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Fashion Marketing and Communication 2nd year

26.February 2012

Photography history Teacher: José Guerrero

Iconography. Relationship between religion and fashion photography.

By Stefanía Fanney Björgvinsdóttir


We all get our own ideas in our heads when we hear the word icon, but what really is an icon? According to Wikipedia An icon (from Greek εἰκών eikōn "image") is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern churches. Today, when most people think about icons they start thinking about fashion icons like Audrey Hepburn, Twiggy and Marilyn Monroe. Then of course they are the famous fashion models from the 90’s, like Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Linda Evangelista, that are the icons of all fashion models nowadays. The reason for this would be what we would call the consequences of iconography, but what is iconography actually, and why is it so important for us to know and realize. The definition of iconography is, the science that studies the origin and formation of images and their relation to the allegorical and symbolic, and their identification by means of the attributes that almost always accompany them. As religion and pop culture converge, some historical meanings and traditions are subordinated. How does all this connect to fashion? Well in the society that we live in today, we see a lot of religion in pop culture and fashion. Many celebrities wear iconic symbols as a mark of their fashion status. Today consumers wear their beliefs figuratively on their sleeves and sometime even literarily on their chests. The fashion industry is on the cusp of merging with faith, and many consumers are more in touch with pop culture and fashion then biblical tradition. They are consequently more willing to express their faith and express themselves through fashion, music and entertainment. We can see examples of this throughout history just by looking at certain celebrities or photographers, and witnessing the way they use iconography and religious symbolism in their work. We can see how they use religion to shock and scandalize people, as the great Madonna  in  the  80’s.  

Madonna is so very well known for.

If we look at pop icons like Madonna, she is what people would call a true iconographic character, and not only because of her stage name. Ever since the


beginning of her carrier, she has carried around all kinds of religious symbols with her which have inspired photographers and even fashion designers. We can see this in pop stars such as Lady Gaga, who is also getting a lot of attention from people that claim that they don’t even like her music, simply because she is doing the same thing Madonna did in the early 80’s. This is an attempt to provoke people with religious images of her. We see these images in most of her videos and fashion photographs in many magazines. The most shocking photographs or images that have been reviled of Lady Gaga would most likely be any still shot from her music video Judas. “I’m a religious and spiritual person who’s obsessed with religious art… I’m obsessed with it.” -Lady Gaga Even before the video of Judas came out, catholic leagues started to criticize the images that had been sent to the press. "In her 'Judas' video, Lady Gaga plays fast and loose with Catholic iconography, and generates several untoward statements, but she typically dances on the line without going over it. The faux-baptismal scene is a curious inclusion, as is her apparent fondness for the Jesus character. But if anyone thinks the Catholic League is going to go ballistic over Lady Gaga's latest contribution, they haven't a clue about what really constitutes anti-

Lady Gaga  as  Mary   Magdalena  in  her   music  video  Judas.  

Catholicism. The video is a mess, incoherent, it leaves the viewer more perplexed than moved." Lady Gaga works a lot with photographers like Terry Richardson who is a very close friend of her. Terry is known for his use of a very little technology, he


wants to capture the moment only with his lens and not damage it with over use of technical aids. Terry takes a lot of photos that becomes iconic. But he does not take a lot of religious inspiration. The religious images of Lady Gaga are mostly her own ideas and inspiration. Terry Richardson wants his pictures to be as pure and natural as they can be. Not only have Madonna and Lady Gaga influenced the fashion industry with all their religious images and icons, we can find many religious symbols in fashion photography today, may of which very obvious and truly upsetting to many people.

Madonna Vs.  Lady  Gaga.  

Religion is no longer as sacred as it used to be and there are a lot of people that only wear religious symbols to make a fashion statement. As we can see in today’s photography, many different turns have been taken since the beginning of photography. We can find all signs of influences from all over the world and from as many cultures and religions as we can imagine, but if we only focus on the religious part, the one that seams to be most controversial, we can see how photography and Fashion is changing the way people look at religion.


Is there not, in the fashion world, an obsession with breaking stereotypes? There’s certainly a habit (pun intended) of turning the nun stereotype upside-down as a way of constructing a sexualized, surprising shoot concept. Only problem is it’s no longer very surprising. -Lydia Hearst A fashion photographer that probably uses religion the most would be the American/ Israeli photographer David La Chappelle. “He has photographed hundreds of celebrities, always depicted provocatively, usually in full or partial nudity.

David La  Chapelle.  

Albeit daring, the nudity in these photographs does not result from him being triggerhappy, nor from an attempt to surprise and shock. Even in his commercial photographs.” We can see over and over again that his work references Jesus and the bible, as well as many other well-known religions and folk stories. This we can see very well in his book Heaven to Hell. In the year 2007 David presented his collections of photographs called Awakened, where all of the images were inspired by the Universal flood, water and religion mixed

David La  Chapelle  Awakened.  


David is not afraid to make his models become Godlike creatures, and there for he is showing his audience how easy it is to gain access the Gods. His pictures are most of the time photos of famous pop stars and actors.

Courtney Love,  Heaven  to  Hell.  


“La Chapelle performs an iconoclastic act in the critical discourse. He avoids academic understatement and educated insertion of cynical preaching into ideological discussion of contemporary theory. At the same time, he does not flaunt his clear preference for mundane language rife with hackneyed symbols and cliché images; instead he simply uses it with rich and piercing, stylized creative freedom. He stages wild scenes and dark adventure stories, replete with images and events, arranged in one-shot across the entire frame, some of them requiring more than one viewing to grasp fully” Like most of iconic photographers, La Chapelle has had his share of criticism. But no more so than the criticism he receives for revealing religious images. That is something that will always be there, as long as we there are religious people. They will stand up as soon as they see images or art that they think is inappropriate or offensive to them, and that is what we want. We want people to care and notice these photos; the more people talk about them, the better as the photographer will be better known for his work. It is the same with pop culture and fashion. The more controversy, the better it is. This is something that we will see over and over again in fashion and other art, like photography. There is also another photographer that has caught my eye over the years for his mix of religion and fashion, and that is the young Sebastian Faena. The Columbian photographer born in 1980. He has become very well known for his dramatic photographs. His most memorable editorial would be the controversial series of “Hot Nuns” which he did for Pop magazine in the Fall/Winter 2008-09. These images are very reveling of nuns in sexual activities, showing that they have just as intense sexual needs as a normal citizen. I hope the Pope does not subscribe to Pop magazine, because he will not like one of the editorials in its Fall/Winter 2008-09 issue. The spread portrays nuns with nudity and lesbian affairs, so it’s pretty safe to call it controversial. Sebastian Faena  Hot  nuns  editorial  from  pop  magazine.  


Sebastian has often times been mentioned in the same breath as Steven Meisel. When it comes to these controversial editorials Steven Meisel has become very well known for taking shocking pictures of Madonna back in 1992 for her book called SEX, where sex and religion played a large role. He is now considered to be one of the most successful fashion photographers in the industry. Meisel has a prodigious talent for scripting story lines that reference and reflect culture. For well over a decade, he has created every cover and lead editorial story for each issue of Italian Vogue.

Madonna editorial  from  the   book  SEX,  resembles  the   crucifixion  of  Jesus  Crist.  

One of his most controversial editorials would be Organized Robots which was issued in Vogue Italia march 2006.

In this editorial he mixes nuns in a sexual way, by using toy robots. The photos objectify the robots as if they were statues of Jesus Crist, in this editorial you can easily see the nuns worshiping the robots like they were Jesus Crist himself.    

Steven Meisel,  Organizes  Robots.  


Another photographer known for his editorials of nuns and Christian beliefs is the Danish photographer Marc Hom. He shows us “his nuns” in a very provocative way smoking cigarettes naked only with their head cloths on. These four photographers that I have mentioned here above have all been highly criticized for their take on religious views in their photos, but then

Nuns by  Marc  Home.  

again all of them have risen above it and become even more famous for the shock and scandals that they tend to give religious people. We all have some religion surrounding us in our everyday life; it does not matter if we are Hindu, Christian or even Atheist. We can see religious signs everywhere and we recognize them right away. I am not a very religious person. But I consider fashions to be one of my religions. Thanks to fashion, iconography and shocking fashion photography of the past, I can wear a cross around my neck or a Jewish star ring on my finger, and still I can tell people that I am a Nordic believer, without being judged. Fashion is all about breaking the boundaries, bending rules, and coming up with something new, and using religion is the perfect way to express how fashion can become art in a beautiful, dramatic and shocking ways. David la Chappele, Sebastian Faeno, Steven Meisel and Marc Hom are all very good at their work and they know how to use religious icons in their photos to make them look beautiful. Even though a lot of people think they are outrageous, that does not mean that they are not beautiful. Religion is a beautiful thing, and is something that a lot of people consider that it should be sacred. That is the reason these photographers’ works become criticized and noticed all around the world. They are touching something that is old and traditional. And many people say that it should not be touched or played with. People’s emotions are at stake, and they know that when they decide to mix these things together.


Fashion and religion is something that will always be linked and has always been linked whether we like it or not. If we take for example back in 2003 when Dolce and Gabbana released their collection where one of the models had a rosary around his neck: The fashion world went crazy for those necklaces and everyone wanted to have one. That is the perfect example of how fashion photography and iconography

Dolce and  Gabbana  advertising    from  2003  

influences the world of fashion. But why do we like to mix these things if it is so controversial? For many people religion is also the foundation of their morality. They use religion to determine what is right and what is wrong. All human beings also have a free will, which means that they have the option of expressing their beliefs in the way they want. By asking people to keep religion out of their fashion, style, or even public lifestyle, is like asking them not to express themselves by their own free will and not show their morality. If we would ban religion in fashion or art that would be like putting laws against expressing yourself in public. There is not a need to bring a specific religion into the fashion world, for most people their religion is something that they have always known and do not want it to become a fashion bubble. So it is understandable that people get upset and start protesting the mixture of fashion and religion. But we can also take a look at that today, the world we live in is more open-minded than it was 50 years ago, so while using iconic figures and iconography in fashion is understandable, it may be inappropriate in some cases. We don’t have to look very far in time to see when the photographic world started to change and accept these iconographic photos. We don’t have to look any further than to the early 80’s where Madonna was staring her super shocking career, that now a days most people do not consider to be any big deal, and we look at Lady Gaga a as cool, and inspiring artist with all of her iconic and religious signs in her work. Children of the future will not be shocked to see God-like celebrities on the cover of magazines or naked nuns. This is what they are used to and will probable not bother them as much as it did previous generations.


With all of this iconic symbols in photography and art, we have taken the sacred messages out of religion and made it fashion. Maybe one day having a religion will be more of a fashion statement then a religious one. We see it already happening today: young kids getting Jesus, crosses or another religious symbols tattooed on their bodies only because it looks good and is in fashion. Iconographic photos will always go hand in hand with the fashion industry, but we will have to make sure that the fashion industry will not ruin these icons and their meaning. These religion signs in fashion photography are very recent, and they will continue to happen and they will get a lot more provocative. The artist has to know where he can draw the line of art, fashion and just plain and simple blasphemy. There is a reason why I mentioned these four photographers here in my paper, and that is because they knew what they were doing, knowing how to dance on this thin line between art, fashion and religion. They did very shocking and scandalized editorials, but they did not cross the line of blasphemy, even though they dipped their big toe a little bit in it.


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Web bibliography : -"Lady Gaga's 'Judas' video is 'a mess,' Catholics say". Fox News Channel. 2011-05-06. Retrieved 2011-05-06. /CMS3&VF=AACAC3_34_VForm&FRM=Frame:AACAC3_35&SrvRsp=1 orm&FRM=Frame:AACAC3_62&XXAPXX=#/CMS3&VF=AACAC3_63_VForm &FRM=Frame:AACAC3_64&XXAPXX=&SrvRsp=1 Images: Madonna Lady Gaga, Judas video Judas.jpg Madonna & Lady Gaga EPn6mY/s1600/madonna.jpg David La Chapelle self portrait David La Chapelle, Awakened-­‐ love, Heaven to Hell Hot Nuns Madonna, crucifixion Organized Robots, Steven Meisel Dolce and Gabbana advertisement



Relationship between religion and Fashion photography