Flip through your every-day, grocery-store-checkout-line fashion magazine; mine has a cover with big ruby letters saying: “Your NEW LOOK starts here”, “BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL” and then, in case it hasn’t been made clear, a welcoming “ALL WOMAN” in the top corner. A few pages into it and you’re bombarded with perfect poses, make-up, logos and nail polish. Blush at the intimate fingertip biting, gaze longingly at the forest camping (in
chic underwear and loafers, of course), and don’t miss the new, luxurious car which comes with a sylph-like co-pilot at no extra charge.
But let’s drop the irony for a moment. Your usual fashion photography might get glittery and boring, unexciting and over-the-top. It wears on you. I suppose it plays on mechanisms of self-image, a kind of painful jouissance that drives people to constantly overdo and over-express every bit of enjoyment they are able to obtain. I don’t mean there’s anything wrong with the industry though. It’s just like any other. Yet my general worry has always been that the combined pressure from the publishers, advertising agencies, producers and so on can make the whole thing photographically generic and vacant.
Yet that’s not the whole story, after all. Quentin De Wispelaere has found an ingenious way to turn the tables (and the lens). For his subject, he has taken the veiled process behind the outward facing sheen and made that into his photographic object. He has managed to rip the façade open, turn the order inside out and give us RAW coverage of the guts of the fashion machinery. The focus is always adrift—when we want the cat-walk, he gives us the audience; when we look for a model, he throws us at a reception line; when we are trying to discern a face, he directs our sight at a screening display. The subjectivity and objectivity, the means and the ends that dominate our understanding are reversed and suddenly we are in the hidden workings of the industry as well as trapped in our own perceptual apparatus. In a genre known for its artificiality, Quentin’s work displays a kind of photographic honesty—all his pictures are real and shot within his surroundings. The retouching is nearly non-existing. The pictures reflect the strong emotional bearing of actually being within the environment.
In short, our attention is not guided at the subjects or events but at the process of representation itself. It’s not what we see but how we see it and how we are presented with it. Some might describe this kind of work as cerebral and cold. But it’s exactly Quentin’s ambition—to provide a surgical, intrusive, paradoxical and deferred vision of our all-too-common and unreflective perception. It’s on to spark a doubt and invite us to dig into the grey matter. So in the end, it is fashion and investigation. And that is what I want to see.
Writer’s note: All of the pictures were taken in 2011-2014, during the major shows of world’s most recognized designers and brands. Quentin De Wispelaere has advanced his studies of perception and representation in his other works concerning desert mirages (titled, ” Mirage Study”) as well as jungle hallucinations (which is a work in progress).