Category Archives: Work in progress

Medium Matters

Four models, represented through fashion illustration, in a line their heads all tilted in tandem
A drawing by Willi Smith of his costumes for “Deep South Suite”, choreographed by Dianne McIntyre for her dance company “Sounds in Motion”, in 1976

Some snippets from our research on the meaning of the medium …

‘… no medium is singular or autonomous: by definition mediums are go-betweens. The second proposal, which follows from the first, is that mediums exist only in relation to one another, within a matrix, and as a means of communication rather than purely as abstract, (self-)reflexive entities. The third is that mediums should not be considered in a reductive but rather in a generative light … The fourth is something we all know but I would like to consider differently, and that is that painting … has historically been prime among such mediums, and prime among them in emphasizing the materiality of medium. Fifth, and finally, mediums are not only their materialities but also their histories – their histories of thought about medium and materialities’. p. 123-4, Carol Armstrong, “Painting Photography Painting: Timelines and Medium Specificities” in Graw, Isabelle and Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, eds., Painting Beyond Itself: The Medium in the Post-medium Condition, (Sternberg Press, 2016)

‘Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication’. p. 8, McLuhan, Marshall, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Affects, (New York, 1967)

‘We must address the image not only as a product of a given medium, be it photography, painting or video, but also as a product of ourselves, for we generate images of our own (dreams, imaginings, personal perceptions) that we play out against other images in the visible world’. p. 2, Hans Belting, An Anthropology of Images: Picture, Medium, Body (Princeton University Press, 2011)

‘The materiality of photographs takes two broad and interrelated forms. First, it is the plasticity of the image itself, its chemistry, the paper it is printed on, the toning, the resulting surface variations […] Second are the presentational forms, such as carte de visite, cabinet cards, albums, mounts and frames, with which photographs are inseparably enmeshed […] Both these forms of materiality carry another key element, the physical traces of usage and time’. p. 4, Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart (eds.), Photographs, Objects, Histories: on the materiality of images (London: Routledge, 2004)

‘It is an essential fact that without the constant reference of its interpretation, fashion could not be perceived. Certain ways of looking could not be seen as more desirable than others, as acceptable or in need of subversion of further exaggeration, without the visual demonstration that pictures provide’ p. 350, Anne Hollander, Seeing Through Clothes (New York: The Viking Press, 1978)

‘What is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media.’ P. 15, Bolter, J. D. and R. Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000)

‘The allure of fashion media lies, in part, in the way they conjure the tactile, sensual associations of being dressed – the feel of fabric against the skin, the weight and drape of clothing as it moves with the body. If the address to the corporeal body is key to the way that fashion media become meaningful, then (how) is this privileged relationship with the body extended and enabled with fashion interactives?’ p. 176, Eugenie Shinkle, “Fashion’s Digital Body: Seeing and Feeling” in Fashion Interactives, in Fashion Media: Past and Present (Bloomsbury, 2013)

‘Clothing, as an extension of the skin, can be seen both as a heat-control mechanism and as a means of defining the self socially. In these respects, clothing and housing are near twins, though clothing is both nearer and elder; for housing extends the inner heat-control mechanisms of our organism, while clothing is a more direct extension of the outer surface of the body’. Pp. 119-20, McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding Media: The Extension of Man (New York, 1964)



Following threads … 

A wide shot of a Zoom meeting containing all the Fashion Interpretations group
Hello! from the Fashion Interpretations group 


When the wonderful Judith Clark and I began talking about setting up a project together, we were keen to involve people whose work we loved and to bring together an international group of inspiring and exciting academics, artists, curators, stylists and journalists. 

We were lucky – everyone we asked said ‘yes’ – just look at the Bio page of the blog to see the incredible range of super talented people we’ve been working with for the past 9 months. By bringing this diverse network together we hoped new ideas and collaborations would be sparked and we have been delighted by the results so far. 

We’ve been speaking to each other regularly – in scheduled online meetings, but also informally by DM, WhatsApp and in person (when that’s allowed), developing our individual projects – as described in the Contributions page of the blog but also importantly, starting to work together to build towards integrated projects that encompass our varied specialisms and approaches. 

One exciting collaboration has been between Elisa de Wyngaert and Richard Haines. Richard visited Antwerp at the start of the year and drew mannequins dressed in contemporary fashions chosen by Elisa from MoMu’s collections. 

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Kutesko and Charles Tepperman have found common interests in the ways people dress when travelling, how they record their own clothing while abroad, and how they document the ways people they encounter when on holiday or business trips dress and style themselves.   

Judith Clark and Olga Vainshtein have found common ground in books aimed at children and the very different trajectories this might take their own work on – for Judith, it’s meant thinking about creating props and attributes after reading Madame de Genlis, for Olga, writing about the multiple iterations of Little Lord Fauntleroy’s elaborate outfits.  

These are just some of the ways sharing our work has enriched our thinking and developed our approaches.  Every meeting has been an exhilarating discussion, full of suggestions, ideas and anticipation for how this project will come to fruition  


Fashion Images – A Work in Progress

In this image we can see a selection of fashion illustrations, presented in books, and a series of notes by Rebecca alongside them
Rebecca’s research


As August sets in, I am looking forward to holidays, and to getting some solid time to work on my contribution to the Fashion Interpretations project. There are two key elements to this – a paper, to be given via Zoom as part of our weeklong series of events in early December (more information on this soon …) and a linked piece of writing that will appear in the special issue of Archivist Addendum that will be published at the end of 2020.

My interest in the ways medium impacts fashion’s meanings has focused on the incredible editorials from interwar high fashion magazines that slip seamlessly between illustration and photography, deploying myriad artists, each with their own style to convey the latest trends. I love the idea of the reader encountering these pages and viewing them as a coherent whole – a rich visual portfolio that takes them through day, evening and resort wear and offers them tactile renderings of fabrics and forms.

I’ve become increasingly obsessed by hybrid images – ones that reference photography and drawing simultaneously, including some of Man Ray’s experimental pictures for a Harper’s Bazaar in the 1930s. Also the way the captions connect with, or simply sit alongside images, extending the meanings that become attached to the clothes themselves.

So for the next few weeks, in between relaxing, I will be buried beneath a pile of books and magazines, reading endless pages of downloaded articles and staring at 1930s couture, trying to understand the complex meanings of their alluring lines …


In this image we can see a large scale fashion photograph, shot in black and white, presented in books, and a series of notes by Rebecca alongside them
Rebecca’s research