Art And Advertising: The Power of a Picture

Images are powerful things. What shakes one person to the core is just as often stunning and inspiring to another. Beauty truly is ‘in the eye of the beholder’.

Which is why I was so interested when I stumbled upon this article recently. A Bulgarian magazine has stirred up some serious controversy by publishing a shocking set of photographs by Vasil Germanov.

Titled “Victims of Beauty”, the images depict gorgeous women – but with a twist. They are all mutilated, in some form or another. Bruised, sliced, burned, etc.. The pictures are quite beautiful, actually, and while I’m not sure what the underlying message is because I can’t pretend to read the artist’s mind – they certainly stay with you. The juxtaposition of these perfectly gorgeous high-fashion faces and the brutality ‘inflicted’ upon them is jarring.

Art Or Fashion?

But upon researching a bit further, I found out they weren’t shot as “art” per se, they were shot as a fashion spread. Hmmmm. That gave me pause. I’m not here to comment on the rights or wrongs of glamorizing violence against women – violence against anyone is wrong. Full stop.

But I’ve worked in the media my whole life, I get that “sex sells” and “if it bleeds it leads” – and high fashion and haute couture has always been about big extremes and shocking imagery. Hell, Helmut Newton did it best.

But I was surprised to see rather low end everyday brands associated with this campaign. Sure, Valentino is there, but so is H&M. And Max Factor. You know, the brands that everyone’s 13 year old daughter aspires to wear and use as she grows into a young woman.

Always Go To The Source!

And lo and behold, three young girls walked down my street! Two were 13 and one 15. I asked them to look at the pictures, and tell me what they thought. Once they got over the ‘crazy lady asking them to look at pictures part’, they made it clear to me that they weren’t the least bit ruffled by the images.

In fact the pictures were “cool” “neat” and “a little scary, but, like, art!” God love ‘em.

I have to admit. I was surprised by their reactions. I expected shock. A few blustery protestations of youth at the very least. But nope. They didn’t even flinch. Which leaves me wondering this: have we overdosed for so many years on murderous movies, violent video games and the magic that special effects make up can create that we just don’t “see” it anymore?

And what does that mean for real life? What are those girls’ reactions when they see images of war? Or torture? Does everything register as “special effects”? Like, cool! That unnerves me slightly.

Thoughts? Art or objectification? Are you surprised at the girls’ reactions? 

Photo Credit: Vasil Germanov


14 thoughts on “Art And Advertising: The Power of a Picture

  1. Great blog post Lindsay! Shock is a common tactic that many use in the media (whether it’s TV, advertising, etc.) because it works. When something shocks you to your core, you remember it. But where is the line? How far are people going to go just to bring out an element of shock? A part of me feels like the creativity is somewhat lost in the process. Where was the strategy in this idea? What was its intention? To sell clothes? To attract readers? 
    It’s very sad to hear that the young girls didn’t have the same reaction that you did. They had quite the opposite. Which makes me think that down the road, the shock value is just going to get worse- and will there be any people who will notice? 

  2. I agree completely @josiecino – I was really surprised at the girls’ reactions. But is that just evolution? Maybe it’s a good thing – they’re just not as affected by media images anymore – which can only benefit them in the long run (uber skinny models, etc., etc.) – I don’t know. It was pretty interesting to say the least. 

  3.  @belllindsay This reminds of me a conversation I had not long ago. A friend and I were discussing (I  wrote disgusting instead of discussing here – a Freudian slip, I’m sure!) how pictures of animals in distress affect us more than images of people. Sadly, I have definitely been desensitized

  4.  @belllindsay This reminds of me a conversation I had not long ago. A friend and I were discussing (I  wrote disgusting instead of discussing here – a Freudian slip, I’m sure!) how pictures of animals in distress affect us more than images of people in distress. Sadly, my mind has definitely overdosed on the myriad of images I see everyday. When I first looked at these, I automatically thought campaign and not art. It’s not surprising though. Like many of you,  I’ve seen the fashion industry use this kind of approach a million times.
    I agree with @josiecino . It’s very sad that young girls didn’t have a different reaction… a symptom of the world we live in.

    •  @Pilar  Hi Pilar, yes, I think you’re absolutely right – we are desensitized to real human suffering these days, and that’s a scary thought. I have a 13 year old son, and I always make him stop and think about advertising and/or imagery – I also (sometimes) force him to watch the news and talk about it! 😉 Makes me wonder what the world is going to be like in 50 years. Also, I *love* Freudian slips, and that was a good one! Thanks for stopping by, cheers, Lindsay 

  5. As the father of a wonderful young woman, this saddens me. The whole female image industry saddens me. I never want my daughter to feel that these images depict something that will make her more desirable or more loved. And I certainly don’t want my two sons to find any of this stuff attractive. I hope that they can see through all of this and not buy into the lies.

    •  @KenMueller Ken, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I thank the powers that be every single day that I had a son. I can’t *fathom* raising a young girl in this crazy new world we live in. It was hard enough when *I* grew up (a loooong time ago) and we didn’t have anything like the bombardment of media images that kids do today. Thanks for your comment. :)

  6. We are way too desensitized; there is no shock value unless it actually happened to you. Same w/ natural disasters; if it didn’t happen to you then it’s not necessarily real…

    •  @bdorman264 Yep – we see things on TV and online and just can’t really ‘get’ it…and certainly more so at a young age without the critical thinking that maturity and experience brings. I might not have been as bothered by this if it were art – seen in a gallery or in a very specialized ‘art mag’, or even as some kind of haute couture very high fashion imagery. But as a magazine fashion spread with drug store level companies (Max Factor and H&M) involved..? Not cool. Thanks, and I appreciate you stopping by! 😀 

  7. Sad. Had this been shot as art as part of a larger awareness campaign surrounding women’s rights, I would approve. But using this for fashion? No one should objectify women’s abuse for profit. Ever.We’re part of a digital age with so much information. And you’re right, being raised on bloody video games, violent movies, etc., is desensitizing. I think there’s truth to what you said about people reacting strongly to images of animal abuse, but not giving people too much of a thought. (Funny, no?) It’s just not right. And nothing’s going to change if we don’t say something.

    •  @JulieTyios Actually, it was @Pilar who said that about animals – vs – humans, and it’s a powerful statement. It’s funny, because I stumbled across the article on a friend’s FB wall, and a few people thought they were images of ‘post plastic surgery’ wounds, etc., hence the title “Victims of Beauty”. They were clearly wrong but I didn’t feel like debating them at the time. LOL I *did* think, however “Now *that* might be an interesting photo series!!” – I still think the images – as art and art alone – are quite stunning. But not for a fashion spread aimed at young women. End of.  

  8. I don’t know about these. I have a daughter and I worry about what sort of images she is being fed in the media. That is not to say that I don’t worry about my son but it is different. Something feels uncomfortable here.

    •  @TheJackB Jack, here’s the thing – there’s such a fine line between ‘art’ and ‘advertising’  these days – and what troubled me with these images was the ease of accessibility – the fact that they were in a fashion mag – as opposed to, say, in a gallery or in a highly specific ‘art magazine’. And Max Factor and H&M…!? Yikes! Those two brands scream (no pun intended) tween-aged girls, just dabbling in their woman-hood. Not cool IMHO. 

  9. That is the power of advertising . A good advertisement tells us we need something even before we think we do. It offers us a look into the ideal life, the ideal body, the ideal mate, all wrapped in an ideal world. Fine art from an iPhone?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *