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WHAT IS BEAUTY? Charlotte Williams



Introduction Concept Outline Composition & Perspective Props &Styling Photo Shoot & Post-Production Identity & Publication Conclusion Illustration References References Bibliography Appendix

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WHAT IS BEAUTY? Illustrated Essay Communication & Message FASH20031 Fashion Communication & Promotion Sarah Lewington Charlotte Williams N0439208


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It is becoming increasingly recognised that the narcissistic generations of today are shallow minded and reluctant to acknowledge, let alone admire real beauty. ‘Survival of the Prettiest’ by psychiatrist Nancy Etcoff, investigates the standards of beauty in today’s society, and how being considered ‘beautiful’ can obstruct the exposure of inner beauty. Etcoff suggests that “Thoughtful women and men in general, are deeply ambivalent about beauty... It is seen as something that blinds others to our deeper nature” (Etcoff, N. 1999) - therefore the depth of a person deemed as attractive, is limited to their exterior surface. This can ultimately be blamed on the fashion industry, which continues to splash what are considered ‘perfect’ representations of men and women across every page of a magazine. This has somewhat made the fact that society is now so image obsessed, that criticising people on their appearance, rather than their actions or personality, become a social norm. “Beauty may be ‘pure gain’, but its social effects, from harassment of the beautiful to discrimination against the unbeautiful, to the neglect of the less visible ‘inner’ beauty, may be anything but positive” (Etcoff, N. 1999), Etcoff supports this idea by offering the realisation that we evaluate primarily by appearance – whether aesthetically pleasing or otherwise - this determines our liking of a person often without room to consider their other beautiful traits beneath their surface.

Concept Outline

The intended outcome of the ‘What is Beauty?’ photo shoot was to explore the notions of inner beauty by stripping back all the fabricated ideals, which pressures of the industry have shaped and bringing it back to the most natural form. The preliminary idea was to portray that beauty is not skin deep. Through careful consideration of props, a visual representation to unveil the innermost beauty of each model was captured.



Composition & Perspective

The photographed model immediately welcomes the scrutiny of the finest detail of how they appear. This is something which Marjaana Kella - a photographer described as being “preoccupied with identity” (Van Zoetendall, W. 2002) - focuses on heavily within her 1996 collection ‘Reversed’. Kella’s work juxtaposes revelation with concealment, and this is largely down to the precise composition of each shot. The communication of a certain mood or feeling whilst holding an obscure narrative was a desired outcome in the photo shoot. Similarly, Kella has this allure with her photographs, as an open image “leaves room for our interpretive

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imagination to work” (Lavalette, S. 2007). Kella’s collection features two different perspectives: one, the gaze is only able to see the back of the subject and the other offers the face – although the models appear detached and in a hypnotic state. These compositions are intentional, they create an air of intrigue where nothing is given away yet a whole story can be imagined. Likewise, the positioning of every aspect in each shot was strongly considered in the studio, with the hope that this would convey a realisation that beauty can be found in everything, both inside and out - therefore the execution of composition was vital.

The concept that the face is not offered to the audience was influenced by Kella. Without direct observation of the face, one must search other unobscured areas of the image to determine the message behind. This idea was experimented with in a Kella-like fashion, where the model presents only their back turned and a subtle side profile. This composition generates an air of mystery surrounding the subject, whilst the gaze cannot help but to trace the beautiful, delicate contours of the barely exposed features, with their eye.


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Another composition which proved successful was to have the model laid on the floor and to photograph around them – this created an array of interesting angles. By not capturing the subject directly face on to the audience, it provokes them to observe from new perspectives and appreciate that beauty can be admired in all shapes and forms.


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Props & Styling

Beauty being encased or trapped inside something was an idea which was focussed on in the concept. The theory that an unattractive exterior might hold something beautiful on the inside worked to portray the idea of inner beauty perfectly. A collection of ‘natural’ objects was the most viable way to explore this idea in the studio, without post-production manipulation. An opened oyster shell, a sliced cabbage, a carved piece of oak and a series of intricate geodes were the chosen objects to represent natural inner beauty. These alongside two male models and a female model, each of different ethnicities, pulled together and celebrated the diversity in beauty. Embracing the diversity aspect of the photo shoot allowed some freedom in terms of styling. The stripped back, natural approach filters through all elements of the shoot. Therefore bare skin was the best way to depict the models in their most natural form. Preparation in terms of the models was not necessarily needed; it was felt that having them in their everyday form would most reflect their true identity – something that would go hand in hand with the revelation of their inner beauty.


¦10 This stimulated the idea that obscuring faces with natural objects could potentially be a visual way of portraying the subject’s inner beauty. The intricate objects placed over the face would reflect the notion that their deepest beauty is becoming their most dominant, recognisable trait – this is a direct contrast to the shallow mould society has formed today. The ambiguous faces reciprocate the modern idea that beauty is surface deep, and this is fitting with the theory that “when something is not there, possibilities open” (Sivenius, P. 2010), the subject is immediately considered beautiful through their demand for close inspection.

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René Magritte served as a major influence. His paintings exhibit subjects with their faces curiously obscured by everyday objects. It is widely thought that these works created between 1927 and 1928 were a result of mental instability after his mother was found dead with her dress draped over her face. His work is a direct reflection of his personal haunting, yet it has proven as great inspiration for fashion design and campaigns alike.

Martin Margiela’s 2012 interpretation of ‘The Lovers’ (1928), by Magritte, was an evident mirroring of his work with a contemporary twist known as ‘utilitarian surrealism’ (Alexander, Z. 2011). Similar connections were seen on Margiela’s 2011 catwalk where the faces of models were bound by stretched cloth, this was thought to “liberate the fashion imagination” (Alexander, Z. 2011), by eliminating their identity.

“If the dream is a translation of walking life, walking life is a translation of the dream” (Magritte, R. 2009), There is a sense of an unnatural dreamscape in Magritte’s paintings, yet they all seem somewhat alive and most of the subjects appear to have an awareness of the gaze. For those whose faces are not present, their body language suggests that they are addressing their audience – this is a contrast to Kella’s work, which has a cold, lifeless atmosphere. A balance between the two opposed narratives is thought to have been achieved in the ‘What is Beauty?’ photo shoot. The models do not seem directly aware of the gaze for their eyes avert any direct contact, yet they are not vacant and the viewer doesn’t feel intrusive by observing, instead they want to study the juxtaposing veiling and unveiling.

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A deeper connotation associated with the chosen objects was discussed to justify their links to natural beauty. The shell was the epitome of inner beauty; it encapsulated everything surrounding the notion that one must dig deeper than the exterior to reveal the most beautiful traits. Likewise, the geodes are a perfect example of how precious something can be in its interior. They might be raw and unpolished, but the concept encourages for the viewer to search for inner beauty in everything. The oak piece was associated with nature in its raw essence, similarly to the uncut geodes it can relate to the way that nature shapes everyone differently. This is a call to embrace diversity and not destroy its variation by altering to fit the ‘perfect’ social mould.

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Urs Fischer, a modern surrealist photographer, uses food and everyday household objects to mask the faces of 20th century Hollywood stars. “It’s basically a collage, a juxtaposition” (Wakefield, N. 2013), he directly applied the objects to the faces and photographed them. A similar method proved much more efficient in the studio. The natural objects were placed directly onto the models skin, rather than photographed separately and layered in post-production. Placing the items over the models face posed issues such as balancing them steadily between each shot or readjusting position. However, this approach was agreed upon as being more effective than having to alter lighting and shadowing, as well as having to apply realistic blending techniques in Photoshop - these are some of the issues that might have occurred had the objects and models been photographed separately.

It was Fischer’s use of food which prompted the idea that vegetables could be an alternative perspective. Cabbage was thought to symbolise the complexity of a person, and the intricate layers which create them – they captivatingly appear to symbolise veins, which reflects the idea of inner identity surfacing. The cabbage was sliced thinly to display the detailed lines; these were then laid over the models eyes and face. By concealing his main features, they fall inferior and the intricacy of the cabbage suddenly becomes intriguing and beautiful – and more dominant.


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Photo Shoot & Post-Production

The photo shoot itself was extremely experimental. Having physical props resulted in readjusting positions of both the model and the objects regularly - it was imperative to seize and maximise every moment of studio time so various compositions were explored. A studio spotlight was used to illuminate the key focus of each shot. This was generally the natural object, which is centred in the shots – this absorbs the viewers attention before they have the opportunity to study the photograph as a whole, encouraging them to determine for themselves what the interpretation means to them.

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Through the careful lighting, delicate and beautiful shadows were cast across the models skin, creating a gentle and peaceful atmosphere. This was aided by the soft illumination from the white background which also contributed to the pure and organic feel. The raw images have created this viewing experience, therefore the only post-production that felt necessary was to highlight this further. Through soft adjustments to the brightness and contrast levels, and a slight high-pass layered over the object alone, the images were enhanced. [Fig: 20 ]

Manipulation of one image was explored during post production. Cloning the oak across the models face was experimented with. Fig 19 shows a successful outcome from trialling whether the objects could be realistically blended with the models skin, and appear as if their inner beauty was seeping out of them and taking over their exterior.


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Identity &Publication [Fig: 21]

Initially, it was considered unimportant about who modelled behind the object, for Urs Fischer - who is “known for confronting our notions of identity” (Wakefield, N. 2013) – discovered in his work that by concealing the famous faces with food, he entirely removed their identifiable traits – they became insignificant and the object became the only thing at the forefront of the viewer’s mind. During the photo shoot, there was a conscious approach in terms of the positioning of the model, but like Fischer, it was the model who was moulding to the object, rather than the opposite way round. It wasn’t until viewing the images that it was discovered that although the object was the key focal point, the models natural, unpolished beauty bound the two fragments together, and really honed in on what real, natural beauty is. Following this, it was felt that ID magazine was the most appropriate publication to contextualise the photo shoot. ID, originating from the punk era, has always been concerned with everyday culture and everyday people. Their target consumer is a yellow collar worker. This is the ideal audience for the collection, as a creative might hold an existing appreciation for beauty.

ID is known to play on the notion that the logo, when turned sideways, symbolises a winking face. This has been a feature which every cover model has exemplified; therefore placing the objects over the right eye is fitting with the concept of concealing physical attributes, whilst working in harmony with the publications context. The magazine embraces diversity, featuring unfamiliar models and giving them the opportunity to express their views. Their quotations are printed as

overlaid text on their photographs. This was particularly effective in the “What Makes Me, Me?”(ID Magazine, 2013) photo shoot and model question and answer – shot by Greg Harris. From this, each of the models were interviewed to gain an insight about their own interpretation of inner beauty, and what values natural beauty hold for them - the full interviews appear in Appendix A. This felt a fitting platform due to the stripped back nature of the photo shoot, which featured a group of beautifully diverse, everyday models.




Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan states “What determines me , at the most profound level, in the visible, is the gaze that is outside” (Etcoff, N. 1999), reiterating the idea that everyone is an image, which is subject to scrutiny and judgement based on its exterior appearance. The influential weight of the media and fashion industry has contorted the perception of beauty into an unrealistic facade. The aim of the “What is Beauty?” photo shoot was to visually represent - through the use of props to symbolise natural beauty - that the most defining feature of a person is not their physical attributes, instead it’s the beauty and traits they hold beneath the surface. The desired outcome of the collection is that the observer will understand that “an ideal of beauty exists in the mind, not the flesh” (Etcoff, N. 1999).



Illustration References [Accessed: 24th Nov 2013]. FIG 11: Magritte, R. 2013. The Numinosity of Clouds. [image online] Available at: http://zoowithoutanimals. [Accessed: 24th Nov 2013]. FIG 12: Magritte, R. 2011. René Magritte. [image online] Available at: rene-magritte [Accessed: 24th Nov 2013]. FIG 13: Group Image: Reversed Beauty. Emily Saunders Photography.

Front Cover: Group Image: Reversed Beauty. Emily Saunders Photography.

FIG 14: The Huffington Post. 2013. Urs Fischer Retrospective Delights. [image online] Available at: http:// [Accessed: 25th Nov 2013].

FIG 1 Group Image: Reversed Beauty. Emily Saunders Photography.

FIG 15-16: Gagosian Gallery. 2013. Urs Fischer Problem Paintings. [image online] Available at: http:// [Accessed: 25th Nov 2013].

FIG 2: Kella, M. 2013. Marjaana Kella: Reversed. [image online] Available at: http:// html [Accessed: 20th Nov 2013]. FIG 3: Group Image: Reversed Beauty. Emily Saunders Photography. FIG 4-5: Kella, M. 2008. Hypnosis. [image online] Available at: http://barph.wordpress. com/2008/10/23/hypnosis-by-marjaana-kella/ [Accessed: 20th Nov 2013]. FIG 6-8: Group Image: Reversed Beauty. Emily Saunders Photography. FIG 9: Magritte, R. 2013. Dans l’univers de René Magritte. [image online] Available at: [Accessed: 24th Nov 2013]. FIG 10: SHOWstudio 2013 - Primal Scream. [image online] Available at: http://www.theem-


Alexander, Z. (2011 ). Rene Magritte & Fashion. Available: current/view/1198/Ren%C3%A9_Magritte__ Fashion. Last accessed 14th August 2013. Etcoff, N (1999). Survival of the Prettiest. London: Little, Brown and Company. p1-31. ID Magazine. (2013). What Makes Me, Me?. ID Magazine. Issue 324, P62-65. Lavalette, S. (2007). Marjaana Kella, Reversed Portraits. Available: http://www.shanelavalette. com/journal/2007/02/22/marjaana-kella-reversed-portraits/. Last accessed 11th November 2013. Magritte, M. (2009). Rene Magritte and His Paintings. Available: http://www.renemagritte. org/. Last accessed 12th Nov 2013. Sivenius, P. (2009). Marjaana Kella. Available: Last accessed 11th November 2013.

FIG 17-20: Group Image: Reversed Beauty. Emily Saunders Photography.

Van Zoetendall, W. (2002). Marjaana Kella. Available: books/marjaana-kella/. Last accessed 11th November 2013.

FIG 21: Sameshima, D. 2006. i-d Magazine #264, “The Upbeat Issue “. [image online] Available at: http:// [Accessed: 25th Nov 2013].

Wakefield, N. (2013). Urs Fischer x Garage Magazine. Available: http://www.nowness. com/day/2013/2/6/2793/urs-fischer-x-garage-magazine. Last accessed 15th Nov 2013.

FIG 22: Fashionographer. 2013. Chris Davis, Nicola Wincenc, Paul Boche & Ethan James Green by Greg Harris - What Makes Me Me?. [image online] Available at: chris-davis-nicola-wincenc-paul-boche.html [Accessed: 25th Nov 2013].




Appendix A1

Model Interview shop/grain/216.html

Tuncay Havan

What is your definition of beauty?

My definition of beauty is natural. I’m not very keen on people who invest to make themselves more beautiful or make themselves more youthful. I believe that people should look more natural as I believe it brings out more of their beautiful features. Also, I believe that people should grow older in age naturally because I think that every person has one beautiful natural feature that everyone will love. view/1198/Ren%C3%A9_Magritte__Fashion urs-fischer-x-garage-magazine

And what is your prized possession? My prized possession is my football I’ve had for so many years, it was my dream to become a footballer when I was small and always use to kick about with it in hope I’d reach my dream. Also, when I look at my football, as I hardly let go of it, it reminds me of the days of when I was a teenager and the days before I was a teenager, which reminds me of the person I am today.. a competitive, fearless individual. Also what do you think is ugly on the outside and beautiful on the inside? Shrek! Because he may look like one of the scariest/ugliest ogre’s around. But, on the inside, he is a warm hearted ogre who with his personality, manages to get Princess Fiona to kiss him. Who is the most beautiful person to you? And what makes you happy/smile? The most beautiful person to me is my mum because of how she brought me up into a man and how I can rely on her for everything.Seeing and making other people happy is what makes me happy/smile.



Appendix A3

Appendix A2

Model Interview

Model Interview Sam White

‘Lotus’ Chen

What makes you beautiful?

What is your definition of beauty?

With regards to pinpointing what is attractive about someone I believe that there can be no self definition. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I’m a true believer in that fact. I could pick the most obvious of flaws in myself, but someone could easily class those as my best traits and vice versa Pardon the cliche but I believe my attitude towards that aspect is the most attractive attribute I possess. Who is the most beautiful person in the world to you? Here you’re probably expecting something cliche like my mum or maybe an incredibly gorgeous celebrity, right? All considered there is a lot of obvious beauty within the world. But to me the most beautiful person to me is someone that has overcome hardships and still manages to show a sincerely happy face. So for that reason alone I would say my grandmother. I shan’t go into details but she’s the most beautiful person I know. What do you get complimented on the most? I don’t see how I can answer this question without sounding obscenely arrogant. But, what I get complimented on mostly is my fashion sense and my smile. I take pride in how I dress so it’s only right I get recognised for it at least! What is beauty/what do you find attractive in others? What I find most attractive in others isn’t necessarily the most conventional aspects of beauty. There are a few aesthetic qualities that interest me: facial hair, red heads, good dress sense etc. But it normally boils down to what is inside a man’s head that attracts me. Ambition, drive to be someone better attracts me, having a quirk to your personality attracts me, a range of accents (not irish) attract me. there isn’t a set mould I would need to be attracted to someone but each individual is bound to have something I enjoy. What makes you happy/smile? Wouldn’t exactly call it happiness, but I thoroughly enjoy that moment of early morning around 2-3 with a cigarette. Nothing but my own thoughts, headphones with something relaxing causing everything to at once encapsulate and escape my mind. That feeling of awareness makes me happy/smile.

Beauty for me is not only about the appearance, it’s about the innermost beauty of someone. Someone with their own personality and confidence would attract me. I want to be close to something beautiful. What makes you beautiful? My good upbringing and knowledge make me beautiful. I constantly try to absorb knowledge to expand my outlook on life and build my values. Who is the most beautiful person to you? To me, everybody is special in this world. If they have just a little gain, it is enough – they could be th most beautiful person in the world to me. What do you get complimented on the most? My painting skills and how I dress. What do you find attractive in others? People with sense, and those who have a passion for music and art. What makes you happy/smile? When I get things, this makes me happy.



Appendix B Model Consent Forms

What is beauty?