When we see images of the oil spill ravaging the Gulf of Mexico we think about the economic devastation that could face our state and our neighbors, the havoc its wrecking for wildlife and the environment, and an industry we're addicted to that's run amok in corruption. When the editors of Vogue Italia see those same pictures apparently they just think, "Wow, how beautiful." The next issue of the influential fashion rag will run a 24 page spread glamorizing the site of oil on beaches complete with a young, waif of a model and thousands of dollars of now ruined luxury clothing.
Shot by American photographer Steven Meisel the spread entitled "Oil and Water" includes pictures of oil-covered feathered gloves meant to evoke images of actual birds drenched in oil, and numerous images of 24-year-old model Kristen McMenamy playing dead while seeped in oil and decked out in black designer wear.
Meisel at least had some decency by not shooting the spread on a gulf beach, or one that resembled it. Instead McMenamy's faux-oil-devastation take places on a rocky beach with black sand.
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Fashion in the past few decades has started to confuse itself with serious art (its no mistake Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani is an Art Basel Miami Beach regular), and certain designers, editors, stylists and photographer feel the need to be provocative by taking on real world issues. Yet, most times when they do they have little to say beyond glamorizing the aesthetic of tragedy. Perhaps if Meisel made a deeper point about the oil spill this wouldn't be quite so disgusting. Instead it merely seems that he found the images of oil covered beaches and animals inspiring and something appropriate to use to promote luxury clothes. And don't get us wrong, these images do have their beauty upon first glance. Meisel is a master, yet when the inspiration sinks in it negates even the virtues of the most beautiful of these images.
It's not exactly anything new. Meisel also shot a beautiful yet shallow glamorization of war for the same magazine in 2007. Recently, avant fashion line Rodarte also got into controversy by presenting a line of luxury dresses meant for women who can afford such finery inspire by violent Juárez, Mexico, a town known for violence and exploitation of poor women.
In contrast, it's almost disgusting how easy it is for fashion types to glamorize tragedy, and yet they almost never find inspiration in the body of real women and resort to using young, skinny models. Wasn't that the original point of women's fashion magazines? To make women beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, not devastation like oil spills?
Meanwhile, we'll just have to wonder if Sozzani would have shown up for the next Art Basel had our beaches actually faced the devastation she's exploited in her magazine.