Memoir in Advertising
SOLO EXHIBITION AT THE ART INSTITUTE OF WI, SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER, 2012
If a picture says a thousand words, then an advertisement says ten thousand. The combination of words and photos is powerful. During my time at the Art Institute of Wisconsin, I took on 3 independent studies. THE UNDERGROUND, THE FARM, and the other was A Memoir in Advertising. A Memoir in Advertising was born out of the memories that I was recalling of how advertising campaigns had impacted me as an artist. The more I recalled, the more I realized there was something to really examine. The process was even emotional at times, being able to pinpoint inspiration that is deeply engrained in my creative mind. Most interestingly, here I am now - a designer. My daily j.o.b. is to convey the selling points of someone's business, to make the customer fall in love, laugh, and buy.
In September of 2012, Memoir in Advertising had it's opening night in the main gallery of the Art Institute of Wisconsin. It was my first solo show and the first opportunity for me to give an artist's talk. The experience is one I am so grateful for.
Underlying influences create who we are today. Some are easy to recall and some are trickier. When starting this project, I created a timeline of imagery that had been and is still influencial to me. Advertising is much more to me than an outlet that seeks my spending money, it is art. Growing up, I shared a room with my mother. To designate my space from hers, I pulled ads and fashion spreads out of magazines; plastering them the walls surrounding my bed. Even the ceiling was covered, and I would go to bed at night getting lost in the collaged world I wanted to live in.
A Memoir in Advertising seeks to explore influence. The writing pulls at my experiences and clarifies the impact. The photography accompanies the writing to show the influence in a current light. After writing and shooting, I found a new outlet through process. The slow gathering of memories and the quick pace to push those memories out, into a new use, became a method of understanding myself as an artist. It also shows that advertising and commercial work can evoke strong emotions. Since it reaches so many, it can be more powerful than fine art. It was what graced my walls and sculpted my definition of effective art. Effective art has the power of influence, change, and emulation. It out lives it’s original creator and continues on it’s mission.
MEMOIR: BUSH’S BAKED BEANS - WTF DID YOU DO TO DUKE?!
I’m sitting in Liquid Johnny’s about to order my second drink, considering my frist drink was a Bloody Mary let me correct myself - I’m sitting in Liquid Johnny’s about to order my first drink. The bartender is extremely attentive, but not in an over the top creepy way. He mans the bar with care, wiping her down and asking us if we want anything on the TV. This level of service can be found in dive bars on slow days, they were even giving us pull tabs with each drink order. “Kinky, Orange Bacardi, OJ, Club, and a lime”, I asked for my “first” drink.
I sat down and out of the corner of my eye caught the flat screen on my left. Paying little attention to the commercial playing, I took a sip of my drink. Then, like a slap to the face, I saw it. “Oh my god... are you seeing this?!” No one batted an an eye as I starred in some sort of pissed off amazement. My bottom lip tensed up, I bit it a little, and visions of vengeance started running through me head.
I imagine myself in front of the B.O.D. at Bush’s Baked Beans in a slim cut power suit unleashing my disapproval. “What were you thinking, that’s NOT Duke! I grew up with Duke and yes, his eyes glistened - but, NOT like that. There were little light beams coming out of his eyes....!” Clearly, I let this CGI blasphemy effect me a little to much. Everyone else in the bar (the whole 5 people) were going on with their chats and biting into dangerously hot deep fried mushrooms. I sat and tried to digest what I had seen. We ordered shots and I started to forget a little about Duke.
I am hurt by Bush’s Baked Beans decision. They have committed an act of carelessness, they forgot about the children of the 90’s. Bush’s Beans are not the first to commit the crime. As a child, the Snuggle Bear and me had a certain bond. I was a banshee of a toddler, zooming around the one bedroom cabin as if it were a High School Gym. When Snuggle Bear came on the television, I would fall to the floor and stare - entraced by the halo glow around his little stuffed animal body, the lessons he spoke of, and the feeling of being wrapped in fresh warm laundry. I eventually outgrew Snuggle Bear’s subdoing nature, but I remain reminiscant. It would be nice if my memories were all good, but that was ruined by the crime of CGI. Ever since Snuggle was converted to CGI, I have scoffed at him. Grimicing at the commercials and turning my nose up at the fabric softeners that enlist him.
The difference lies in touch. I could no longer imagine sneaking into the freshly done laundry with Snuggle and talking about our adventures. Even as a child, I saw one thing when the CGI appeared - “that’s a fake computer animation.” I can not see past it. I blank it out. Snuggle Bear? Who’s he? Oh yeah, that fake imposter bear that never ceases to upset me with his fake curls of harshly fuzzed fur. I could no longer turn to that comfort as a child, and now I have lost my precious Duke.
Jay and Duke Bush were introduced in 1995. I was 8 years old at the time. The commercials worked on a basic premise, Jay won’t give away the family recipe and Duke is the only other soul who knows it. Duke becomes the star of the commercials quickly, he secretly wants to make bank off this “secret recipe”.
The commercials ran often, and Duke became America’s new family dog. I recall not being able to help but enjoy Duke. This due in part to my Grandma looking up from one of her saucy romance paperbacks to notice that Jay and Duke were on, a smile sliding onto her face and the inevitable single laugh of amusement. I wanted to hug Duke and to tell him “thanks for the laughs”.
Currently the internet personality, Julie Klausner has an ongoing petition on Twitter for the chance to pet “Duke”. It has created quite the buzz and apparently, Bush’s may give in. This woman must not have heard the news. “Julie, Duke’s gone. If your plan works, you will be petting the air against a green screen. Smiling and looking like a clown.”
MEMOIR: MODERN ROCK, AN INFOMERCIAL
The moment when Annie Lennox whips her face to the camera during the “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” video - I learned the
importance of a hard glare. Not having cable, it was a treat to see music videos.
Everytime we stayed in hotels on vacations, I would turn to VH1 and MTV to get in on the action. When I heard the 80’s music coming from the TV at home, I knew to stop what I was doing because “it” was on. The Modern Rock CD Collection Infomercial was a on.
Inspired by what I had witnessed during the Modern Rock selling spree, I set out to perfect the glaring maneuver. The mirror was the tool for the trade and my partner in practice. A casual glance at myself became a longer looking session, then a full out loss of time. It fascinated me to observe the effects of glaring at someone and having someone shoot you a look, both sides were my doing. This led me to give full face to that mirror, changing my expressions just barely and witnessing the effects. Sometimes if I locked eyes with myself for too long, my mind would sort of float. A disconnect would happen and I would need to shake it off, return to the normal world.
My inspiration did not stop after making a couple faces. I was enamored by The Eurythmics. The starkness of the Sweet Dreams presentation, the pulsing electronic synths, and the unusualness of it all remained with me. Spending my summers alone, out of school, with no neighbors tended to get boring. They were all spent this way and because of this required a huge dose of creative spirit. One of the solutions to the boredom lie in a rock pile behind an old shed. Rocks were brought there from the fields over many years and formed an ideal exploring area. Trees shaded the spot from the summer sun. I would set up a small battery powered radio on a steady rock and find a place to sit. Stolen tools from my Uncle’s cabinets in the garage were strewn about the rocks. Hammers, metal files, nails, etc were what I used to chisel away at rocks. Finding something was not the point, the mere repetitive activity busied my mind.
My radio would be tuned to 99.1 The Mix for one simple reason - “Sweet Dreams” might come on. While this radio played, another one simultaneously played in the large new shed. If “Sweet Dreams” came pulsing out of that tiny dusty radio, I would run down to the new shed and blast the giant 60’s radio. My plan worked, they played it, and I got to blast it.
The pulsing synths would rattle the metal walls and ride out across the deafening fields. I would run outside and soak up the sound waves along with the plants. My stance was taller, my chest puffed out, and my walk became that of an arsonist walking away from flames. I would glare at imaginary bystanders witnessing the pure spectacle and plot my rise to fame.
I am thankful for that infomercial, truly. It exposed me to the blatent power of the face and its expressions. The anticipation of having to wait to catch a glimpse of my new found audio heroes bettered the experience, After I saw it, I was different. My ears were turned on, the fire in my belly lit, my eyes became go-to tools, and when my face whipped around to look at another - I would know what to do with it.
MEMOIR: A&F QUARTERLY, RICH ENOUGH TO DO THAT
I reached for the thick plastic coated magazine. Or, was it a catalog - a book maybe. “The A&F Quarterly” typed on its cover, “Back To School 2003”. Just the weight of it felt enticing. “7 dollars”, should be easy. “Hey Mom, can I get this?” She looked at it without any notion of dismissal, she actually seemed excited about it in a similar way I was. My mother has always supported my creative side and my love for print. My grandma as well, who once told me - “I will always buy you books if you want them, books are the only thing I have no limit on.”
I slid the issue onto the counter along with a blank grey t-shirt that had little to no value except for the fact that it was very soft. All
of the clothes at Abercrombie and Fitch is incredibly soft. It invokes a want to climb on the display and put all of yourself on the clothes. It was the first store that I encountered a true full body shopping experience. Visually, the slightly painted grey walls contrasted with the deep blue of the molding, the walls had wood detailing, there was a huge moose head above the cashier area, the lighting was bright and dim at the same, and the colors of the clothing all went together like sprawled out flower petals.
Aurally, dance and electronic mixes played from hidden speakers - often loudly to create the feeling of being in my own singular world. Tactile elements were everywhere, begging to be picked up and held and carried. My sense of smell was the most intense and bombarded immediately. Employees are instructed to spray down the whole store periodically with A&F’s original woodsy scent. I pressed the sweatshirts to my face, becoming fully intoxicated off of the bouquet.
We left the store with a bag that graced a black and white photo of a shirtless twenty something and had deep blue handles. When the bag entered the car, so did the store’s smell. The whole experience lingered. It had not been the norm to purchase their clothing, the whole phenomenon was recent. I lived in a smaller town, on a farm, and my family was not rolling in cash. Same went for most of my school peers, except for the farm part. Abercrombie and Fitch moved into the mall and into many suburban malls across
America. The store had been isolated to rich ivy leaguers or big city shoppers, but now it was mainstream. It took over. It became the “popular people’s” clothes, the “jocks” choice. Walking down the halls , one would be hard pressed not to pass several people wearing the brands name across their chest or a guy that gets high after school rocking a pair of their cargo shorts. The clothes were not cheap. $25 for a t-shirt, $70 for a sweatshirt, sometimes $80 for jeans. Parents bought it, the clothing and the image.
I got home and set down my bag. I pulled out the Quarterly and started a tear in the plastic. As I tore it open, the woodsy smell hit me again. The cover was a thick paper with a indented texture. I opened to a random page and boom, “dicks”. I closed it quickly, and thought about the situation. I am 14 years old and I basically had my Mom buy me porn. I shook it off and started at the beginning this time. Completely engaged, I turned each page and sat with it for moments at a time. The photographs were stunning, ballsy (some times literally), and painted a picture. I saw beautiful pools full of naked men shooting hoops, girls lying in barns with their shirts torn off, half naked games of touch football, girls wearing college blazers with banded underwear on, etc. Heavy homosexual
overtones, men on men, but not graphic.
I read and felt as if the world I was seeing was normal, maybe even more normal than the one I was in. The men with their adonis bodies, looked silly in clothes. The contrast of their hard muscle against a thin soft cable knit sweater was intriguing, as if the sweater had been placed on the statue of David. They looked better naked, and completely at ease. I was in love, with this place - with the idea of wearing my hundred dollar jeans, cracking a bottle of champagne over a boat, getting maybe one sip, and not needing to care because I was a rich ivy leaguer. I bought more and more of their clothes (well, my mom did). I wore the lifestyle across my chest, my hair became blonder, and I never wore blue jeans without a brown belt. It’s American Dream without the picket fence, without the kids, and without the hard stressful job.
I feverishly tore through that issue, over and over. I tore out “acceptable” images and taped them to by bedroom walls (a bedroom I shared with my mother). I was sure to get the next issue, “Christmas 2003”. I tore through that as well, and developed an even clearer understanding of what Abercrombie was doing. Marketing to teens in an attempt to create a very unrealistic portrait of college. I knew it was not real, but I wanted it to be. I could go back to the quarterly and escape for a while. The Christmas issue was the last I would see, the Quarterly went on a 7 year hiatus and I never thought it would come back. It has. I may pick up an issue. I could use a little bit of that American Paradise right now.
MEMOIR: APPLE - KID, THE WORLD IS YOURS
Tonight was the night. I was out of school and my mom was done with work. We were on our way to CompUSA. The location in Brookfield, WI sold all types of computers, but most importantly the new Apple iMac. They were the only store that had it. Walking in, we went straight to the back of the store and stared. Witness to a giant leap in technology and design, I approached the computer as if I had seen it a thousand times. I placed my hand over the puck of a mouse and watched the cursor glide over the impressively bright screen. I ran my hands over the top of the iMacs dome and my fingers slipped around the handle. My mom appeared next to me, “Is that the one we want? Wow. What color?” What color. The question seemed out of place, it had never applied to a decision like this before. Suddenly, the experience became powerful and personal - I can pick the color. Similar to when a parent tells a young child that they can pick the color of paint for their bedroom. I informed the salesman that we would be taking home an iMac 333MHz in “Lime.”
The box that carried her came up to the register on a dolly. It was bright white, as if Apple had managed to make the color white whiter, and cube shaped. The size was large, maybe 3ft square. Four images appeared on its sides. A front view of the screen, as if to say “hello”. A side view showing the brilliant lime hue, the Apple logo was on another side in bright lime, another the back view, and
the top showed specs. My mom made the purchase, bless her, for a little over $1,000. Someone helped us out with it because the 2 door Mazda MX-6 made it difficult to load. After some jimmying, the box sat nestled in the back as cozy as a swaddled newborn. We drove to my favorite ice cream place and ordered inside. I finally smiled as I enjoyed my rainbow jimmy sundae, never taking my eyes off the car.
After the purchase of the iMac, my life changed. Never to be the same, period. I watched my first DVD on it (it could play DVDs!!). I could go on the internet, draw using digital programs, print pictures, etc to the moon. I rented cds from the library and copied all the songs into my itunes library, and then ripped cd after cd. Furthering my music quest, Napster launched during my first years with the mac and I took full advantage. I downloaded everything I could, found out what remixes really were, discovered electronic music, and finally got to listen to every single Eurythmics song I could find. It was free music! This was the fast lane of information and I was hooked for life. I spent more time on the iMac than doing anything else, besides maybe sleeping. I still spent time outside sometimes, but not even an eighth of what I used to.
My mom used the computer for two things, the internet and solitaire. It did not matter, I knew she really got it for me. She knew it would help propel me forward, keep me at the top, and allow me to continue growing. Sure, I got a little too obsessed with The Sims when it came out and maybe I should have given the hard drive a break and laid off ripping so much music, but my intentions were pure. I could feel myself expanding my education through exploration on the internet, even if it was dial up. Artistry came back to me, this new tool had been given to me and I used it. There was a paint like program that I used often. I would drag jpegs of models into the program and draw clothing on them. It was my first experience with vector art, certainly not my last.
The iMac became my true and constant companion. I was alone out on the farm, without it - how would I have been able to feel social? We lived in a slightly remote location, surrounded by almost 200 acres, and having neighbors was foreign concept to me. My only
peer interaction was at school and that was only a portion of the year. Most of the time, I was by myself. My entertainment was self
generated. The internet allowed me to feel in touch with others at times of isolation. I had explored the land we lived what seemed like
a million times and it was time to voyage elsewhere. The world was now my oyster, even if it was through a screen.
The original iMac was a thing of true beauty, fun, imagination, and wonder. Apple had created something so different, there was no need for extensive copy. All they had to do was show the product. The product is the statement, “Look what we have created!”.
Apple is the holy father of advertising. They have worked in house and almost exclusively with TBWA/Chiat/Day (the geniuses behind the “Think Different” campaign). There is almost no one or no company in the United States that has not been altered by the
advertising that Apple puts out. When I first started seeing Apple ads I was in awe of them, instantly knowing the ads were smart and had staying power. The luscious white space was so clean that it scared me. The confidence in the product was forceful, the advertising converted me to the religion of Apple.
Apple does not sell computers, they sell experiences. It was 1999 when our first iMac came home. I was 13 years old and the
experience was magical. Before the computer was even on, attention to detail made me feel part of a special group of people. Every Mac owner that has purchased an Apple new has gone through the same magical adventure. As if placing yourself in an Apple theme ride, you get in and trust the ride. The handles on box make one feel taken care of, “thank you for thinking of when I have to carry this out of the car, how thoughtful.” Carefully sliding a blade through the tape that holds it all together, the box breaks open. When the first foam piece is removed, there it sits. It would be disrespectful to just pull it free from its foam holding cell, one must carefully lift the machine and bring a hand to the bottom to ensure that no stress will occur to the baby. Even the plastic that holds the software and manuals is special, the thickness is unlike other packaging and the sound of the crinkle is distinguishable. The experience of bringing a new family member into the house, the chance to start being a better photographer, the moment of seeing a far away on business significant other through the screen, and if you own an Apple these experiences are now attainable. There is no way around the truth, when seeing an Apple ad it is hard to deny one fact - “It’s just cool” - and everyone wants to be cool. Once one bites the apple, the deed is done and born is the Mac user for life.
MEMOIR: STEVEN KLEIN - PUT ART ON MY WALLS
Everyday I perused the internet for fashion photos. It recently became a complete fascination. The exposure to these images had never been easier, long gone were the days of maybe happening upon a great photo in a magazine. Now I hunted them, actively typing the keys and searching. As a hunter of images, I knew where to go to increase my chances. I frequented models.com to see who the top ranking powerhouse print ad models were. From there I searched their names, finding sources like blogs and fan sites. Then, I hit a gold mine. Foto-Decadent graced my screen.
The site, hosted on Live Journal, was a collection of scanned fashion spreads. I browsed down; finding full spreads and ad campaigns from all the top fashion magazines. People added posts from around the world and everyone seemed just as serious and enthusiastic about the images as I was. I read the commentary, “I really love the lighting in these shots, but those shoes are god awful.” Or, “This would have been better with less nudity.” I scanned the page thoroughly, and then I landed on it; the big catch.
“Steven Klein Shoots Madonna.” Just the title seemed important. This spread changed my eyes forever. The blue cast of the pictures still pulls at me and makes me want to set up a camera in an old factory and do work. Included were several shots of Madonna playing with themes like equestrienne, pilates, and ancient dress. Instantly, I was hooked on the nonsensical narrative. By not directly telling a story, but instead hinting at it, the series had managed to captivate me past the initial encounter. Klein’s reserve of not showing everything allows a romance to occur. One falls in love slowly by having their reasoning teased.
Returning to the images again and again, I grew a true fondness for the photographer. That had never happened before. Sure, I love certain photos but this encounter made me feel very involved as a viewer. I became a voyeur through the photographer’s eyes, his lens, and his vision. I was part of the scene, an accomplice. I sought out the hard copy after spending some time with the photos on screen. I needed them in my hands, the power of print is very evident at times. I found the bad boy at Barnes and Noble, W Magazine. That beast is massive. The magazine measures 10.75 inches wide and 13 inches tall. The dimensions give it a strange presence, is it a square or a rectangle - no matter, it’s powerful.
I purchased the issue and knew that the pages would become worn. I discovered that the theme had meaning (Madonna had fallen from a horse 7 months prior and fractured several bones). By choosing the circumstance of her accident, the series seeks to put an end to the trauma that lingered after the event. But, the photos were filled with fear, mystery, and conquest even before I knew the
facts of the accident. They painted the moods with exquisite precision.
Browsing the spread, I picked my favorites. Some went on my walls and others were filed away in folders. Waking in the morning and seeing the image of Madonna standing slow in front of a bucking white horse, the fog surrounding them both in a togetherness haze, I felt inspired and transported. Seeing the picture did not make me want to go jam to some Madonna, it made me want to be a photographer.
Those images linger, they create an instant visual blow but then create a ripple. The ripple is what causes interpretation and gives way to emotive story telling. I regard Klein as a hero in this venture and a true artist. A little over a year of first seeing these images, I wrote a paper on why Steven Klein was my current favorite artist, knowing that he had declared in several interviews, “I am not an artist... I am a commercial photographer.” He was and is an artist to me, and that is the catch. Fashion editorial spreads can serve many purposes and the smallest is selling clothes. The biggest is selling dream like scenarios, escapes from average surroundings. The artistry in that is evident. Klein produces voyeur happy scenes and invites one to forget averageness for a while.
Violence, sex, blood, and love based crimes are often featured in a Steven Klein shoot. These themes were relevant to me, even though they should not have been. I was raised in a good home, had nice things, and a more than full belly but I yearned for disarray. It is not interesting to be from a good home, that does not create a nail biter of a story.
Fashion editorials explore an elitist version of intrigue. The same trick is often used - the figures are rich, in exquisite places, adorned with shining gold, in beautiful clothes, and accompanied by gorgeous people. During the period of 2006-2009 photographers like Steven Klein turned that idea around. The models were still beautiful, the clothes was unattainable to 95% of the population, but now they were being placed in situations of distress.
Images filled the fashion magazines featuring models with slit throats, lovers quarrels, vampire blood soaked kisses, naked men strapped to futuristic devices, and deeply dark narratives. I was drawn to it, it was impossible to not be. Gracing the coffee table was a hidden dark valley of treasures, deep secrets, and stories that quickly get distinguished from day dreaming sessions.
Inspired, I took the photos as indicators of what it takes to be noticed and be intriguing. I began to build a look that was less Abercrombie and a little more Rob Zombie. The photo editorials justified what I found interesting, they said - “This is what’s next, these are the bad asses, these are the frayed, and they cause people envy.” I envied them, their tan bodies covered in gold and dirt like a Roman soldier fresh from battle and ready to go to the VMA’s. My makeup got a little heavier, I became bolder, more straight forward, and noticeable. I shot photos of myself that were confident, staring down the camera, and forcing attention.
Through Steven Klein’s work, I gained sight into a world of unpleasant pleasantries. I ran with it and created my own world filled with debauchery laced characters. I shot them, and knew that when people encountered those images they would be the next generation of voyeurs. Seeing through my lens, my heart, and my mind. Viewing an escape from averageness, engaging in it, and becoming an accomplice to my vision.
MEMOIR: TERRY RICHARDSON - 15 MINUTES OF SHAME
“Lindsey is so hot. Lind-say-Lo-han!” Angie yells from the other room, as she and Kelly Brooke Dunn watch Mean Girls.
“Yeah,” Kelly replies. “This Lindsey is the hot Lindsey. I prefer this Lindsey.”
I come into the room with a fresh drink and sit down, “I’ve never seen this.”
As though I said I didn’t know who Obama was, they both whip their heads toward me.
“What?” Angie glared.
So, I settled in to watch the second half of Mean Girls.
It’s true Lindsey Lohan is hot and I suddenly became aware of her in a completely new light. When she first hit the scene as a teen star, trying to sing and act, I hated her. It bothered me that she was famous. Christ, if she was famous why wasn’t I? I felt as though anyone could have pulled off her acting skills. All it took to excel her to stardom was a remake of The Parent Trap (how many times are they going to redo that subpar movie?!). She was another boring girl parading around in the limelight; then she got tits, her singing career flopped, and she disappeared for a moment. She started doing coke, smoking Parliament Lights, and dating a girl. She became interesting, an intrigue.
“I prefer crazy Lindsey way over young Lindsey” Angie asserted.
After a few months of being aware of Ms. Lohan, I knew my answer too. “I like my Lindsey crazy, falling out of cars, doing coke in bars, and looking like a hot mess - that Lindsey is the bomb.”
Crazy is appealing, there needs to be a scapegoat to do dirty deeds for others. That person also needs to be famous enough to be photographed. This perfect combination lands them on the cover of magazines like People, US, and OK!. Giving hope to all the bored housewives and blushing Channing Tatum fans that their life is great because someone else’s is really a mess.
I can hear the grocery gossip now - “Did you see Lindsey Lohan?! OMG her ribs are gutting out of her body and she does coke. She can’t really be a lesbian, that’s fake.” Living vicariously allows them to forget that they are boring. That type of fame is intriguing, I’m drawn to the scapegoats
Around the time that I started to become aware of the hot mess Lohan was creating of herself, Lil’ Wayne dropped an ode to Lindsey in the White Girl Remix - “I got that white girl / that Lindsay Lohan / And all you gotta do is ask Lindsay Lohan / And if you like that blow / then girl I blow mines.” Lil’ Wayne was a true god in the party house I resided in, we blasted his bass into the night. During his prime syrup slurping days after his major album The Carter III dropped, Lil’ Wayne appeared in GQ. He was photographed against a white backdrop, there was a hard shadow behind him, smoke billowed gently from his mouth; his eyes bloodshot, joint in his fingers, and two chains bearing crosses slithered over his fully tattooed chest.
I knew who took the photograph immediately; the style screamed Terry Richardson.
I had been following Terry Richardson’s work with interest, and after the Wayne shoot I knew that he would become more commonplace in the fashion world. He was the photographer that was chosen to bring a southern rapping money machine in front of the mainstreams eyes. The connection was important, I respected those who took Wayne’s work seriously and knew that he was a game changer. The photo that was snapped became the iconic image of Lil’ Wayne, it is how many of his fans truly saw him.
What I didn’t know was that Richardson’s career would explode to huge success or that he would have staying power.
His work is predictable beyond belief - view a couple of his photographs and you will forever be able to point out a Terry Richardson. The subject is key, they are the story and if the person is removed from the scene there is literally nothing - just white space. Without a person to direct, his work is dry.
His street photography even relies on a funny sign or something sexual, such as, a “Live Nudes!” sign. In many ways, it is a rip off of someone else’s creation. The only thing that is special is that he saw it and decided to expose it.
There is little to no narrative in the photos, the opposite of what had been so popular before he arrived on the scene. Photographers such as Steven Klein, Annie Leibowitz, and Mario Testino focus heavily on story telling. Their photographs are very detailed, involve scenery, and have high production value. Richardson’s work stood out because it looked as if it were taken by a tourist with a disposable camera, often (before it went out of existence) they were taken with Polaroid film. He is now the fashion photographer, and he hardly did anything to get that title. Literally, he “snapped” some pics.
Andy Warhol once said, “I am a deeply superficial person.” There is no doubt that Terry Richardson has deliberately taken that idea and glorified it. He emulates a lot of Warhol’s interests. Both seem entranced by others, especially the famous or those in the limelight. Observation almost becomes a genre, each artist developing visual images centered around what the subject is doing in front of the camera. The most mundane of actions are glorified. Such as, Warhol shooting the famous sleeping or Richardson
shooting his subjects giving the finger to the camera.
Richardson grew up in Hollywood, his father was a photographer, and he went to high school with all of the beautiful Hollywood creatures. He attempted to make it in a band, but eventually found his chance to be one of the beautiful people behind the camera. Wanting to be one of those people and part of the fame, he places himself in photographs with his subjects. Together, they ham it up for the camera - smiling, sticking their thumbs up, and looking as cheesy as possible. The insincerity beams off the signature white background.
In recent years, his work has become more and more repetitive. This is especially true for the models that land in his studio. The series of shots goes something like this - a shot with just pants on, an extreme close up of the subjects naked breasts, a more sexual shot of the model running their hands down their bodies, a “fun” giggly shot, a tough “flip the bird” shot, a shot with Terry acting like best friends, and the now classic shot of the model wearing Richardson’s signature vintage black rimmed aviator glasses.
All of the shots are available on the popular Tumblr page www.terrysdiary.com for quick and meaningless viewing. One can scroll quickly through the photos, view the subject in the predictable scenarios, and move on unengaged. There is no need to slow down and get lost in the hidden story or use your imagination to build the personality of the subject. There is no time for that.
The introduction of fast media onto society, reality TV explosion, and popularity of tabloid stars was meant for Terry Richardson. He was destined to photograph this time period because his style represents the current American obsessions in complete honesty. The nation is fascinated by the subjects that appear in his photographs. The famed cast of Jersey Shore was accurately captured by his shots. Just some guy from Jersey standing in front of a white background smiling because now he is rich. That is an honest depiction, and viewers only care that it is just him. They do not want a story, just a piece of that now famous guy. A piece of what he managed to pull off, fame from shame. This is what Terry loves, the shameful characters that have won their way into America’s hearts.
Naturally, Lindsey Lohan and Terry Richardson were destined to collide. Like a fox to the wounded rabbit, Richardson latched onto the mess Lohan had created for herself and decided to magnify it - similar to when Winona Ryder went off the deep end and started stealing Marc Jacobs bags. Instead of being quiet about it, Jacobs put Ryder in his ad campaign. Shining a huge light on a “naughty” deed, loving it, and informing the public that stealing is sexy. Similar to Warhol’s fixation on Edie Sedgwick, Richardson photographs Lindsey Lohan. She is his muse - the child star gone sour. He has shot her with coke, topless, smoking countless cigarettes on hotel beds amidst subtle threesomes, holding a gun to her head, and baring her new plastic face. By shooting her in these situations they have made a statement together, a statement of what fame is and what makes it so illusive. The photos declare - “We can do whatever we want, even when we are at the bottom we are at the top because we have seen the top and you haven’t. Oh, and whatever we are doing, we look good doing it.” I will always choose that Lindsey.
Available for gallery exhibitions.
If you are interested in showing A Memoir in Advertising, please contact me.