Michael Hoppen Gallery: Sarah Moon 'About Colour' (until 5th April 2014)

Whether you have an active interest in the contemporary art scene or not, you are likely to be aware that the presence of fashion is something that cannot be ignored, neither in pop culture nor art practice. This is why Sarah Moon's current show at the Michael Hoppen Gallery, SW3, particularly appealed to me, as it is always enlightening to see a stance on fashion photography that diverts from the ordinary, alternating between the art of photography and the required attention to the subject matter.

Introducing the artist to gallery visitors, Michael Hoppen Gallery describes Moon's repertoire as "personal commercial and editoral work". Such a possibility seems highly optimistic in this age of exposure and commercial value in photography, however upon regarding Moon's work it is clear that she has a distinctive style, and given that her work has been commissioned for the likes of the New York Times and Chanel, it is her unique take on commercial art and fashion that is able to shift the focus of the viewer from the mundanity of some of her counterparts. Considering the current, constantly controversial state of fashion in the twenty-first century, it is enlightening to encounter Moon's 'Fashion 3, Chanel' piece, pictured below. Her work is certainly not out of date, by neither time nor content. However this does not mean that there are no similarities to be made between past and present; the distinction of the female form suggests the timeless nature of the image. The idealised 'hourglass' figure is reasserted and accentuated, thus advertising the role of the dress. Something that the viewer immediately identifies is the lack of humanity in the image, an issue that is extremely raw in talk of fashion at the moment. It could be inferred that Moon is highlighting the ethics of fashion and its production; as a self-professed 'commercial' artist in this sense, such a protest would be both intelligent and fascinating.

'Fashion 3, Chanel' by Sarah Moon
Image courtesy of www.actualcoloursmayvary.com 

When being discussed, Sarah Moon is generally considered a 'fashion photographer', however needless to say this does not limit her to depict works of pure couture. Displayed directly nighbouring 'Fashion 3 - Chanel' is 'Oiseau des Îles', a stunning portrait of a tropical bird, illuminating the title of the exhibition. The intoxicating, textured blue hues excite the eye, thus drawing attention to the colourful, decorative value of the bird as a decorative purpose over the potent individuality of the subject matter. Again this reinforces the motif of the exhibition, beyond the colour factor. Showcasing how photography, as a medium that depicts and exemplifies excess, ironically loses sight of reality and falls into constant fetishism. 

Each image being presented at the Michael Hoppen Gallery is notable in various ways, with certain feminist interpretations appearing prevalent. 'Fashion 7 - Stockings', pictured below, is certainly not exempt from this, as, although the photograph was only taken seventeen years ago, there is an affinity that the viewer feels between fashion photography past and present. The anonymity of the majority of Moon's models is almost a startling experience for the viewer, especially as generally we are used to the 'supermodel' or, if failing that, ludicrously rich and famous female models of catwalk and commercial fashion. In respect to the time setting of the image, in the twenty-first century we are almost immune to the hyper-sexualisation of what seems like everything in popular culture, from music to fashion and beyond.  This subtle depiction of the naked form teases the interest of the viewer as to the message of the image, in opposition to crude, unadulterated nudity and allows the perfect equidistance between attention of the skill of the artist and the imagery of the item of clothing.


'Fashion 7 - Stockings' by Sarah Moon
Image courtesy of www.actualcoloursmayvary.com

Despite female representation dominating 'About Colour', the viewer cannot help but feel the pressure of the 'male gaze', not just in accordance with the audience for the images (as fashion photography is naturally often aimed at other women) but due to the wider depiction of females in both art and society. Immersed in the patriarchy, we are forced to think about the impact that images such as the aforementioned are having on women. Taking into consideration the impact of fashion photography, which is undeniably and unfathomably huge,  a collection such as this is enhanced, showing how a different angle can make it more interesting and potentially more insightful. 

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