A4 Reworked essay

Although my tutor said that the original essay only needed minor changes and some reframing I  explored and implemented most of his suggestions and believe the essay is significantly improved for doing so.

The full version of the essay is provided as a print copy which includes copies of all images referenced. The pdf copy on this blog is simply for reference and due to copyright law does not include all images. Please click below to open the document.

A4 final blog version without images pdf

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Assignment 4 tutor feedback.

Place holder blog post, I will return later with a fuller response to the very detailed feedback. I’m quietly happy with it and have some clear steers on how to improve the essay. I’m also just a bit stunned that I am really on the final assignment of the course now. Click link below for the feedback

Kate Aston Assignment 4 feedback

Returning to write this response. I found my tutor feedback to be very helpful indeed. Although he said that the essay only really needed “some slight reframings and edits” I found that his other suggestions allowed me to understand the work more fully and thus develop the essay too.

I do tend to panic slightly when read things like “evidence your specific sources for the semiological model that you are using” and my use of ” a series of observations rather than being bound by an overarching critical position”. This is a definite learning opportunity for me. I still don’t know if I’ve done it right or not really. Apart from those I think I’ve pretty much incorporated all of the feedback and the essay is much improved for it. Once again I’ve been stunned by the raft of improvement potential in something that I thought I’d exhausted.

On exploring further I learned more about why Teller uses plates in his work, the most interesting thing was the influence of Robert Mapplethorpe. Mapplethorpe’s work was an early influence on Teller and Teller worked with Mapplethorpe’s archive for a joint exhibition. It was thrilling to pull this thread and discover the clear heritage from Mapplethorpe’s plate images through to Teller’s plate images including several in the Palace campaign. It felt like something that I had discovered for myself rather than the normal path of working with other people’s thoughts. My tutor commented on the good standard of my writing and analysis and this makes me feel more positive about the possibility of taking UVC as my next level 1 course.

On the issue of whether or not I should include images that are currently within copyright on a publicly accessible blog I have decided to be cautious and only include the images in the printed copy, which I will send a copy of for assessment. This blog will have the same essay but without the images.

I received some excellent support from the students in my peer collective when working to reduce the word count and tighten my writing.

I would summarise my takeaways from this assignment and feedback as

  1. More rigorous academic writing needed
  2. The extra depth, range and literal tautness that peer and tutor feedback can enable.
  3. How a little bit more research can turn up that couple of sentences that provide the key to understanding why something is how it is.

Self assessment for A4

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I feel quite unsure about how to assess this work given that it’s my first essay assignment in nearly three courses. It challenged me in terms of looking at an image properly, dispassionately, and analysing the content It allowed me to see that my skills, undoubtedly still nascent, have developed at least slightly. I could see the difference between in-picture context and external context and how factors outside the image can affect and enrich our reading of the image.

Quality of Outcome

I think I finished this work knowing more about the image and the photographer than when I started, and I know that the work has provoked reaction and discussion. I did feel limited by the wordcount and this makes me wonder if I have not got the focus and/or the writing tight enough.

Constructing the essay was interesting and I think there is probably still room for improvement. I had some very helpful feedback on the OCA forum where I posted a link to my first draft for comment.

https://discuss.oca-student.com/t/context-narrative-a4-essay/7381

I still feel as if it’s not quite finished but I think this is the point at which to submit the work for tutor feedback. It definitely feels as if I’ve done less work than for other assignments, but perhaps this is because I didn’t have the 4-6 iterations of shooting, but 2-3 editing loops instead.

Demonstration of creativity

I was surprised by the degree of creative thinking that this analysis required. Firstly to frame my questions and secondly to resolve them. An example was working out why the white plates were included in these, and other, images by Teller. I also think the choice of image was a creative one – despite being an advertising image it had many “tails” that could be pulled and investigated that opened up the context and research available to me.

Context (reflection, research, learning logs)

There was a lot to consider here. I started with books about reading photographs and about decoding advertisements. I read articles about Juergen Teller and his family and work, I read Vogue and I read about masculinity via Grayson Perry and the skatewear and skateboard culture and market and Palace brand in particular.

I was considering taking Understanding Visual Culture as my next Level 1 course, but this course has left me wondering how much joy I would get from an academic course where the assignments are all essay based.

self assessment

 

Assignment 4 – Advertisement for Palace Skatewear

Introduction

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)

https://www.palaceskateboards.com/lookbook/spring-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.

References

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].

Additional reading

Salkeld, R. (2014). Reading photographs. ed. New York: Bloomsbury.

Williamson, J. (1978). Decoding advertisements. ed. London: Marion Boyars.

Assignment 4 – draft for peer review.

You can see the images below, opens in a new tab.

https://www.palaceskateboards.com/lookbook/spring-2018/

This image is the right half of a diptych inside the back cover of British Vogue March 2018. The left half, which I refer to but have not discussed fully, shows an adolescent boy in urban skate wear in a decaying urban setting. It’s an advert for Palace, a UK based skateboard and skatewear brand. I shall start with the image and then move out to some of the questions that I’ve considered whilst making this work.

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, 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, and he’s against a breezeblock wall, with no windows, painted white. It’s a portrait image and he occupies 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 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 and skating less and driving more. There’s an “Only Fools and Horses” vibe to it. He’s knowingly taking the piss, on one hand, with his signet rings and finger-sucking; on the other there’s an ostentatiousness in his presentation. Snakeskin print loafers with gold monogrammed trim, loud trunks with the brand writ large on the outside (it was always dads that used to complain about visible underwear). His leather jacket looks butter soft and immaculately stitched and lined. It denotes extravagance – a cream leather will spend half its life at the dry cleaner. The shoes, jewellery (signet rings and necklace) and the “designer” underwear all connote extravagance, a touch of flash. The name “Palace” denotes wealth, royalty, opulence. The lack of other clothing suggests a sense of performance, of not being afraid to “let it all hang out”,  a sense of fun. He has tan lines from his socks (lots of time outdoors, or sunshine holidays?) and sock elastic marks on his ankles. In many ways it’s an endearingly “dad” picture.  

He’s “man-spreading”, spreading his arms and legs to fill and claim the space. Little finger in his mouth as his eyes look directly into the camera.  The pinkie sucking is slightly disturbing – I’m not sure if it’s playing on sexualisedand infantilised 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.

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 made by Teller. This opens a vast range of meaning and now we have to explore further both inside and outside the frame.  

Why is such an extravagant advert for men/boys skate gear in a premium women’s fashion and beauty magazine? Palace don’t cut any of their clothes for female skaters. Vogue readers, on the whole (I suspect), don’t skate. Skaters, on the whole (I suspect), don’t read Vogue. On first glance it makes little sense.

Palace is to skatewear what Vogue is to magazines however, with highly anticipated and quickly sold out collections so they both occupy premium niches in their respective fields.

Vogue readers are very familiar with the fashion photography work of Juergen Teller, and many of them will have considerable influence over the clothes worn by the men and boys they love and the finances to indulge this influence. Teller works with charm, and recognises that a shared joke, a shared moment, will result in the viewer mentally transposing their partner and son for Team Teller, with the hidden hope that as well as carrying off snakeskin loafers their menfolk will also acquire a little bit of that Teller patina, that fashion photographer glamour. In exactly the same way that they see Teller’s Vogue photographs of models in beautiful clothes and imagine transposing themselves into the image via the purchasable clothes. I suppose they could also transpose themselves with the invisible Mrs Teller, with the same outcome.

The shared joke now becomes not just about himself, but also about years of perpetuating the clichés of fashion photography – improbable outfits both revealing and concealing, the cults of the model, the brand and the photographer, flirting with and seducing the viewer.  

 Teller is 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. His near-nakedness and twinkling eye demand intimacy and invite us into the ad with him, we become part of it for a moment. He’s subverting something right there. Liz Hoggard wrote in the Observer As a woman, I find it very refreshing to find someone else’s body on the slab.” – although here he’s not “on the slab” – he’s having a blast in his middle-age and is inviting the viewer in to join him. 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, referencing a younger and possibly more current 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 in either image. It thus 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.

The plates were harder to assign meaning to, appearing in both images. Were they another way into the image for female viewers, referencing the domestic? Or perhaps a nod to cockney rhyming slang – “sitting on the porcelain potty”, “plates of meat”, “my old china”? It turned out to be more literal – “Teller” is an old German word for plate and it’s a device that Teller has incorporated into other work too, literally putting himself into the work. He 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?” He is skilled at seamlessly conflating person and product for advertising work, reputedly telling Victoria Beckham that she was “a product” as he photographed her legs emerging from a Marc Jacobs carrier bag.

I think the last word should go to an OCA peer who glanced at the first draft of this post and thought that the photograph was of my husband. She’d picked up on the directness, the intimacy, and the cheekiness of the gaze, it’s hard to believe that the look was delivered to a camera set on self timer or an assistant with a remote shutter release. This is one of the qualities that makes the image so engaging to consider.