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Olivier Zahm's flash track.

Ready-made exoticism, chic urbanity, squeaky-clean sexuality: by and large the image of fashion that comes at us from the top-end glossies trades on a narrow range of esthetic codes. But fashion - at least fashion that goes beyond ossified convention - happens where the street meets the showroom; however entangled the umbilical cord that joins the two, the connection guarantees life. The most vaunted of couturiers have always been bottom feeders when and where it counts, and today the work of fashion's most innovative photographers, as much as fashion itself, feeds on the culture of the club and street. The new photographers traverse multiple scenes; when it comes to fashion, they are likely to be found backstage, shooting the designs of their peers with little certainty that their pictures will he published. When, in recent years, new fashion images - images that speak the language of now - have made it into print, they have surfaced first at the margins of the fashion industry, in British youth-cult magazines like ID and The Face. Though for photographers and designers alike the transition from youth-pop glossies to the mainstream fashion press can be lightning fast, a handful of young designers have short-circuited traditional channels to create new fashion images. Take an extreme case: Martin Margiela, refusing to allow photographers sent by fashion magazines to shoot his collections, supplies his own images and demands control over layouts in which his designs appear. David Sims and Yohji Yamamoto; Mario Sorrenti and Dolce & Gabbana; Juergen Teller and Helmut Lang: the new face of fashion depends as much on the photographer's efforts to break with received esthetic codes as with the philosophies of the designers themselves. it is to this model of collaboration that Artforum turns: each month, beginning with this issue, a photographer will select a designer and offer up an image (or a few) for publication.

First up: 33-year-old, London-born, Paris/New York-based Mark Borthwick, a former makeup artist who turned to photography after a brief art-school stint in America. His images have appeared in ID, Interview, and Italian Vogue, and he has collaborated with Margiela, Commes des Garcons, and Yamamoto. Working with unprecedented speed, Borthwick interacts with the model in semiperformative situations; the images of fashion that result are characterized by a hybrid status - one somewhere between performance and dance - and they convey a palpable, almost disquieting physicality. (In one recent shoot, he asked the model to wear spike heels and walk on a floor covered in sponges.) It was in photographing the choreography of Martha Graham and William Forsythe that he first began to develop his own photographic style: holding the camera in his hand, he shot the performances without looking into the lens, allowing for the aleatory and the accidental that have come to characterize his fashion shots. Borthwick's work is about the movement of the model through the dead space of the surround, and the serendipity of accidental clutter is as important to his Images as are the garments themselves.

For this series Borthwick presents four photographs taken backstage at the most recent show of Hussein Chalayan. A graduate of St. Martin's College, this 25-year-old designer of Cypriot origin quickly garnered recognition for his use of fabric that is papery in texture but malleable enough to be cut to cling. For Chalayan, the cut, like the choice of materials, is most often guided by his interest in the circulation of information. His first collection, "Cartesia," featured clothing printed with text that was randomly cut off at the seams and thus only partially legible. For singer Bjork's recent tour, Chalayan made beadod dresses decorated with holographic prints. His latest collection, "Nothing/Interscope," featured relatively simple, fitted clothing to which he applied pixilated motifs that appear abstract but are actually digitalized images of flowers and waves designed for him by Japanese illustrators. For Chalayan, these "indelible marks" symbolize the way in which culture modulates, reproducing and preserving itself in virtual reality.

Chalayan and Borthwick share in a decentered vision of fashion - Chalayan moves the garment down the information highway, Borthwick contextualizes it in the real space and time of the encounter between model and photographer. Both have their sights set on fashion's blindspots.

Olivier Zahm is an editor of Purple Prose and a frequent contributor to Artforum.
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Title Annotation:profile on fashion photographer Mark Borthwick
Author:Zahm, Olivier
Publication:Artforum International
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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