A Rant on Shopping

Four hours on the street and not a single thing bought. Three hours online and all I have to show is a single little top that, lucky me, was on a sale.

The modern woman today is apparently particular about what she wears. The modern Indian woman is apparently even more exacting.

Why then in the hundreds of sites and apps are similar products of bad quality? Where are the rich fabrics, the fun designs? And if you do come across one or the other, they come with a hefty price tag with it.

Shopping today is no longer fun. It is a riot of clothes, bad tailoring, worse fabrics and makes you wanna scream. Every time you see those little list “5 must haves in your wardrobe”, you wanna slap the writer because you know most of that is paid. Or the writer has a fantastic salary or an inheritance.

The common girl simply cannot survive fashionably in this city. Reading the listicles online make you wonder if all those good things are simply eluding you.

I’m someone who appreciates quality. I hate this concept of fast fashion where you clothes not only go out of style in a few months, but fade away as well. As someone who has my favourite clothes from a decade ago (and yes, many of them came back into fashion as well!), I choose my clothes with care and love and I want them to last.

But in the days where ‘subscription’ is the norm and not buying, fast is preferred over quality, fashion doesn’t allow you the same luxury. From what my fashion-conscious friends tell me, there are some brands that do last but the price tag… well, I mentioned that before already right?

There was a time when I bought Ferragamo and Bardot and dailywear were brands… but it is all so boring today. Putting together a look requires more effort… even the t-shirts are badly shaped! The $2 t-shirt fits me better than the $20 branded wear.

And since this is a rant, I can perhaps conclude it – where the hell do you get quality, funk and prices for normal human beings?

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Pants vs Skirts

You know why pants were made? For horseback riding. Because people needed something comfortable, and to protect their legs. And there are some who say that the first trouser was invented by a Queen – a woman.

But if you are a woman wearing pants today, at some point you are asked the question ‘why do you dress like a guy’?

Our dresses have evolved over centuries, wherein certain garments became popular with men and some for women. Trousers veered to the men’s side mainly because they were out working, doing tasks that required horse riding, and jumping on fences and other things that did not need a garment getting in the way. And women continued with the airy (and then not so airy) garments of skirts and dresses.

Now that women are back out on the streets again doing things, why not go back to that simple garment of pants? It is comfortable. It gives you pockets to shove your keys, cellphone and money into. It means you can sit with your legs up without worrying about your dignity. It means you do not have to worry about a strong wind and flying dresses. It means you stay warmer.

Luckily for women, we’ve had the freedom to take back certain items of clothing. For men, not so lucky. Wouldn’t a guy want to wear something loose and comfortable to work in this heat? Except for Americans, and some parts of Europe, there are forms of a ‘skirt’ still popular, if not in the workplace. A mundu / lungi / sarong is quite popular in Asian countries. Romans wore long tunics, ensuring they survived the hot summers.The Greeks wore some version of it. So why not bring it back? If men will (and that’s the tough part) why shouldn’t they be allowed to wear skirts to work?

Being a Girl with Hair

 

Have you ever thought how much women, on average, spend on hair? Yes, I know we are supposed to be the spend thrift, consumerist, favorite with the advertisers because we are so easy to sell to sorta people. But perhaps it is our own warped self-image, the society’s steep expectations or media’s portrayal… or whatever it is, but a lot of it boils to one simple factor – hair.

A woman becomes aware of her hair when she hits puberty. Till then, the stuff on your head is just something to be kept out of the way and the rest of it does not matter. Then suddenly, you have to actually pay attention to these cells.

Let’s see what an average woman, living in a city with a decent job, in the age group of anywhere from 21 to 45, needs for the hair on her head.

  1. Shampoo
  2. Conditioner
  3. Leave-in conditioner
  4. Serum
  5. Anti-frizz
  6. Hair Mask
  7. Hair Spray (to whip it into shape on those bad hair days)
  8. Oil
  9. Heat Protection Serum

Yep, we need alllll that to make ourselves look halfway decent. Not glam. Just presentable.

On average, we spend about INR 3,000 per month on all these prettying ‘basic’ products – and that’s by going for something just above the low-range of products. I’m not talking salon-level products.

Next, since we are obsessed about hair, we need to ensure that the remaining part of the body is free of hair. Which means bi-weekly appointments at the salon for waxing arms, legs, most part of the face, and if you are adventurous, a brazilian as well. When the bikini or the wedding season comes around, you might also need to wax your back, your stomach and well, maybe your whole body. Not accounting for the hours of pain, this also means an average of INR 1,500 per month for removing  the hair from your body.

Then there are the hair cuts – and the search for the perfect hair stylist is as tough as the search for the perfect pair of pants. A single hair cut at a good salon – you are down another 2 grand every 3 months (if you are religious about maintaining your hair, that is).

Of course, you cannot forget the ‘special occasions’ wherein you’ve to get the hair washed, shined and polished styled and set. Which is another INR 1,500 each setting. Believe it or not, most women have at least one occasion every month for which they need to hit the parlor!

Some of us also enjoy a calming head massage along with the other painful treatments, which means another INR 1,500 each month.

Let’s do the math: 3,000 + 1500 + 650 + 1500 + 1500 = 8150

We’re spending about 8 fricking grand on hair every month! That’s 96,000 a year!

All because we are obsessed with this thing called hair – which grows on every single human being over the age of 12.

Beautiful Bodies

I’ve been following Jade Beall’s “A Beautiful Body” Project for the past few months. The photography project focuses on women’s bodies and the celebration of women’s bodies, just the way they are. No photoshop, no hiding the stretch marks or scars, no thinning, no lifting – just the way women are in every day life.

The photographer is a distant associate and has been shooting these for the past couple of years. Only the past few days, her work has begun to gain media attention. 

Just below the link of her recent article was a post from Vogue magazine about some cosmetic cream and it featured two nude women (the photograph and the content, surprisingly, was removed after a few minutes and no link could be found to it on their website either). But in the few minutes it was there, juxtaposition of the two images hit me quite strongly. Here is a post about tanning cosmetics using natural products or some such thing – no reason why there had to be two nude women (very artistically shot, of course) while another photographer is trying very hard to depict women as beautiful, just the way they are.

There has been a lot of debate about how women are depicted by the media and in the fashion fraternity. Some small circles even tried to get a law against using models below a particular age and weight. 

But most people who I know in the fashion world will object to using ‘healthy’ models. I’m not talking fat here. I’m talking about women who resemble the women on the street.

The reason – this is fashion and it is supposed to have an aspirational value. And these clothes do look better with the right make up and the right frame, which is the thinner frame. It is like it is hanging in your closet and it would look awesome there. 

Photographs by people like Jade would remain just that – a photography project. While scores of women around the world might appreciate the project and even volunteer to be shot, they go back to poring over the pages of fashion magazines and wishing they had better bodies.

We all wish we had better bodies, even the ones who say they are comfortable with what they have. There are moments when you look at a dress and wish you were a little taller, a little fatter, a little thinner, a little fairer, a little less hairier… And if you the pundits, they would say that “this is how it is supposed to be”.

Well groomed has come to include a whole bunch of things that are barely even relevant. Frieda’s bushy eyebrows made news and a movie, But bushy eyebrows were out of vogue and frowned upon till supermodels such as Cara Delevinge and a parade of actresses made it the ‘in’ thing for 2013. Tons of women around the world are probably cheering and throwing their tweezers into the fire. Everyone knows that one of the most painful things about grooming is getting your eyebrows done. You can live with the pain for your upperlip, but the eyebrow… that delicate, thin skin about your eye that is meant as a thin shield? But somewhere down the line, somebody who never had much eyebrow hair made it ‘cool’ to have pencil thin eyebrows. And the rest of the women around the world followed suit, eyes squinting in pain. 

It remains funny and a mystery how and why women follow these painful fashion trends so painstakingly and ignore their real selves completely.

Baby, I’m fat!

Most mornings, the newspaper these days carries at least one article about dressing Aishwarya Rai for Cannes.

The major issue here is the baby weight that she apparently still hasn’t lost, months after she gave birth to a girl. So everyone is out to hide that extra weight or make her wear things that would have her appearing thin and sexy.

Generally, I wouldn’t really give a damn about her… She’s been a fashion disaster on the Cannes red carpet from day 1 anyway. But suddenly, today, I got sick of reading all those bloody fashionistas going on about how she hasn’t lost weight yet, so she needs to wear a sari to drape it away, or a loose gown etc.

And contradicting those ‘fashionista’ statements were photographs from a favorite photographer of mine who gave birth to a boy recently. She is celebrating her curves, is in no hurry to lose weight and is just enjoying spending time with her baby and partner. She also photographs a lot of pregnant women, in the peak of their pregnancy, full tummy and all.

I’m not going all gaga about the power of womanhood and all that stuff here. But isn’t it your basic right to have some space to breathe after giving birth to a new creature? Why should you rush off to lose that weight and look ‘glam’ instead of enjoying your space, the baby and the family?

So what is Aishwarya Rai has puddles of fat around her waist and is a little more chubby? Why should she shed all that weight or wear tummy tucks simply because the society defines ‘sexy’ as thin?

Ironically, there were a ton of pregnant women on the red carpets in the past couple of years. I don’t hear all this fuss about them.

And all this, when there is an ongoing debate about how young girls are already dieting to death because they are supposed to be thin to look good.

Purpose of Fashion Photography

So I began delving a little more deeper into the world of fashion photography. I guess I’m still trying to explore what exactly fashion photography means.  Some people I’ve discovered so far have such strong styles that I believe much of the Indian market would not even look at it. I find some of this work impressive.

But as a photographer still quite new to the professional field, which side should one choose? The traditional, commercial and sometimes predictable way to pay the bills or starve and follow what you believe is creativity?

When my bank account is a little flush, I believe in the latter. And then I realise I have no money for at least a cup of tea and figure sometimes, you have to sell a little bit of your soul.

The minute you attach ‘commercial’ to your photographer tag, you become a businessperson and an artist. In the 21st century, it is sort of possible for both to survive in the same person, though there is a lot of disgust, frustration and such things when you are wearing the business hat.

But back to the topic of Fashion Photographers, I found one woman among the names I scrounged from here and there.

Does a woman’s interpretation of fashion differ? Of course it does! Duh!

Then why aren’t there more women in fashion photography considering we understand and love fashion, what looks good on a woman, how to be sensual or sexy or funny or all those things. Or at least you will know it better when you start thinking about it. And as women, we constantly watch and judge other women as well, be it even in a cafe. We check out shoes, clothes, hair, makeup etc. But apparently such things do not translate more than a pasttime.

Regardless of gender, the viewpoint of photographers from Europe or NY seems to be vastly different from their Indian counterparts. I have barely even scratched the surface of these huge photographer fraternities, but among Indian names there are probably a couple that spring to mind. And I’ve never been too impressed with their work.

Is fashion way too influenced by the movie perspective? Or don’t people care enough about it to innovate and are happy to duplicate?

And is fashion photography, or just photography for that matter only about pretty people? Isn’t there more of a challenge in capturing an interesting face?

I took photo of a very pretty friend a couple of years ago. When I posted it on Facebook, I got a lot of oohs and aahs… but I’d stopped trusting FB as a source of proper judgement on photos. So on Flickr, I got truly beaten. “Pretty face but what’s interesting in the photo” was the common refrain.

There are people who I believe have truly traditional faces, faces that seem all angles and shadows that play beautifully in front of the camera. Of course, the model’s attitude is really important too… but when you are shooting candids, it isn’t about the person having a perfect skin tone, teeth or eyes. It is the story those things are saying.

And there I am, back to talking about candids instead of orchestrated photographs that tell a story. The challenge that lies there, working with all the elements, to tell the story you want to in a single shot. The shot that makes people want to be like the men and women in those shots. Dream and aspire. Is that the purpose of fashion photography?

Or is it merely… a tool for enchancing beauty? Work from the 50s would tell me it is the former… but more recent work I’ve seen makes me believe it is the latter.

Maybe it is time for innovation again.

(These are notes on my journey of photography. I’m still learning and there’s a long way to go. My perspectives will change everyday as I discover my style, likes & dislikes and art forms. This isn’t meant to insult anyone or anything… just an opinion that might change tomorrow, when I’m hopefully wiser.)

Norman Parkinson

It was absolutely empty and the guard on duty reluctantly switched on the lights and the light sitar music.

The Norman Parkison Exhibition at Tasveer Art Gallery.

It had been a long time since I stepped into an art gallery. Exhibitions seemed a little boring, particularly minus the discussions, which I could never make it to.

I had not heard of Norman Parkinson before I heard about this exhibition. Fashion photography is not something I particularly lean towards, or least did not before today.

Parkinson’s photographs were quite illuminating. At first glance, it might seem like you’ve seen it all.

And then you realise that these photographs are at least 50 years old, shot on an analog… 35 mm? and did not have the magic of photoshop. When you add that to your perspective, things change.

I still do not know much about him other than what was on the little notice board there and what little was available on Wikipedia. But I did realise that I liked his sense of humor in photographs and the juxtaposition of his models with the stark Indian background. In some cases, it made the photograph too studied, like the one with a white model, a dark, average Indian kid with temples in the background and white pillars. The contrast seemed to stark and too strong.

My favorite were Wendy and the Cow, it conveyed humor and a sense of a memsahib on her rounds on unfamiliar grounds. I wondered about his technique… and realised that much of that format is still being followed, even if with a harder edge.

Some of that belief comes from watching some recent episodes of Next Top Model. I watch that for the photograph and often wonder what is the point of such juxtapositions. Many models and situations do not appeal to me, yet they are judged the best. Maybe I have much to learn in that area yet…

What did I learn from Parkinson?

That humor is important. Sharp lines, clean lines, the importance of background and clutter. The unreality of a situation mixed with humor can create quite an impression.

True, I probably expected more stronger photographs. But are photographs of old women, young boys and huge landscapes the only form of real art? It is easy to see the strong wrinkles of the face of a Tibetan woman, the innocent smile of a young monk, the sweeping slopes of a desert and the sting of a scorpion in sharp contrast.

Juxtaposition takes a lot more thinking, I realised, even if it isn’t my thing. Several people can think about placing objects against each other. But to create an impact, it needs to have the right amount of contrast. Not shock and awe. Just an impact. Perhaps that is what Mr.Parkinson was trying to do. Perhaps even tell a story… though I felt a little pulled back into the days of the Raj with his photos. These are posed and yet make you ask why is the woman there with the umbrella in what seems to be a market? Why is the woman there with the steps and was she overtaken by the young monks? Who are the people in the boat in the background?

Were these aspects that were planned and included in the photo or just happenstance?

My love for street photography invades some ideas here… and I have to remind myself that this is a ‘planned’ photoshoot. But if it makes one ask such questions, is its purpose achieved? Is the purpose of fashion photography merely showcasing pretty clothes and women or creating an impact, a sense of mystery and story in that particular image?

Even if I was not blown away by his work, it was intriguing enough to bring these questions to mind. And I guess that is purpose solved.