Whilst hunting for photographs to accompany the BA3 course that I am teaching this term at The Courtauld with Dr Rebecca Arnold, entitled ‘Fashion and Photography: viewing and reviewing global images of dress’, I stumbled across an intriguing yet mildly unsettling fashion spread by German photographer Juergen Teller. Commissioned by the German magazine, 032c, for the Winter 2013/14 edition, it captured the veteran 1990s supermodel Kristen McMenamy, now 47 years old and with long silvery-blonde hair, in an 18-piece one-off tribute to Elsa Schiaparelli designed by Christian Lacroix. The series, which draws upon the bizarre, the grotesque and the abject, was shot on a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, and makes use of unsettling trompe l’oeil through eccentric props that include fluffy pompoms, the entrails of a slimy sea creature and the pulpy insides of a watermelon. At times McMenamy is a passive and inert, her long hair flopping forward over her limp naked form that is splattered with dirt and mud, but elsewhere she is active and aware, peeping over a rusting metal fence in bright red and pink pompoms like a demonic Minnie Mouse figure.
Teller first shot an androgynous looking McMenamy in a controversial documentary-style shoot for Suddeutsche Zeitung in 1996. A memorable snapshot from this candid series is tempered with a sleazy provocative charge and features McMenamy standing in a confrontational pose, naked except for a haphazard collection of necklaces and bracelets draped around her neck and wrists. She faces Teller’s 35mm camera directly with an open, nonchalant gaze, her hands placed on her hips, her bare chest thrust forward, and her uncovered crotch fully exposed to the harsh flash. Her pale, bruised and mottled skin is illuminated as she stands against an open doorway, a limp cigarette protruding from the right-hand side of her mouth. Her eyes are heavy-lidded and her appearance is dishevelled, with her hair closely cropped. She bears the label ‘VERSACE’ scrawled in dark red lipstick, encased in a crudely drawn heart, across the centre of her chest. This image, shot in collaboration with Teller, is given a raw, confrontational edge through the pared down gritty ‘realist’ aesthetic that stands out in stark contrast to the faked glamour of high production fashion shoots popular throughout the 1980s. McMenamy has since explained that this shoot was her reaction to having a high profile Versace campaign cancelled at the last minute with no explanation. It was she who scrawled the label across her chest, in an attempt to dispense with the measured and preconceived strategies of glossy high fashion photography, and instead embrace the ugly flip side of the unsightly, unappealing and outright provocative.