that ability to engage with the surroundings simply through what is seen and felt; to be inspired, to pick out the precise features of an object - the colour, the texture, the essence - and bring it to the shoot in a redefined or reconfigured way. As writer Tim Blanks said to SHOWstudio, “fashion is an applied art. Yes, it’s a piece of clothing people are going to wear, but there’s an artist’s eye at work in a lot of fashion.” It is therefore for this reason that, while Kamen respects what Knight is achieving and pushing forwards, he does not necessarily feel as though this work has the potential to revolutionise or influence the industry for other photographers and artists. “I don’t think it will change anything particularly. Every new technology is absorbed and adapted into our human environment.”
“At the moment, these images and methods look new and exciting. In a few years, they will look crude and charming. Today will soon become the good old days and we will be staring into the face of the next development. Of course, parts of the industry will adopt these new technologies when suits and very exciting work will emerge - but also very derivative nonsense will too.” What must be recognised by photographers, regardless of which way they are inclined into thinking regarding the work of 3D scanning and virtual models, is how visually stimulated their audience is; a theme that has been repeatedly touched upon by those spoken to. It completely affects how the future of photography will pan out, and what its audience demands of the producers.
Kamen concludes, “apparently, we see more in one day than Van Gogh saw in his entire lifetime. Whether this is a good or bad thing is irrelevant to me. This is the time we are in and every human has to deal with the environment he or she is subjected to. We are all expert editors now. Our ability to contemplate has shifted from depth to width. Dreaming of a better time in the past is just nostalgia, which is, originally, a word describing a sometimes fatal disease of the mind.”
AN ORCHID IN TECHNOLOGY
The need for change within the fashion industry, photography and styling world is not revolutionary. It arises from the nucleus of a rich historical tapestry in which the traditional art form is continually modernising and changing. For those whose jobs could potentially be removed by technology, there is always a certain amount of fear and hesitation. It has been seen in the production lines at factories, in the technology that is used to build household items, to perform operations, and to keep our world evolving. Humans are, in many unthinkable ways, replaceable when it comes to technology.
This extends into the realm of photography as well; just think of the camera, which played a key part in changing how we perceive the paintbrush. As Paul Valéry was quoted by Walter Benjamin as saying at the start of this transition within his highly acclaimed literary-philosophical work titled Illuminations: “Just as water, gas, and electricity are brought into our houses from far off to satisfy our needs in response to minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign.”
Valéry’s seemingly Orwellian ability to look into the future suggests these technological changes are all historically underpinned upon the same simple notions. This notion continues to apply, even to the realm of 3D scanning and the virtual model. We repeatedly seek that which reduces our workload; that makes life seem simpler and more straightforward - that which requires less manpower, less output. It is here that I think of the innovative ideas that Koziel put forward for the integration of the virtual model. They have definite potential, especially if they work to help the industry, functioning simultaneously alongside what we already have, seeking to improve it, rather than overhauling it to the point that the human spirit and creative imagination is lost.
It is in the nature of the creative industry to continually evolve and change. As Benjamin wrote with uncompromising clarity, “the history of every art form shows critical epochs in which a certain art form aspires to effects which could be fully obtained only with a changed technical standard, that is to say, in a new art form.” Change is exciting and full of possibilities; it is something the fashion industry ought to become better at dealing with. Technology has so much potential to influence how we explore, interpret and understand the visual image. It adds layers to the industry. These changes happen, are happening, and should be embraced. As Chambers professes in her SHOWstudio interview: “I suppose that what I would love somebody to take from any fashion photography is that you can do whatever you like. If you’ve got a platform, if you find a platform, don’t be restrained by conventions or what everybody else is doing.”
“You can do something that doesn’t feel fashionable; it doesn’t feel the latest thing. I would say confidence to do one thing one minute and then do another thing another minute; I think that it is important for people to embrace everything - and to keep your mind really open. I would hope that just maybe, a little bit of my work might say that; that you don’t have to have this particular style. You can be all things for all people and it’s not a weakness. It just gives you that breadth of dreams, which I think is so exciting.” Ultimately, we should not dismiss the work of Knight altogether.
However, there is one incredibly important and precise element of the traditional creative process that would be irrevocably lost if 3D scanning and the virtual model were to lead the way forwards, and this is something that should be remembered at all times: the muse. An individual human or a collective; a quality to a person’s body or being; or an object, a moment caught in time; a subtle movement in a piece of clothing that catches the eye, the imagination, and sends the camera shutter flicking.
The muse is unquestionably important to the craft. It is led by the creative eye, which perceives and picks out from our catalogue of human experiences, working as a continuous camera for our mind, capturing brief encounters and interludes of life to be recalled at a later date. Regardless of how advanced technology becomes, this could not be substituted or recreated. It is exclusive to the human body - to reality.
To be more exact, though, it isn’t just the muse that would be lost - but the essence, the ‘aura’ that surrounds it. The indefinable ‘thing’ that creative types find so difficult to describe - to capture - despite having provided such invaluable inspiration; that part of the person that intrigues them without knowing why. It is this aura that is increasingly becoming lost thanks to our constant visual exposure and stimulation – an audience distracted, we miss so much and lose sight of the capacity that life has to inspire. Life can provide the most beautiful images imaginable, if only our eyes were to leave the screen. However, if 3D scanning and virtual models were to overthrow the traditional fashion shoot, ‘aura’ really would be lost for good. No longer would it be brought into the visual image by the perceptive mind of the stylist: an empty mood board, blank of that indescribable quality.
As Benjamin so precisely reminds us in Illuminations, “that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.” This loss would entirely affect the authenticity and validity of photography and the industry it resides within. Just as Tony Felix, another member of the Buffalo Collective, said when speaking to Zadrian Smith for PETRIe 65: “Fashion is a hungry beast, you know. It keeps trying to find new things, but you just hope that everything it finds it doesn’t destroy.” One thing we must always hope the industry does not lose is this aura, no matter how innovative or exciting the progression of technology becomes.
Otherwise, it would become - along with immediate reality - “an orchid in the land of technology,” just as Benjamin so eloquently described. Authenticity may seem like an issue that can be, in many ways, overcome with time and context. However, like Benjamin wrote all those years ago, “the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed.” In essence, it would entirely redefine how we see art: a change, in my opinion, one step too far.
It is for this reason, with a hammer slammed to the auction desk, that I cry out to you all with my ‘aura’ still in tact, that the virtual model is “sold, to the idiot over there.”
Read: Printing Out The Future by Thomas Eddershaw
Words: Grace Carter