This image fell into my lap really, it’s part of a diptych inside the back cover of British Vogue March 2018.
Taken at it’s most basic, it shows a man dressed in bright green trunks, snakeprint loafers, a cream leather jacket and some gold jewellery. He’s seated on a stack of white china plates, a couple of which also feature in the other image of the pair. The location is a room with a wooden floor that’s covered with plain grey flooring with one corner cut out, and he’s against a breezeblock wall, with no windows, painted white. It’s a portrait image and the man takes up most of the frame with a bit of space around him. There’s a vertical margin to the left in which the models and photographer are credited.
The image is an advert for Palace – a UK skate brand. It’s interesting for a start that Vogue, a women’s fashion and beauty magazine, is carrying a double page ad for a brand that caters to its customers sons (and dads). Although women can obviously wear the Palace designs, there’s nothing cut for the female skate population. The brand name is on his pants and also in the lower right hand corner of the advert.
To me, this image speaks of a skater’s dad, especially because it’s paired with a photograph of the model’s real life son. Perhaps he skated when he was younger, but right now he is all grown up, an adult, a dad, and rather richer than before and possibly far less of a regular skater. There’s an “Only Fools and Horses” vibe to it that I can’t quite shake. He’s knowingly taking the piss, on one hand, with his signet rings and finger-sucking, and on the other there’s an ostentatiousness in his presentation. Snakeskin print loafers with monogrammed trim, the brightest of trunks with the brand writ large on the outside (it was always dads that complained about visible underwear in my youth). His leather jacket looks butter soft and immaculately stitched and lined. It denotes extravagance – a jacket that colour will spend half its life at the dry cleaner. The shoes, jewellery (signet rings and necklace) and the “designer” underwear all denote extravagance, a touch of the flash. The brand name “Palace” denotes wealth, royalty, opulence. The lack of other clothes denotes a sense of performance, of not being afraid to “let it all hang out”, of a sense of fun, possibly? He has tan lines from his socks (lots of time outdoors, or sunshine holidays?) and marks from his sock elastic on his ankles. In many ways it’s an endearingly “dad” picture. I have no idea why he is seated on a stack of plates.
He’s in a “man-spreading” position, spreading out to fill and claim the space. Legs spread wide, one arm spread wide, and his little finger in his mouth as his eyes look directly into the camera. The verb “twinkle” comes to mind but I’m not sure if that has a place in a critical vocabulary. Maybe a rakish glint. The pinkie sucking is slightly disturbing – I’m not sure if it’s playing on sexualised female imagery or on the clichéd movie villains with cats in their laps and fingers in their mouths. I’m intrigued by what is either a single varnished nail or a bruise. We don’t quite see his nipples.
So far so good. What really intrigues me though is that this is a photograph of Juergen Teller, a regular fashion photographer for Vogue, and the other image of the pair shows his son, both images were taken by Juergen Teller. This opens up a vast range of further meaning. Clearly, he is wearing the clothes to show them to best advantage, to sell them. Normally in Vogue his job is to sell clothes to women via his photographs. He is selling the illusion that women could look a bit like the women he photographs. If these same women put their husbands and sons into Palace clothing, will their menfolk thus also be acquiring a little bit of that Juergen Teller twinkle, that fashion photographer glamour?
He’s normally behind the camera, we see his work but we don’t see him. In this work he’s in front of the camera, in his pants, and he doesn’t care. He’s there with his wrinkles, his belly, his sock marks, in Vogue depicted in a way that we would never see a female model, or a female photographer. He’s subverting something right there. Somehow, it’s different, as Liz Hoggard wrote in the Observer “As a woman, I find it very refreshing to find someone else’s body on the slab.” That was back in 2003, he has form for stripping off in self portraits. You can almost hear the reproachful chorus of “daaaaad” from his children, one of whom is shown in more typical skate garb in a more grunge, urban and less affluent setting on the page opposite. The piss-take now becomes not just about himself, but also about years of fashion photography – about open jackets and tops that barely cover nipples and breasts, about women in expensive coats, shoes and underwear but nothing else, about the model, and the brand, flirting with and seducing the viewer. It also tells us something about father and son though, that shared love of skateboarding even though we don’t see a board in either image.
I’ve only grazed the surface of my notes here – I am very tempted to use this image (and its pair) for my A4 essay.