Steven Meisel Takes Crude Approach In Oil-Spill Fashion Spread


The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers, destroyed wildlife, did untold harm to the Gulf coast ecosystem and brought economic hardship to communities dependant on the fishing and tourism industries.

And as Steven Meisel points out in a new fashion story in Vogue Italia, the oil spill is also super-duper yucky.

The new issue contains a 24-page story, “Water & Oil,” showing model Kristen McMenamy covered in thick, crude oil and collapsed on a rocky coast like an oil-drenched shorebird, if a shorebird wore designer clothes.

The fashion blog has blasted the layout in terms widely quoted on other Web sites:

“Creating beauty and glamour out of tragedy seems quite fucked up to us, not to mention wasteful and hypocritical, seeing as thousands of dollars of luxury clothing was flown in, and then subsequently ruined for the shoot. Glamorizing this recent ecological and social disaster for the sake of “fashion” reduces the tragic event to nothing more than attention-grabbing newsstand fodder.”

To me this story misses the mark as either social commentary or fashion photography, but not everyone agrees. As of last night, the post on had 107 comments. The reactions generally fall into one of five categories (with some overlap between them):

1.    It’s a brilliant artistic or political statement,  that raises awareness of the costs of the disaster by using the model as a metaphor for all the fauna and flora that have been destroyed.  The commentators in this category either thought a fashion magazine was a great venue for such a topic, because it brings an important message to a new audience, or saw no connection between the consumerism a fashion magazine encourages and the demand for more fossil fuels at any cost.

2.    It’s a great effort to bring a serious topic to Vogue Italia readers, but it would have been more effective if the text included suggestions where readers could donate to support those on the Gulf Coast affected by the spill.

3.    It’s an insensitive exploitation of a tragedy.

4.    The photos are bold, brilliant and beautiful.

5.    Steven Meisel is a misogynist.

OK, only two commenters so far fall into category 5.  One notes, however,  that the last time Meisel gave a gloss of topicality to photos he shot for Vogue Italia, it was for his story concerning surveillance, national security, and the curtailing of civil liberties. That time, he showed beautiful women being manhandled by uniformed police. It’s disturbing that when Meisel references an environmental or social problem, he does so by portraying women as victims.

(Image:  © Conde Nast/photo by Steven Meisel)

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