Posts Tagged ‘Globalization’

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Postcultural Identity and the Fashion Photography of Lillian Bassman

June 10, 2011

Born in 1917, Lillian Bassman is most celebrated for her grainy, black and white photographic work. Featured in Harper’s Bazaar Magazine between 1950-1965, her work with models focused on high contrasts and form. Her creative objective focused on pure form. However, when popular tastes in fashion photography changed, Bassman discarded 40 years of negatives and prints. One misplaced bag of 100 images survived. Today, Bassman is recognized as one of the great women fashion photographers and is still working.

Throughout the 20th century, the world of fashion has had a contentious evolution. Both celebrated for it’s aesthetics and criticized for its bourgeoisie decadence, fashion remains one of the most popular and common forms of cultural representation. In this instance, culture is defined as the attitude and behavior characteristics of a particular social group. While it is easy to comment that the attitude reflected in fashion is the starvation of culture, this reduction is a bit too easy.

Existentialism rose from the ruins of two world wars and set the stage for surrealism, deconstruction, and post-modernism. Through the knowledge of mass destruction and global culpability, the question of meaning was desperately explored within the realms of art, religion, philosophy, and other representations of cultural identity. Deconstruction destabilized meaning, but also provided an almost religious assuredness that the center is never stable. As if this instability assured a conceptualization of existence beyond the ability of humans—the religious function of the psyche found an outlet through the labors of theory.

However, while existentialism, or the quest for meaning, has been simultaneously nihilistic and the origin of great creativity, there is another factor that has shaped the last 100 years—globalization. The great American experiment has now passed the two hundred year mark and cultures have now been, not only blended, but forgotten. The fusion of races, traditions, and languages have created a clean palate to adopt and discard the trappings of culture. Americans can be everything or nothing in a simple change of the wardrobe.

In this example, we are going to be looking at Postculturalism as a theory directly related to globalization. In a community set in a densely cultural environment the traditions, expectations, and socio-economic positions have been established over hundreds (if not thousands of years). An individual is not introduced as someone who has existed within one lifetime, rather they are recognized as the son, or daughter, of thus and thus person, who is in turn related to another individual. Everyone is family, the community dictates behavior, and history is remembered.

In Postculturalism, the socio-economic boundaries are broken enabling more opportunity. The lack of a genealogical introduction enables quick movement between economic classes. However, it also means the deterioration of expectations and lifestyle. The concept of the lifespan as shared within a community follows set rituals. Whether that knowing the time to eat during the day, the season to eat ice cream, or the rites of passage into different epochs, the expectations are clearly available. This availability serves a psychological objective in providing a known framework, a system of initiation, and a guide for interactions. In contrast, a Postcultural society must either cull customs from a variety of backgrounds, or, more like, is left to find a framework from a system unrelated to culture—which is usually nestled closely to capitalism.

Leading us back into the phenomenon of fashion photography. Photography has served many functions since it’s invention. Ranging from a bureaucratic tool to high art, photography is both a method and a form of expressionism. In the case of fashion photography, the line between commercialism and art is often blended. The goal of fashion is to sell clothes. To sell clothes, there must be a reason to buy clothes. Fashion is not utilitarian and is fueled by desire. Clothes are a traditional expression of culture and personal identity. Our industry within a community is recognized by what we wear (butcher, baker, candlestick maker), and likewise an individual with the finest clothes is more important than an individual with poorer accessories. We all desire quality in life, and clothes are symbolic of our goals and achievements.

However, in a Postcultural society identity is not established through a cultural history. Which makes fashion an extremely necessary outlet for defining individual identity. A person who is in fashion, has more economic resources, and is therefore identified as being more significant within the social hierarchy. However, fashion is not just branding, it is the artistic development of “looks.” Here is where photography becomes more than a tool for communicating merchandise. The creative aspects of fashion photography create a scene that the viewer desires to identify with. The reenactment, or interaction, with changing fashions is one method to create a persona where prior content does not limit possibilities.

In looking at the photography of Lillian Bassman, we must question the appeal, but also the challenges of her images. Her photography is intensely interested in form, geometry, and high-grainy contrast. When we look at her images, we are looking through a window into another world. The world is attractive, but deeply psychological. The narrative is complex and not always neat. The extreme black and white contrast does not compromise in communicating emotion, tension, and intrIgue. The content that Bassman conveys works within the forum of fashion photography, but the physical identities that she designs convey more about our interior landscapes. Her emphasis on form took her into creative realms that the fashion content was unable to follow. Leading her to find other forums of expression outside of the industry, but also establishing her legacy as a fashion photographer who had much to say to an audience unprepared to listen.

This is a link to Lillian Bassman’s photography as featured in the New York Times.

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Le Livre de Visage: Philistine, Bohemian, and Eligere

June 4, 2011

Le Livre de Visage, or Le Facebook, is a unique cultural phenomenon. Not only does it remind us of the ancient social hierarchy of the Philistine, Bohemian, and Eligere, but so does it articulate the hierarchy of social needs closeted within. Undeniably attractive, the rough beast of cyber globalization slouches toward the Bethlehem of our intellectual heritage.

Philistinism:
likeWhile the term Philistine has historical roots straight back to the Bronze Age and the Canaanites, the use of Philistine has become a social moniker. According to the Urban Dictionary a Philistine is:

A conformist in everything they do. A person who is obsessed with sports, sex, and Motor vehicles. They listen to whatever everyone else is listening to, wear whatever everyone else is wearing, and avoid anything that is in the least bit unusual, unique, or eccentric (06/04/2011, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=philistine&defid=2046655).

While Philistine might be equated with a modern concept of social conservativism, it may be adder that the Philistine favors materialism and the unthinking conventional forms of life, art that has a cheap and easy appeal.

Bohemianism:

gypsyIn contrast to the Philistine, Bohemianism is the practice of the unconventional life. Intentionally, or unintentionally, the Bohemian lacks permanent ties and is often described as being wanderers, or adventurers. Bohemia is a counter-culture group that has inspired the evolution of art, literature, and music by existing outside of what is predictable, or the established norm.

Originating in the Gypsy culture stemming from Bohemia, the romanticized life of the Gitano vagabond has been applied to the avant-garde thinkers throughout western society. Bohemianism exists as both an organic and constructed reaction to the values of Philistinism.

Eligere:

Directly related to the commonly used elite, the Latin eligere is translated as “to elect.” The Eligere exist in a status above the proletariat classes (including both Philistine and Bohemian). An exceptional, privileged group that wields considerable power within a community. Power being defined as including physical, spiritual, intellectual, and financial factors.

The views, opinions, and desires of the Eligere should be taken more seriously than that of the under classes. Conventional life is directly influenced by their behavior. However, the lifestyle of the Eligere remains allusive and unattainable by the majority. A good example of this phenomenon is fashion—unaffordable and inaccessible fashion trends reach the masses when they are passé to the Eligere. In commerce, the Eligere are the most successful bourgeoisie. Intellectually, popular culture is vulgar.

Le Facebook:

Originating from the exclusivism of the Harvard Eligere, Facebook is founded on the concept of being either in or out. Evolving to include all that have obtained a .edu email address it was not long before the distinction of education was eliminated and the Facebook world was opened to the world. Now, it carries the reputation of being a tool to organize revolutions in third world countries and is developing online commute technology for the everyday worker.

Clearly used for the boorish pursuit and dissemination of sex, drugs, gossip, popular culture, and the like, Facebook indulges the user in the simplicity of primal purpose. No longer the epic, a post is founded on the verb “to be” which is not much more complicated than the grunt of a Neanderthal. The obvious use of Facebook as a channel for managing, communicating, and reinforcing philistine desires has clearly been accepted by both individuals and corporations.

However, the news bite synthesis of information linked to larger expository writing, the mixed media capabilities, and the instantaneous exposure to the perspectives of a global community allow for creativity and the breaking down of what is known or expected behavior. As a new tool and forum of exploration, the creative potentials for Facebook are incredible. Whether one is dealing with digital media or merely looking for rare, likeminded collaborators, there is great potential for a person to travel far beyond the ordinary. While it is unclear what the path of bohemia looks on Facebook, it is also clear that there is still a space for unconventionality.

Amongst the Eligere, the original purpose of Facebook was for networking and defining social circles. The limited access of Facebook is over, and so is the private, elected party. The concept of “friend” has been deconstructed into the ambiguity of shared popular culture fetishes. Instead of developing more intimacy through written conversation, approval is asserted by the eloquent “like” or “poke.” The Eligere now exist outside of Facebook. To participate is to reveal your true philistine roots. The Eligere have others to manage their online identity, if they choose to participate at all.

Dislocating Identity and Mad Narcissus:

Just as Narcissus became enchanted and doomed by the reflection of his own image, so has Facebook raised questions of how one’s identity is comprehended when observed separate from the Self. The postmodern concerns of authorship have returned: who (or what) is the author, text, and audience? On Facebook, intertextuality, or the boundaries between what is Other and Self are broken. Imagine a mirror. The mirror is broken into a hundred pieces. When one is able to meet the eyes of your reflection in one fragment of mirror, a hundred eyes of the other you look on from the sideline. They are all you, but the filter of choice in how you represent yourself is not stable. Unconsciously, consciously, or compulsively, Facebook reveals your identity from angles that are quickly becoming more and more difficult to self regulate.

While the triumvirate of  social classes (Philistine, Bohemian, and Eligere) exist as the sign posts of cultural identity, they also reflect the internal struggle of identity that is being carried out by the individual: when to conform, how to create, and what to keep exclusive.