‘Uneasy bodies: Affect, Embodied Perception, and Contemporary Fashion Photography’ in Carnal Aesthetics: Transgressive Imagery and Feminist Politics.

Art today is an increasingly multifaceted phenomenon,encompassing transgressive works that intervene in war,inequalities, ecological disasters and revolutionary changes in technology. Carnal Aesthetics is a fascinating new examination of this aspect of contemporary visual culture. Employing recent theories of transgressive body imagery, trauma, affectivity and sensation, it provides a fresh look at the meeting point between the politics of representation and the politics of perception,through the prismatic lens of feminist theory.

the published version of ‘Uneasy Bodies’ has been poorly edited without my authorisation. The version below is the way it should have appeared …. 

Hard/Softcover: 256 pages
Publisher: I.B.Tauris
(18 Dec. 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1780760132
ISBN-13: 978-1780760131

Uneasy bodies: Affect, Embodied Perception, and Contemporary Fashion Photography

At the back of the Fall/Winter 2005/06 fashion issue of Purple magazine is a 20-page fashion spread – a collaboration between model Kristin McMenamy and fashion photographer Juergen Teller. The images, which feature McMenamy in a selection of haute couture frocks, are mildly unsettling. Originally shot as part of Marc Jacobs’ 2006 advertising campaign, they are by no means unique in using disquieting imagery to sell clothes – indeed, the bizarre, the grotesque, the abject, and the ugly have become something of a commonplace in fashion photography of the past decade or so. Not only does Teller’s spread gather together a number of these trends, it also crystallizes a feeling of frustration that has preoccupied me ever since I began looking critically at contemporary fashion images some years ago. This frustration arose out of a growing sense of the limitations of conventional forms of photographic criticism – in particular, poststructuralist semiotics – in addressing questions of meaning in recent fashion photography.

In the following paper, I argue that the biological registers of image perception play a significant role in the meaning of fashion images. In making this argument, I position myself alongside a growing body of theorists such as Mark B. N. Hansen, Brian Massumi, Vittorio Gallese, and others who examine the ways that body and brain functions colour the perception of images. This approach is not, of course, restricted to fashion photography, but it has special relevance to those photographic genres that trade on images of the body. There is a degree of anxiety, within visual and cultural theory, around the incorporation of the body and its biology into accounts of meaning and meaningfulness. Concerns have been raised about the lack of a common vocabulary between the humanities and the sciences, and about the methodological pitfalls involved in incorporating biological models into a cultural studies context. Seldom, however, have critics declared the two domains to be innately or categorically incompatible. Perception is a complex and nuanced process that stretches across multiple fields of analysis, and biological models can open up new ways of understanding this process.

It’s worth noting that semiotic analysis forms the foundation of some important early work around fashion and fashion images in fields such as photography, gender studies, and feminist media studies. A touchstone for the critique of fashion images, Roland Barthes’ seminal text The Fashion System, written between 1957 and 1963, positions fashion and fashion photography within a semiological framework, arguing that real garments are meaningful not simply as objects, but as signs.[i] The notion of the fashion image as inherently textual has shaped much of the subsequent critical literature on fashion photography.[ii] Within feminist and gender studies, fashion advertisements have been indicted for mobilizing a set of normative and often debasing signifiers of femininity.[iii] Critical studies of fashion and advertising habitually treat photography as part of a wider signifying system – that of ‘fashion’ – through which social meanings are communicated.[iv] Such analyses, and others like them, assume the fashion photograph as an ideological agent and a vehicle through which a range of culturally recognizable meanings is transmitted.

Semiology, as Hans Belting writes: ‘does not allow images to exist beyond the controllable territory of signs, signals, and communication.’[v] The issue of control is a timely one. Fashion in the new millennium is dominated by a handful of luxury conglomerates (such as LVMH, PPR, and Richemont) who own most of the major fashion labels.[vi] Advertisers today have unprecedented economic and taste-making powers; significantly, they also have a substantial stake in the look of editorial fashion imagery.[vii] Yet within this oppressive scenario, fresh new approaches to fashion photography have flourished. Leaving aside ‘trite hang-ups about “meaning”’[viii], many contemporary fashion photographers have begun to explore more nuanced modes of representation. Some, like Teller, have explored the body as imperfect and bluntly visceral. Others, like Terry Richardson and Anne de Vries, have engaged reflexively with the performative nature of image-making, creating images that ‘call into question just why we are looking’.[ix] Such work is part of a wider trend towards the production of images which quite literally incorporate the viewer in the production of meaning. This shift has taken place alongside a blurring of media boundaries which has seen fashion photography incorporated into broader critiques of fashion media – critiques that examine the impact of digital technologies on the perception of images, bodies, and the self. Even analyses which ostensibly deal in semiotics and content analysis struggle to reconcile interpretation with more visceral and less easily articulated responses to fashion photographs.[x] The image-as-text model makes less sense in this context; analyses of fashion photography which restrict themselves to the reading of images risk overlooking nuances of meaning that are incorporated in the process of perception more broadly conceived.

In the following essay, I suggest ways that theories of affect and embodied perception can help us to understand this process. Such theories have proliferated over the past decade or so in response to poststructuralism’s alleged failure to address the role of the body in accounts of meaning and subject formation. As an idiom, affect appears in a growing number of disciplines and a range of different critical guises. Derived from the Latin affectus­ – which can be translated as ‘passion’ or ‘emotion’ – it is often used as synonym for these terms, but it has also come to be theorized as a cognitive mode operating between biology and the socius. Broadly defined, affect, and affective response, refers to mental and somatic resources mobilized in response to stimulus events, experienced in consciousness and registered by the body – mobile forces circulating and mediating between body and intellect, physiology and mind. Understood as the root of psychic life and the foundation of meaning, affect is characterized in part by its resistance to sociolinguistic qualification; as a category, it resists critique and lacks a precise theoretical vocabulary.

The ‘affective turn’ in cultural theory has been criticized for installing ontology in the place of epistemology – replacing poststructuralism’s focus on discourses of truth and knowledge with the supposed truth of a material body that is somehow outside of cultural shaping.[xi] Significantly, however, though such critiques take issue with exaggerated claims of the body’s autonomy and with the reductive deployment of biology as an endorsement of this autonomy, few go so far as to claim that scientific accounts and material bodies have no place within cultural criticism. Rather, they seek to remind us that affect needs to be understood ‘in the context of social narratives and power relations’.[xii] The following paper builds on these suggestions while responding to indictments of affect’s alleged independence from culture. It shows how work – by writers such as Isobel Armstrong, Mark B. N. Hansen, and Brian Massumi – seeks to bring accounts of the biology of perception into dialogue with such narratives and relations. Such texts frame affect’s difference from the social world it subtends as complementary, rather than contradictory.

Sara Ahmed remarks that second-wave feminism’s ‘commitment to rich description of biological processes … provided a productive point of entry for feminist politics,’[xiii] and the following essay is undertaken in a similar spirit. The notion of both the clothed body and the image as signifying surfaces still dominates analyses of fashion photography; little sustained attention has been paid to the embodied dimensions of image perception, and almost none to theories of affect. It’s not my intention to argue here that semiotics has no place in the analysis of fashion images. Nonetheless, such images are explicitly addressed to embodied subjects, and somatic or bodily responses are integral to the way that they come to mean. As Paasonen writes, ‘[bodily] sensations and arousals do matter, yet their meaning is far more complicated and slippery an issue because the mattering does not primarily concern signification.’[xiv] Focusing on the synergies between materiality and signification – examining the image as a site of affective labour – the following essay deploys affect as a way of approaching meaning not just in terms of formal, semantic, and ideological coding, but in terms of the visceral responses that subtend this coding. It posits these responses as intentional corporeal dimensions that function in concert, beneath the level of conscious awareness and cultural qualification, but in communication with it. It is concerned with several linked questions: What is to be gained by bringing the body, and affect, into a critical discussion of fashion photography? If affect comprises qualia that cannot be expressed in language, (how) can it be mobilized in a critique of images? How can affect be made to work in parallel with (rather than simply in opposition to) an existing critical vocabulary that is based in theories of signification?

The present work offers a preliminary response to these questions by reflecting on the relationship between the visceral and the sociolinguistic dimensions of image perception, between somatic and ideational structures. By tracing the movement and materialization of affect in Teller’s images, I will show how the biological dimensions of image perception work in symbiosis with socially and culturally negotiated expressions of meaning. My intention is not to offer scientific accounts of perception in the place of semiological ones, but to extend the reach of poststructuralist criticism, and to rethink reductive accounts of fashion photography that frame it as little more than a vehicle for the circulation of commodity narratives and exploitive notions of femininity. Situating recent fashion photography in the context of new digital media forms that address the material body, I will argue that such work presents the possibility of creatively resisting determination by hegemonic discourses of fashion, and suggests new ways of thinking through the relations between body and image, surface and depth, the aesthetic and the political.


the biology of affect

The human capacity for affective response is tied to a number of basic functional mechanisms in the brain. The exact nature of these mechanisms is not yet fully known, and is the subject of lively debate in the group of disciplines – such as neurophysiology, developmental psychology, and neuropsychology – that make up the emerging field of cognitive neuroscience. The present paper examines one widely-accepted hypothesis. ‘Simulation theory’ posits that the human capacity for understanding the behaviour of others is facilitated, in part, by the presence of so-called ‘mirror neurons’.

The term ‘mirror neurons’ describes a class of visuomotor neurons in the primate premotor cortex. First observed in macaque monkeys, mirror neurons have been seen to respond both to the performance of particular actions (such as grasping, holding, and manipulating objects), and to the observation of those actions performed by others. Direct observation of mirror neurons is only possible by inserting a probe directly into the neural tissue of a living subject and recording neural activity – a procedure that has yet to be performed on humans. However, other empirical evidence suggests that we share this matching system with our primate cousins.[xv] The same neural structures that are active when we experience particular actions (such as gestures and facial expressions) are also active when these same actions are observed in others.

Simulation theory – or ‘embodied simulation’ – describes how this shared neural circuitry allows us ‘to appreciate, experience and understand the actions we observe, the emotions and the sensations we take others to experience.’[xvi] Embodied simulation supports our capability to detect and comprehend the intentions of others – to form representations of their actions and emotional states and to understand not only what someone is doing, but why they are doing it. This automatic, unconscious somatic activity provides a framework for a variety of interpersonal relations, among them the empathetic reactions that are so important to our perception of images of the body. Freedberg and Gallese have argued that embodied simulation and the feelings of bodily empathy that it generates, plays a crucial role in the perception and aesthetic experience of images.[xvii] Other studies examine the correlation between viewing images of pain or disgust, and the activation of particular areas in the brain associated with the direct experience of such stimuli.[xviii] Research in the emerging field of neuroaesthetics suggests that the aesthetic experience of visual artworks depends upon the triggering of sensorimotor, emotional, and cognitive mechanisms.[xix] Such works are part of a growing body of scientific research that frames human cognition as dependent upon somatic input, and perception as an amalgam of symbolic, rational, neural, and sensate components. As far as visual media are concerned, there are clear links between perception, embodiedness, and empathy. The perception of images involves seeing and reading, but also, importantly, it involves feeling.


affective images and embodied meaning

Though affect is rooted in the body, it is not independent from the domain of ideology and signification. Affect may lie outside the domain of culturally qualified form, but it operates in concert with it – the relationship between the two is one of symbiosis rather than antagonism. The title of Brian Massumi’s seminal article ‘The Autonomy of Affect’ is often taken too literally in this respect. Rather than positing affect in opposition to the social, Massumi frames mind and body as mutually resonating levels, ‘recapitulating the same image/expression event in different but parallel ways, ascending by degrees from the concrete to the incorporeal…’.[xx] The autonomy of affect, he writes, lies in the extent to which it supports the possibility of culturally qualified experience.[xxi] Affect is back-formed, culturally embedded and historically specific: it is bound up with the social and exists in a reflexive relationship with it. Affective, embodied responses form part of the matrix out of which cultural meaning arises.

Though affect has no semantic content as such, and cannot be directly transcribed or fixed in an image, it has a relationship with representation. Affect is manifest in images as a trace or index of processes and events that take place before meaning is expressed. Images, for their part, act to amplify and modulate affect, though not in logical or predictable ways.[xxii] The intensity of an image – its affective charge – is fundamental to its semantic substance, but it is not linked to this substance in a straightforward way:

Affect … is an ambiguous, alternating force. … It belongs to a chain of discourse and breaks it: it alternates between being bound and unbound, attached to signification and rupturing it. It is essentially an energy of the ‘between’ …. Thus it has the role of conjoining and disjoining, making and unmaking… The concealing and revealing, exposing and masking process which belongs to affect is structurally tied to the possibility of meaning.[xxiii] (italics added)

Affect is a medium rather than a message – a dynamic modality by which new sensibilities and thought patterns make their way into representation. More than simply an accessory to meaning, affect is the ‘force of potentiality’ that brings life to representation. Affect animates, it fills signification; it is ‘that which is imperceptible but whose escape from perception cannot but be perceived, as long as one is alive.’[xxiv] Affect is the foundation of meaning: without soma, there can be no sign.

Images, as Sarah Pink contends, are generators of meaning.[xxv] Rather than simply ‘containing’ meaning, the latter emerges in/as a productive process incorporating images, embodied viewers, and the contexts in which images are produced, circulated, and consumed. Hans Belting argues similarly that images do not exist by themselves, but happen in/as an interchange with the body of the viewer.[xxvi] New media theorist Mark B. N. Hansen argues that new media forms, which foreground the multisensory character of human perception, function as cultural actors rather than simple texts. Drawing on Bergson’s notion of affection as ‘that part or aspect of the inside of our body which we mix with the image of external bodies’,[xxvii] Hansen suggests that visual technologies like the camera and the computer broaden the scope of human agency in the world by extending the body’s capacity for ‘enframing’ – perceptually ‘completing’ images by incorporating the subject’s own carnality and sensory memories into their meaning. This completion or performance of an image involves more than the instantiation of pre-existing codes: ‘It is a poesis, the making of something out of that which was previously experientially and culturally unmarked …’.[xxviii] Situated in the context of new media forms that address the body, the fashion image can be understood as an actor that is ‘irreducibly bound up with the activity of the body’,[xxix] and possessed of the capacity to affect the viewer in ways that resist interpretation.

Evaluating the affective dynamics of an image, then, is not a matter of naming specific affects, but of paying attention to the way that they circulate within images, both converging with interpretation and interfering with it. Affect may hide from the analytical gaze, but it is bound up with meaning: haunting signification like a phantom, affect shows itself in/as a kind of excess. Isobel Armstrong frames this excess in terms of the ‘prosody of the body’ – the irruption of the soma into the event of seeing – and the ‘prosody of the gap’ – those moments of semantic disruption, ambiguity, and unqualifiable sensation within representation that signal the presence of the intentional body.[xxx] In Teller’s spread, these excesses and prosodies emerge in and through McMenamy’s uncomfortable body and our empathetic responses to it, in the uneasiness of the interface between clothing and the body, emotion and expression, surface and depth.

The uneasy body and the fashionable self

Teller and McMenamy have been collaborating for over a decade, and many of their projects – beginning with the iconic ‘Versace’ series of 1997 – work the language of the abject, presenting the female body as raw, graceless, and confrontationally real. In the place of beauty, sensuality, and luxury, they offer the unsightly, the unappealing, and the seedy. Shot in Teller’s signature low-tech snapshot style – an idiom that has become something of a cliché in art and fashion imagery – the Purple spread draws on the rhetoric of bondage and amateur pornography. Known for her nonconformist persona and unconventional looks, McMenamy is Teller’s beau ideal, the perfect incarnation of his eccentric approach to the imaging of fashion.

Though he works predominately within the world of high fashion, Teller does not fit easily into the category of commercial photographer. He understands his images as determined, first and foremost, by their commercial context, but his advertising work for Marc Jacobs allows him an unusual degree of creative freedom. Communicating directly with the designer rather than through an advertising team, Teller is free to work in a way that is seldom possible in the context of more mainstream fashion advertising. Purple magazine itself is positioned explicitly within this counterculture, art/fashion niche, and presents Teller’s images in the twinned contexts of art and fashion editorial. Though it was created as advertising, the spread lies, to some extent, outside of its determinations proper.

For this particular campaign, Teller and Jacobs sought a ‘certain romanticism and punkiness and aggressiveness.’[xxxi] Considered alongside the spread’s context and the rhetorics it employs, this description helps us to situate the work, and to offer a limited reading of it, but it is unable to account for its effect – there remains an excess, an intensity that is far less easily described. Marked by visual inconsistencies, lacunae, and gaps of meaning, the spread frustrates attempts to read. Its presentation is ungainly – images appear overexposed and shot from odd angles, it is erratically paced, its layout conspicuously naïve. Here, as in most of her work with Teller, McMenamy does not demonstrate the kind of self-possession that we expect of a fashion model. She appears inarticulate, even schizophrenic: by turns passive, powerful, and vulnerable, androgynous and feminine, expressionless and animated, confrontational and withdrawn. This lack of a coherent persona introduces a disturbing anomaly into the rhetoric of amateur porn – McMenamy is not predictably sensual, vulnerable, or willing. She lacks composure, and also, apparently, the ability to compose herself into a consistent, meaningful image.

This irrationality is both semantic and somatic, surfacing in the treatment of her body as an image, an instrument, and a carnal object. Although the conventional fashion pose may have little to do with real-world actions, it is nonetheless part of a lexicon that provides a context and identifies it as a pose. McMenamy and Teller parody or refuse this lexicon. In the first three images in the spread, Teller’s flash captures her in motion, face contorted and head rolling wildly. In other images, she flops forward limply, or stands stiffly, feet jutting out at odd angles and arms awkwardly akimbo. Her postures bear little relation to real-world actions or to conventional fashion images. Indeed, many of the attitudes in which Teller has captured her don’t make sense in any context, except perhaps that of modern dance. Even here, the impression is less of a body captured in motion, than of one caught in an unsteady state between one pose and the next. McMenamy lacks the physical grace and control that we expect of either a model or a dancer. Hers is an ungainly, poorly-managed body, passive and inert in one image, violently contorted in the next. Her postures and expressions lack meaning in a conventional sense – they are felt in the body, rather than rationalized by the intellect.

Representations of the body are perceived, in part, in terms of our own experience of embodiedness. We don’t simply read postures and gestures, we translate our external perspective on the body into our own personal body perspective, incorporating its attitudes in our own skin and bones, muscles and viscera. Confronted with these images, we empathize with McMenamy’s discomfort, mapping her contortions onto our own body, recognizing, on a bodily level, that her physical circumstances could be our own. Here, the exchange between image and viewer is an uneasy one, and this discomfort is exacerbated by the absence of any kind of rational correspondence between McMenamy’s contorted poses and her facial expressions, which provide little in the way of emotional cues. Most often, her demeanour is one of bland neutrality; even when she meets the viewer’s gaze, there is no clear intention in her look – at times it displays the vague inwardness of a trance. Rather than guiding our attention, McMenamy’s equivocal facial expressions are difficult to read in concert with her postures. Instead of lending meaning to her contortions, they render them more opaque. McMenamy doesn’t let us in, and her zombie-like state (like that of a body animated by a will that is not its own) parodies the model’s conventional role.

This dysfunctional relationship between interior and exterior is also enacted at a cultural level, in Teller and McMenamy’s staging of the clothed body. Dress has an intimate relation with the skin; it is both an ‘intimate experience of the body and a public presentation of it’.[xxxii] As the interface where the individual’s experience of their own body engages with the socius, clothing is charged with tactile and sociocultural memories. Fashion images typically present the relation between clothing and the body in an affirmative way, using the drape and texture of fabric to evoke the sensual pleasure of its touch against the skin. In Teller’s photographs, however, this touch is slightly repellent. In most of the images McMenamy appears half-dressed or wrongly clothed. A red velvet strapless dress sits precariously low on her small bust; a high-waisted black taffeta frock imprisons her in its folds. Silks, satins, and velvets – materials that should drape and caress – appear stiff and cumbersome. Teller’s flash reflects harshly off their surface, giving them a plasticky sheen or a gunmetal opacity that obscures the shape of both dress and model. McMenamy inhabits her outfits uneasily, and this refutation of fashion’s conventional relationship between clothing and the body is embodied in the opacity and stiffness of the luxury fabrics, in the refusal of tactility and mobility, in a kind of animosity between McMenamy’s body and the clothing she wears. The images call to mind all sorts of unpleasant sensations – the prickling irritation of ill-fitting clothing, the dis-ease of an outfit that doesn’t suit, the withering shame of being seen to be unfashionably dressed. In Teller’s spread, the sensual pleasure of the fashioned body is given over to something far less sympathetic – a violent disjunction between surface and depth, between clothing and skin, between the body and the fashionable self.

The fashion photograph is, at heart, a sales pitch. As advertising, however, Teller’s images do more than they are intended to. It has been argued that fashion images participate in an affect economy in which the body’s affective capacities act as sites of capital investment, and in which value is produced by the channelling and modulation of affect.[xxxiii] Such channellings and modulations, however, are far from straightforward. Affect is not easily manipulated – one cannot simply create a fashion image that will engender predictable or programmatic sensations in its audience. To ask what strategies Teller has used to persuade us to empathize with his model is to miss the point – he hasn’t explicitly or consciously done anything at all in this respect. The creation of a good fashion image (or any image, for that matter) relies, in no large part, on intuition: on remaining open to the possibilities that constitute the creative act. As Teller himself remarks: ‘You have something so extreme in front of you, the location, clothes, her, you can’t blindly photograph it, it’s such an extraordinary thing, you have to sit back and look at it a bit… there’s something so extraordinary happening, you haven’t seen that before, you look, and physically experience what you’re looking at, and I’m thinking, how do I capture this the best…’.[xxxiv] The perfect image is discovered, not determined. As Sarah Pink has so astutely observed about bullfight photography, these images ‘are only possible because they are part of the photographer’s movement with the performance, his or her corporeal engagement with it. … Viewing the performance as a photographer is therefore not simply a visual practice. Neither is the practice of viewing …’.[xxxv]

concluding thoughts

Fashion, by some accounts, exists only in the form of the image.[xxxvi] Fashion photography, for its part, is said to treat the body as a semantic surface rather than a sensual object: ‘a non-body that only exists as a constantly updated simulacrum’.[xxxvii] The colonization and privileging of the visual by fashion and the fashion media can be understood in the context of late modernity, and the specialization of the senses as a political force designed to homogenize and normalize individual bodies. By re-functioning the senses individually, as utilitarian instruments, modernity sets aside the synaesthetic character of perception in order to accommodate it more easily within official and institutional narratives.[xxxviii] It’s tempting to slot work like Teller’s into this apparatus, dismissing it as nothing more than a canny advertising gimmick designed for a knowing – but ultimately no less easily manipulated – audience of fashion insiders who are at ease with its edgy rhetoric and arty self-referentiality. But this seems to me too easy a dismissal of the complex inconsistencies that are incorporated in these images and others like them, where a spectacular, socially coded, aspirational body coexists with a carnal body that might be mine. Such images present the relation between the body and the fashionable self as neither straightforward nor superficial.

Teller and McMenamy offer a fashioned body that belies its alleged superficiality; here, the body is made not just visible, but tangible, sensible, present within the order of fashion. In disturbing the order of depth and superficiality that is said to typify the fashion image, Teller’s images posit the existence of a differently configured sensorium, one that runs counter to fashion’s alleged obsession with spectacle. His work – indeed, much contemporary fashion photography – might be said to mark the difference between a vision-centered model of perception and a body-centered one: the difference between what Laura U. Marks terms an ‘optic visuality’ – one that masters through distanced vision – and a ‘haptic visuality’ that values the proximate, and engages a range of sensory modalities.[xxxix] Situating Teller’s spread in the context of new media forms recognizes the way that his images, and others like them, acknowledge and incorporate affectivity – the ‘bodily modalities of tactility, proprioception, memory, and duration’[xl] – into meaning. Here, the formation of the fashionable subject is a disorderly, visceral affair, and this viscerality – a ‘feeling’ about the image that is bound up with interpretation, but which is not easily teased apart from it or expressed in language – makes space for the emergence of unexpected affects that meddle with fashion’s spectacular logic.

By allowing a disorderly body into the hermetically sealed world of fashion, Teller’s images, and others like them, play, in unpredictable ways, on fashion photography’s dealings in tactility and sense memory. By privileging the somatic body – flawed, individual, capricious – in our encounter with the image, Teller’s spread presents dress not as a means of disguising the body, but of displaying its vulnerability, its naked carnality. Rather than an explicit refusal of the logic of fashion, this is a lateral movement, born out of the reciprocal exchange between signification and sensation. Incorporated into Teller’s spread, inseparable from it, is a sense of what Sianne Ngai terms ‘affective indeterminacy’[xli] – a how or a why, rather than the more resolute want that we’ve come to expect from fashion imagery. It is a truism that fashion advertising shows us our own desires, plays on our sense of lack, invites us to imagine possible future selves – to reflect not on who we are, but on who we might be. Affect turns this dynamic on its head. Bodily empathy is a discourse of the same: ‘who we might be’, in Teller’s images, is deeply and inescapably rooted in the present and the personal.

We empathize, on a bodily level, with McMenamy, because bodily empathy is a vital and visceral part of image perception – it is part of what embodied subjects do with images. Dress, as Entwistle[xlii] points out, is incomplete without a body; so, I would suggest, is fashion photography – and this appeal to the carnal lies at the heart of its ability to move the viewer. Affect is the body’s address to the self, shared in terms of its generative possibility, but not necessarily in its expression. Affect is transformative precisely because of its ability to move between the intimate, the idiosyncratic and the individual, and the public or institutional. It is in the mattering of perception that images become political: paying attention to the affective and embodied dimensions of image perception can lead to new ways of understanding how such images can embody not conformity, but political divergence. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that in the face of the tightly controlled economies of contemporary fashion and its representation, the heterogeneous, unpredictable body – a body that is the substance of something more fundamental than fleeting desire – should make its presence so openly known. Acknowledging the part played by this body in the creation of meaning opens the possibility of a more personal, critical engagement with fashion imagery, and allows us to move beyond narrow notions of fashion photography as concerned solely with the manipulation of desire for commercial ends. It suggests that we reconceptualize fashion’s fascination with the radically, constantly new in terms of creativity rather than a shallow obsession with novelty, and that we locate the emergence of the new in a movement which, like the fashioned bodies it depicts, is at once visual and visceral, personal and social.

[i] Barthes, Roland, The Fashion System (Berkeley & Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1992).

[ii] See, for example, Calefato, Patrizia, ‘Fashion and Worldliness: Language and Imagery of the Clothed Body,’ Fashion Theory Vol. 1 No. 1 (March 1997), pp69-90; Jobling, Paul, Fashion Spreads: Word and Image in Fashion Photography Since 1980 (Oxford & New York: Berg Press 1999); Lehmann, Ulrich, ‘Fashion Photography’, in Chic Clicks: Creativity and Commerce in Contemporary Fashion Photography, (ICA Boston & Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2002).

[iii] Bordo, Susan, ‘Never Just Pictures’, The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader, Amelia Jones, ed. (London & New York: Routledge, 2003), pp454-465; Goffman, Erving, Gender Advertisements (New York, Harper & Row, 1979).

[iv] Barnard, Malcolm, Fashion as Communication (London: Routledge, 2002); Goldman, Robert, et. al., ‘Commodity Feminism’, Critical Studies in Mass Communication, No. 8 (1991), pp333-351.

[v] Belting, Hans, ‘Image, Medium, Body: A New Approach to Iconology’, Critical Inquiry Vol. 31, No. 2 (Winter 2005), pp302-319, p304

[vi] LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) is the world’s largest luxury goods conglomerate, comprising fashion and leather goods, wines and spirits, perfumes, cosmetics, watches, jewellery, and selective retailing. They own a range of fashion brands, including Louis Vuitton, Loewe, Céline, Kenzo, Givenchy, Fendi, Pucci, Thomas Pink, and Donna Karan. PPR owns the Gucci Group, who in turn own Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Sergio Rossi, and Boucheron. Swiss Group Richemont owns Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Montblanc, Chloé, Azzedine Alaia, and Net A Porter.

[vii] As Jason Evans writes, ‘at many magazines, editorial discussions-which once began with a dialogue about concepts and themes now start off with a list of advertisers, both actual and desired, in order to ensure an even return of back-scratching. The fashion stylist’s selection of objects to feature is compromised before the story is even proposed, and his or her position is often devalued to one of wardrobe manager. See Evans, Jason, ‘The Artist Formerly Known as Fashion Photography,’ Aperture no. 195 (Summer 2009) p. 48-57, p54.

[viii] Ibid., p54.

[ix] Ibid., p55.

[x] Crane, Diana, ‘Gender and Hegemony in Fashion Magazines: Women’s Interpretations of Fashion Photographs’, The Sociological Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 4 (1999), pp541-563; Wallerstein, Katherine, ‘Thinness and Other Refusals in Contemporary Fashion Advertisements’, Fashion Theory Vol. 2 No. 2, (June 1998), pp129-150.

[xi] Ahmed, Sara, ‘Imaginary Prohibitions: Some Preliminary Remarks on the Founding Gestures of the ‘New Materialism’.’ European Journal of Women’s Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2008), pp23-39; Hemmings, Clare, ‘Invoking Affect,’ Cultural Studies, Vol. 19 No. 5 (September 2005), pp548-567; Papoulias, Constantina, & Felicity Callard, ‘Biology’s Gift: Interrogating the Turn to Affect,’ Body & Society, Vol. 16 No. 1, (2010) pp29-56.

[xii] Hemmings, ‘Invoking Affect’, p562.

[xiii] Ahmed, ‘Imaginary Prohibitions’, p30.

[xiv] Paasonen, Susanna, ‘Disturbing, Fleshy Texts: Close Looking at Pornography’, Working with Affect in Feminist Readings: Disturbing Differences, Marianne Liljeström & Susanna Paasonen, (eds.) (London & New York: Routledge, 2010), pp58-71, p67.

[xv] Gallese, Vittorio, & Alvin Goldman, ‘Mirror Neurons and the Simulation Theory of Mind-Reading’ in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 2, No. 12 (December 1998), pp493-501; Schreiber, Darren, ‘Political Cognition as Social Cognition: Are We All Political Sophisticates?’ The Affect Effect: Dynamics of Emotion in Political Thinking and Behaviour, Neuman, W. Russel, et. al., eds., (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp 48-70; Schulkin, Jay, ‘Theory of Mind and Mirroring Neurons’, Trends in Cognitive Neurosciences, Vol. 4, No. 7 (2000), pp252-254.

[xvi] Gallese, Vittorio, ‘The Manifold Nature of Interpersonal Relations: The Quest for a Common Mechanism’, Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences vol. 358, no. 1431 (Decoding, Imitating, and Influencing the Actions of Others: The Mechanisms of Social Interaction) 29 March, 2003, pp517-528, p525.

[xvii] Freedberg, David & Vittorio Gallese, ‘Motion, Emotion and Empathy in Esthetic Experience,’ Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 11, No. 5 (May 2007), pp197-203;

Freedberg, David & Vittorio Gallese, ‘Mirror and Canonical Neurons are Crucial Elements in Esthetic Response,’ Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 11, No. 10 (October 2007) p411.

[xviii] Benuzzi, Francesca et. al., ‘Does it Look Painful or Disgusting? Ask Your Parietal and Cingulate Cortex’, The Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 28, No. 4 (23 January 2008), pp923-931.

[xix] Di Dio, Cinzia & Vittorio Gallese, ‘Neuroaesthetics: A Review’, Current Opinion in Neurobiology, Vol. 19 (2009), pp682-687.

[xx] Massumi, Brian, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2002), p32.

[xxi] Massumi, Parables for the Virtual, p35.

[xxii] ‘The relationship between the levels of intensity and qualification is not one of conformity or correspondence but rather of resonation or interference, amplification or dampening.’ Massumi, Parables for the Virtual, p25.

[xxiii] Armstrong, Isobel, The Radical Aesthetic (Oxford & Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2000), p123.

[xxiv] Massumi, Parables for the Virtual, p36.

[xxv] Pink, Sarah, ‘Sensory Digital Photography: Re-thinking ‘Moving’ and the Image,’ Visual Studies. Vol. 26, No. 1 (2011), pp4-13.

[xxvi] Belting, Hans, ‘Image, Medium, Body: A New Approach to Iconology, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Winter 2005), pp302-319.

[xxvii] Henri Bergson, quoted in Hansen, Mark B. N., New Philosophy for New Media (Cambridge Massachusetts and London UK: Routledge, 2004), p100.

[xxviii] Seremetakis, C. Nadia, (ed.), The Senses Still: Perception and Memory as Material Culture in Modernity (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2004), p7.

[xxix] Hansen, New Philosophy for New Media, p10.

[xxx] Armstrong, The Radical Aesthetic, p124.

[xxxi] Teller, Juergen, Interview with the Author, London, UK, September 2009.

[xxxii] Entwistle, Joanne, The Fashioned Body: Fashion, Dress, and Modern Social Theory (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2000), p7.

[xxxiii] Clough, Patricia Ticineto, ‘Introduction’, The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social, Patricia Ticineto Clough, (ed.) (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2007), pp. 1-33; Wissinger, Elizabeth, ‘Always on Display: Affective Production in the Modeling Industry’, The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social, Patricia Ticineto Clough, (ed.) (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2007), pp. 231-260.

[xxxiv] Teller, Interview with the Author, 2009.

[xxxv] Pink, ‘Sensory Digital Photography, p11.

[xxxvi] Evans, Caroline, Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity, and Deathliness (Boston: Yale University Press, 2007).

[xxxvii] Lehmann, ‘Fashion Photography’, p14.

[xxxviii] Seremetakis, The Senses Still, 1994.

[xxxix] ‘The ideal relationship between viewer and image in optical visuality tends to be one of mastery, in which the viewer isolates and comprehends the objects of vision. The ideal relationship between the viewer and image in haptic visuality is one of mutuality, in which the viewer is more likely to lose herself in the image, to lose her sense of proportion. … Haptic visuality implies making oneself vulnerable to the image, reversing the relation of mastery that characterizes optical viewing.’ Marks, Laura U., The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2000), pp184-5.

[xl] Hansen, New Philosophy for New Media, p100.

[xli] Ngai, Sianne, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge & London: Harvard University Press, 2005).

[xlii] Entwistle, The Fashioned Body.