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Italian Vogue’s oil-spill themed photo shoot: thought-provoking or tasteless?

August 8, 2010
Vogue Italia( All Photos: Vogue Italia)

A new 24-page fashion spread in the September issue of Italian Vogue features model Kristen McMenamy wearing oil-soaked black feathered outfits, withering away on a beach. Famed photographer Steven Meisel shot the controversial Gulf disaster-inspired images of McMenamy caught in nets, spitting up oil, and flopping like a dying seal on rocks. But while the images are powerful and striking, we’re left wondering whether they were done in good taste.

Vogue Italia

Without question the photographs are beautifully constructed, and overwhelmingly dark. They bring about a sense of urgency that makes you want to educate yourself, donate money, or help in clean up efforts. But we do question the intentions of Italian Vogue, and whether or not they wanted to make a poignant statement or merely hoped to get attention by being provocative. We reached out to Italian Vogue for comment, but have not heard back as of press time.

Thus far there is one piece of evidence that leads us to believe this project had a positive objective. The seaweed-style necklace on the cover of the issue (and in several other shots) is made by eco-designer Kathleen Nowak Tucci of My Sister’s Art, and made from recycled inner tubes sourced from the Gulf Coast. She told New York magazine that she did not find Meisel’s spread offensive. “I thought it was disturbing and thought-provoking and utterly fascinating in its interpretation of the struggle for survival,” Tucci told New York via email. “It is controversial and interpretative, which is indicative of great artistic expression.” Knowing that Vogue stylists actively chose to highlight an eco-friendly item from the Gulf makes us feel better about the statement being made.

Vogue Italia

Here is what the fashion world is saying about the provocative photo spread:

“Glamorizing this recent ecological and social disaster for the sake of “fashion” reduces the tragic event to nothing more than attention-grabbing newsstand fodder.” – Refinery29

“It’s at once beautiful and revolting, eye-catching and alienating. So what is it: ballsy fashion journalism rooted in reality, or just a sick glamorization of a traumatic event?” – New York magazine’s The Cut

Vogue Italia

“While the irony of using clothing worth thousands of dollars that was probably flown halfway around the world for the shoot is not lost on us, we can’t help but think that if this isn’t art, we don’t know what is.” – Styleite

“Context is everything, and instead of being moved emotionally, the only actions that seem right in reaction to this inappropriate spread which aims to shock and awe are a wrinkling of the nose and a rolling of the eyes.” – Jezebel

“For fashion Meisel’s photos don’t give you much to take away, but as art the imagery is poignant and intense. And we like to occasionally be reminded that it’s possible for fashion photography to be so.” – Fashionising

“Who does this make you loathe more, BP or the fashion industry?” – Fast Company

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