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)

17 Responses to “Steven Meisel Takes Crude Approach In Oil-Spill Fashion Spread”

  1. John McD. Says:

    like we need fashion photography to explain an environmental and social disaster to us? it doesn’t matter how technically good the pictures might be. what a load of crap. what’s next a layout shot in Darfur with starving locals as extras?

  2. Tom Says:

    Predictable, dull, aiming to be intentionally offensive but ends up as just plain dumb

  3. Lee Says:

    Interesting to witness the hypocrisy creative world is when their environmental religion is defamed. When Jesus is defamed the same people defend it as art.
    This is just fashion, people need to get a life and either like it or not but to make this more than that is just hyperbole.

  4. Thomas Toohey Brown Says:

    We could say that urban blight locations unnecessarilly exploit that tragedy…this is edgey. Darkness will always be debated from statements.

  5. kpat Says:

    Well thats fashion for ya ! As we used to say and still say it ain’t brain surgery. If it doesn’t offend it doesn’t attract any attention, otherwise who cares.

  6. Wesley Says:

    tacky, this is fashion???????????????????????

  7. Eduardo Says:

    I ponder a world in which Steven Meisel is denied access to oil and wonder if he would want to occupy it.

  8. Katy Crocker Says:

    Fashion, which pushes its medium to this extreme, verges on fine art. I cannot speak to the fashion industry. However, in the context of contemporary art, the work is quite compelling. The final products (the photographs) are beautiful. Formally speaking, the project has artistic merit. And, isn’t fashion, after all, an art form?

  9. John McD. Says:

    “Edgey”…one of the most overused and imprecise words in the photographic and art world lexicon. Whenever I see it I brace for bullshit. Occasionally I am pleasantly surprised by something genuinely different or daring.

  10. Dave Says:

    Give me a break. If Ryan McGinley or Cindy Sherman had shot these photos and hung them in a gallery, everybody would be calling it brilliant art and cutting social commentary.

  11. Steven Meisel Says:

    I hate critics. You all need to get a grip and respect me for who I am.. an artist. That why I am great. That’s why I over charge the industry because I am great. Remember the Madonna Sex book. Yeah, I did it… and now I’m great. Remember when fashion photographer were not making enough money, I set the new bar, really high, $40,000 a day for me to work.. because I am great. Who cares if millions lost work from the oil spill, I’m on a contract for Conde Nast so I get paid to make art. “Is that oil on my shoe?” “get it off”

  12. will Says:

    A good point, but why so odious?

  13. JD Says:

    @Dave: …except that Ryan McGinley or Cindy Sherman wouldn’t have shot these photos. That’s part of the difference.

  14. André Spinola e Castro Says:

    Plain stupid! Sad! Innocent? I doubt it. Opportunistic? For sure.

  15. -j- Says:

    I love how people here say it sucks. He’s just trying & failing to be offensive, yet EVERYONE here is talking about it. And they are upset. Sound’s like you all fell right into it.

  16. Moi Says:

    He doesn’t portray women as victims. His woman are ALWAYS strong.

  17. Yacouba Tanou Says:

    Great try but visionless result to help broaden public awareness about the oil spill…