This image is the right half of a diptych inside the back cover and facing page of British Vogue March 2018. The left half is used for reference rather than detailed analysis. It’s an advertisement for Palace, a skateboard and skatewear brand. I start with what the image denotes and connotes and then move my analysis outside the frame into external contexts.
For full size images the link below opens in a new tab so it can be viewed alongside this blog post. I have not included the images for copyright reasons (Palace Skateboards, 2018)
Inside the frame
We see a middle-aged man dressed in bright green trunks, snakeskin loafers, a cream leather jacket and gold jewellery. He’s seated on a stack of white china plates, as if on the toilet, plates also feature in the other image. He’s in a plain setting with a white breezeblock wall with no windows and a wooden floor covered with grey lino. It’s a portrait image and he occupies most of the frame. There’s a vertical margin in which the models and photographer are credited. The brand name is visible on his trunks and also in the lower right-hand corner of the advert. There is no other text.
This image speaks of a skater’s dad, especially because it’s paired with a photograph of a teenage boy. Perhaps he skated when he was younger, but now he is an adult, a dad, better off, skating less. There’s an “Only Fools and Horses” vibe to it. He’s mocking himself with his signet rings and finger-sucking; but he’s modelling the clothes to sell them. The monogrammed loafers, jewellery and the “designer” underwear connote extravagance. His jacket looks butter soft and immaculately made. It connotes extravagance – a cream leather jacket will spend half its life at the dry cleaner. The name “Palace” denotes wealth, royalty, opulence. The bare chest and no trousers convey a sense of performance, an exhibitionist sense of fun. He has tan lines from his socks and sock elastic marks on his ankles. It’s an endearingly “dad” picture.
He’s “man-spreading”, filling and claiming the space as he looks directly into the camera. The pinkie sucking plays on sexualized infantilised female imagery and clichéd movie villains with cats in their laps and fingers in their mouths (Dr Evil from Austin Powers perhaps, who has a teenage son).
Outside the frame
Moving to the external context, this is a photograph of Juergen Teller, a regular fashion photographer for Vogue, and the matching image shows his son, both images made by Teller. This opens up further readings, not least that of the image moving from a simple clothing advert to a self-portrait of a photographer.
Why is such an extravagant advert for men/boys skate gear in a premium women’s magazine? Palace don’t make clothes for female skaters. Most Vogue readers don’t skate. Most skaters don’t read Vogue.
Vogue readers are familiar with Teller’s work, and many will influence clothing purchases in their families. Teller works with charm, and recognises that a shared joke, may result in the viewer mentally transposing their partner and son for Team Teller, with the hidden hope that their menfolk will acquire a touch of that Teller patina, that fashion photographer glamour along with the snakeskin loafers. Venetia Scott, Vogue’s Fashion Director has partnered Teller professionally and personally in the past so even though the contract was between Palace and Teller, we cannot deny the extra layers of meaning that these relationships add to the work. What initially looks inherently superficial can then be viewed in the context of Susannah Frankel’s words about their narratives that go beyond just showing the clothes:
“Their use of down-at-heel locations (often their own homes), idiosyncratic models and insistence upon creating a narrative that appeared to go beyond simply “showing the clothes”, was in direct opposition to the status-driven aesthetic of the Eighties.” (Frankel, 2009)
The shared joke now becomes more of an “in-joke” where reality and fashion collide. The work looks to the clichés of fashion photography – improbable outfits both revealing and concealing, the cults of the model, the brand, the medium and the photographer, flirting with and seducing the viewer as well as referencing Teller’s own connections to Vogue and advertising. The story is about more than the clothes.
Teller is normally behind the camera. Here, he’s in front of the camera, depicted in a way that we would rarely see a female model or photographer. His toilet-pose, near-nakedness and twinkling eye demand intimacy and invite us into the ad with him, we become part of it for a moment. Liz Hoggard wrote in the Observer “As a woman, I find it very refreshing to find someone else’s body on the slab.” (Hoggard, 2018) He’s having a blast in his middle-age and is inviting us to join him. Grayson Perry writes about coded male flesh “A middle-class man might not even roll his shirtsleeves up above his elbow, so coded is flesh.” (Perry, 2017). You can imagine the chorus of “daaaaad” from Teller’s children, one of whom is shown in more typical skate garb on the page opposite, referencing a younger and possibly more accurate skating experience. It speaks to the change from boy to man, son to father, a shared love of skateboarding even though we don’t see a board. Perry again: “The skating crowd was intimidating, urban and, of course, entirely male”. Thus this ad speaks of masculinity and manliness. It associates that cross-generation passion with the Palace brand, giving a sense of quality, of timelessness, of heritage; rather like the connotations of the word “Palace” itself.
Advertisement as self portrait
The plates feature in several images in the wider series. Perhaps a domestic reference? Or cockney rhyming slang – “sitting on the porcelain potty”, “plates of meat”, “my old china”? “Teller” is German for plate and it’s a device that Teller frequently uses to put himself literally and figuratively into the work.
Teller has a large canon of self-portraiture work, triggered by wanting “to know how does it feel to be photographed, how does it feel to be photographed by me?” (Berrington and Pike, 2016). He is skilled at seamlessly conflating person and product for advertising work, reputedly telling Victoria Beckham that she was “a product” in order to photograph her legs emerging from a carrier bag (Horyn, 2018). In this work he goes a step further and casts himself as photographer, photographed and product. He becomes both subject and object and the image becomes both an advertisement for Palace and a self-portrait of himself.
Palace Skateboards (2018). Pair of images by Juergen Teller for Palace spring 2018 lookbook. [image] Available at: https://www.palaceskateboards.com/lookbook/spring-2018/ [Accessed 26 Jun. 2018].
Frankel, S. (2009). Juergen Teller: Fashion’s provocative photographer reveals all. Independent. [online] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/juergen-teller-fashions-provocative-photographer-reveals-all-1724407.html [Accessed 18 Jun. 2018].
Hoggard, L. (2018). This is for you, Dad. The Observer. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2003/sep/14/features.review37 [Accessed 26 Jun. 2018].
Perry, G. (2017). The descent of man. London: Penguin, p.66, p93.
Berrington, K. and Pike, N. (2016). Vogue Festival: Juergen Teller. [online] Vogue.co.uk. Available at: http://www.vogue.co.uk/article/juergen-teller-alexandra-shulman-vogue-festival [Accessed 26 Jun. 2018].
Horyn, C. (2018). When is a Fashion Ad Not a Fashion Ad?. The New York Times. [online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/fashion/10TELLER.html [Accessed 26 Jun. 2018].
Salkeld, R. (2014). Reading photographs. ed. New York: Bloomsbury.
Williamson, J. (1978). Decoding advertisements. ed. London: Marion Boyars.