Are fashion photographs honest? That depends on what you mean by honesty.
A fashion photograph is an elegant lie. A fashion photograph bewitches the viewer with an impossible reality. How could anything or anyone be that perfect … and what is it about perfection that makes us care?
It’s because the concept of ideal beauty was born with our notion of perfection. Humans are deeply imperfect. We know that, and yet we still need to imagine perfection. It’s one of the paradoxes of our nature. You might even say the concept of divinity was born from this.
Goddess worship is an ancient tradition. That tradition lives on in modern form — the fashion photograph. Yet fashion also exists to fulfill other timeless needs, the creation of sexual desirability being one of the most important. Fashion is evolutionary biology. It’s survival.
Non-Western and primitive cultures don’t necessarily have this thing we call fashion. Women in those cultures have traditional costumes that help them inhabit roles, but those costumes are eternal. They don’t change from year to year. Neither do the roles. There is no Spring Collection. Instead, there is the Rite of Spring.
The idea of fashion beauty also seems to exist in order to deny certain frightening realities: fear of abandonment, even death. Fashion is denial.
Beauty and allure will always seduce and inspire us … and in the hands of a master fashion photographer, the idealized image can make us remember where we came from and why we’re here. Truly great fashion photographs help us mitigate the pitiful rituals of modern life and celebrate the goddesses that walk among us.