“Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it…”
I’ve been known to harp on about my love for those fleeting transitional fashion years between 1908 and the end of the First World war and how (in my opinion) it’s one of the most interesting yet least examined periods in costume history. At the same time, though, I can’t hold back a chuckle while flicking through fashion magazines from this period. Especially when I encounter pictures like the cover of Les Modes magazine from December 1913 above. I want to believe that this shot was one of the out-takes and the model was just messing about when the session was over. But I fear her pose is intentional- how far the concept of modelling had to develop!
Part of the problem was that the idea of photographing an outfit on an actual model was still relatively new. It also didn’t help that cameras were still nowhere near easily portable, so photographs were shot in studios against fairly generic painted backdrops of gardens and ruined classical columns. Inevitably, modelling a garment was less about creating a spontaneous moment of magic and more about creating a kind of living tableau.
If atmosphere could not be created with locations and lighting effects, models had to fall back on trying to convey a mood through expressions and poses in a bizarre kind of interpretative dance. Can’t you just imagine the photographer here shouting things like “Transported rapture! Give me transported rapture! That’s it! Now you’re a fluffy kitten! I want simperingly coy! Give me coy! More simpering!”
Trouble is, a lot of the time this just all looks very…melodramatic. So melodramatic in fact that some models’ shots look as if they’ve been lifted straight off the wall of Wanted criminals at the local police station:
“A ruthless homicidal kleptomaniac, officer? L’il ol’ me?”
It’s unfortunate that a combination of heavy makeup and the photography of the time had a tendency to make some models look downright insane. I’ll leave you pondering exactly what sinister threat is hoving into view on the right of this picture. Feel free to share any ideas for captions in the comments :)