The big picture: London Fashion Week, February 1998

With the 2018 event now in full swing, we revisit a telling Martin Parr shot from 20 years ago

British Fashion Week, February 1998






Photograph: Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Martin Parr is the kind of quick-witted photographer who catches life on the run, his shutter clicking faster than the human eye can blink. To coincide with London Fashion Week, which began last Friday, here is a deft act of espionage from backstage at the same event 20 years ago. Parr probably didn’t know what he’d snatched until he developed the film and saw that the flustered accidents of a moment had come to rest in a parable, showing how the beauty industry goes about its tortuous, tormenting work.

Makeup has already transformed the model into a doll: the waxen complexion, with a sickly jaundiced tone around the eyes, and the pursed, painted lips that are smaller and more infantile than her own. Now the hairdressers take over, knotting and coiling and pinning and teasing, with a can of eco-unfriendly aerosol spray ready to freeze her mane. They are technicians, busy on the assembly line; she is their manufactured product, as glassy-eyed as the lens of Parr’s camera.

What makes the photograph so piercing is the intrusion of that grasping, prehensile hand, ready to do some stern manipulating if the subject doesn’t consent to being reduced to an object. This detail makes the scene faintly scary: the bride of Frankenstein is being prepared for exposure to a battery of cameras on the catwalk, and at the end of all this cosmetic primping she will be a blank-faced, strutting mannequin. That’s what fashion does: it refashions our bodies, and turns human beings into dress dummies.

The big picture: London Fashion Week, February 1998

With the 2018 event now in full swing, we revisit a telling Martin Parr shot from 20 years ago

British Fashion Week, February 1998






Photograph: Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Martin Parr is the kind of quick-witted photographer who catches life on the run, his shutter clicking faster than the human eye can blink. To coincide with London Fashion Week, which began last Friday, here is a deft act of espionage from backstage at the same event 20 years ago. Parr probably didn’t know what he’d snatched until he developed the film and saw that the flustered accidents of a moment had come to rest in a parable, showing how the beauty industry goes about its tortuous, tormenting work.

Makeup has already transformed the model into a doll: the waxen complexion, with a sickly jaundiced tone around the eyes, and the pursed, painted lips that are smaller and more infantile than her own. Now the hairdressers take over, knotting and coiling and pinning and teasing, with a can of eco-unfriendly aerosol spray ready to freeze her mane. They are technicians, busy on the assembly line; she is their manufactured product, as glassy-eyed as the lens of Parr’s camera.

What makes the photograph so piercing is the intrusion of that grasping, prehensile hand, ready to do some stern manipulating if the subject doesn’t consent to being reduced to an object. This detail makes the scene faintly scary: the bride of Frankenstein is being prepared for exposure to a battery of cameras on the catwalk, and at the end of all this cosmetic primping she will be a blank-faced, strutting mannequin. That’s what fashion does: it refashions our bodies, and turns human beings into dress dummies.

Ai Weiwei on the project that awoke his political voice – The Start podcast

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In 2008, an earthquake devastated Sichuan province in China, claiming the lives of more than 69,000 people. Following accusations from parents that substandard construction caused the collapse of schools across in the region, the artist Ai Weiwei set upon a political investigation that would name every missing student and call the government to account for their deaths.

In the fourth episode of The Start, we hear how this investigation brought about Remembering, an installation of 9,000 school backpacks on the Munich Haus der Kunst, that both commemorated pupils and engendered a new sense of political duty within Ai Weiwei’s work.

World Press Photo Contest 2018 – the nominees in pictures

The most prestigious photojournalist prize in the world has unveiled the six finalists of its photo of the year contest. This is the first time in the competition’s history that a selection of finalists has been seen before the announcement of the winner in Amsterdam on 12 April
Warning: contains graphic images

David Milne review – One of Canada’s greatest painters? Come off it!

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
From the glitz of New York’s gilded age to the horror of the trenches, Milne had plenty to work with. So why does our critic prefer his photos?

‘Tediously genteel’ … Billboards, c.1912, by David Milne.






‘Tediously genteel’ … Billboards, c.1912, by David Milne.
Photograph: © The Estate of David Milne

This exhibition of a supposedly “great” Canadian artist who was unsuccessful in his own lifetime and is little-known outside his own country today is called David Milne: Modern Painting. I don’t know what definition of modern painting they used, but it isn’t in any of my books. Milne’s paintings are only modern if by that you mean a wishy-washy vagueness, depressed colours and complete lack of shock. This is the cough of the new, modern art with a yawn.

There is very little sign of development in Milne’s art, and as you navigate his backwoods the monotony of his subdued palette of russets, pale greens, blacks and muddy browns becomes embarrassingly repetitive.

Manhattan via Bloomsbury … Columbus Monument, 1912, by David Milne.



Manhattan via Bloomsbury … Columbus Monument, 1912. Photograph: © The Estate of David Milne

Milne, born in Ontario in 1882, started his career in gilded age New York – already the art capital of the Americas by the 1900s. He painted softly toned scenes of city life that make Manhattan look like a corner of Edwardian Bloomsbury. His dappled studies of women in big hats, people milling about in the Public Library, a couple of cars and some sedate hoardings are timid imitations of the likes of Matisse and Bonnard. Compared with the paintings of George Bellows or photographs of Alfred Stieglitz from the same era, with their powerful sense of a great urban society, Milne’s perceptions of New York are tediously genteel.

He obviously did not feel at home in the metropolis and in 1916 – suffering from what he described as a “nervous heart” – moved to the first of a series of hideaways in the mountains of New York State, before eventually returning to Canada in 1929. From 1916 onwards, the exhibition is dominated by woodland landscapes. In his 1916 watercolour Bishop’s Pond (Reflections), he finds a mirror of his melancholy in the glassy surface of a woodland pool. White, snowy trees become blurred forms of reflected sadness. Yet the exhibition’s attempt to compare his love of reflections with Monet’s waterlilies reveals a loss of perspective. One of Milne’s landscapes might be touching; together, they pall. He seems unable to take his imagination outside a very limited repertoire. In 1929, for instance, he is still brooding miserably on woodland water in the appropriately titled Gray Pool.

Pink Reflections, Bishop’s Pond, 1920, by David Milne.



Reflected sadness … Pink Reflections, Bishop’s Pond, 1920. Photograph: © The Estate of David Milne

When Milne visited the western front in 1919 as an official Canadian artist, the first world war was over and its eerie potholes and trenches gave him plenty of mud and rainwater to brood on. He himself said he was merely a “tourist” among these haunted landscapes. His war art is not especially powerful. Milne was a misery before he visited the trenches and a misery afterwards. Obviously any image of those landscapes of horror is distressing. Yet it is hard to see what Milne’s dappled renditions add to the photographs of the same scenes that are displayed for comparison. The photographs are brutally real, the paintings almost decorative.

That same contrast between the raw reality of the camera and the gentle artifice of Milne’s brush recurs when the woodland photographs he took as part of his research are shown beside his pastoral scenes. I prefer the photos. I have never thought that about a painter before.

This venerable gallery – with its wonderful architecture by John Soane and collection of masterpieces by the likes of Rembrandt and Poussin – is a beautiful place, yet its exhibition programme is turning into an orgy of the second rate. It’s time Dulwich celebrated what it is, an art-historical treasure house, instead of trying to be “modern” and getting lost in some very dreary woods.

Ann Hirsch on the art project that invaded her private life – The Start podcast

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In 2008, online and performance artist Ann Hirsch started to post videos of herself on YouTube under the pseudonym of Caroline, a self-confessed “hipster college freshman”. The 18-month project, dubbed Scandalishious, explored questions of femininity, sexuality and identity at a time when online presence was little understood.

In the third episode of our new culture podcast about artistic beginnings, Hirsch reveals how Scandalishious became an all-encompassing endeavour: infiltrating her private life, putting her safety at risk and eventually resulting in a breakdown.

SkyPixel aerial photography contest winners 2017 – in pictures

SkyPixel has announced the winners of its annual aerial photography competition and the results are breathtaking. The contest, which ran from October to December, received more than 44,000 submissions from people in 141 countries, across the categories of landscape, portrait and story. The grand prize was awarded to Florian Ledoux, a photographer from France, who captured a polar bear jumping across ice floes in Nunavut, Canada