“It is worth emphasising that there is no single or ‘correct’ answer to the question, ‘What does an image mean?’ or ‘What is this ad saying?’. Since there is no law which can guarantee that things will have ‘one, true meaning’, or that the meaning won’t change over time, work in this area is bound to be interpretative – a debate between, not who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’, but between equally plausible, though sometimes competing and contested, meanings and interpretations” Hall, S. (1997) Representation: Cultural Representation and Signifying Practices
Using visual analysis, discuss Hall’s statement below in relation to your chosen photograph
This essay will be looking at this image from the controversial Make Love Not War editorial by Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia in 2007. The aim is to expand on Hall’s theory that an image does not have one absolute meaning.
Figure one is an image of Raquel Zimmerman and Travon Hill on a bed, Hill sleeps while Zimmerman looks traumatised and deep in thought. From the context of the editorial the viewer gathers that they are at war, although they are never seen in battle. It was published in 2007 so it almost unanimously assumed –although not specifically shown- that it is based on the Iraq war troop surge of 2007.
The image is taken is from a tilted aerial angle which makes it seem more intimate and voyeuristic. The ambient lighting also adds intimacy and is created by two light sources; A hard light that hits the wall, part of Hill’s torso and Zimmerman’s face, as well as a soft fill light coming in from the other side of the image. Hill wears a traditional army capi and Zimmerman wears a khaki green evening dress. It is not clear whether or not Zimmerman or any of the other female models are soldiers from the clothes, although in other images such as fig 4, the models wear some army uniform accessories. The army cap worn by Hill automatically creates a detachment from the image. As Alison Lurie said in a language of clothes “The uniform acts as a sign that we should not or need not treat someone as a human being, and that they need not and should not treat us as one.” This means that the images are being seen and judged in a different way to if it were an image of any other civilian.ii
Fig 1 was faced with much criticism and was accused of glamourising and sexualizing the war. New York magazine rated the editorial number one in a list of Vogue’s most “tone deaf editorials” amongst others such as Haute Mess and State of Emergency - also shot by Meisel.iii The Guardian’s Emine Saner says that Zimmerman is shown crying and that hill is asleep with a “post-coital” bliss, then adds that this means the image is showing a raped Zimmermaniv. She also went as far as saying the images were ‘the most nauseatingly tasteless fashion pictures ever.’ She claimed that the women were prostitutes and that that undermined the editorial’s title, as it was closer to rape than making love.
Saner’s ironically sexist remarks seem to disregard all the evidence that debunk her fallacious statements. Firstly, the styling of the female models in the majority of the images could imply that they are soldiers not prostitutes, either with the use of accessories or by maintaining the military inspired colour palette. Secondly, Saner speaks of the models featured in the editorial in a way that insinuates that they are victimized. As John Berger has said “To be born a woman has been to be born, within allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men.” v However, the women are consistently shown as being powerful. For example in figure 5, Raquel Zimmerman is arm-wrestling another soldier and has a strong expression. In figure 2 and figure 3, the female models are on top of the male models and the images seem friendly...
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