Putting images in context…..
To begin with products were displayed in a 2D fashion, and then metamorphosed into 3D whilst also allowing us to interact with and rotate them, and then there were products on mannequins closely followed by real life models. Recently, I have noticed that it is now context which seems to be the new hot trend in visual representation. Today, images do not only need to be hyper-real, but also to be set in some sort of context, a picture for the viewer which allows the imagination to create situations within which the products are incorporated.
This trend is manifesting itself not only in the luxury markets or the high street, but all across the board, as retailers deliver to consumers a raison d’etre to buy their goods.
ASOS was where I first began to notice this trend, as their usual product photos styled in front of a white/grey/black background suddenly started to come to life being shot in the streets of London. The photo below makes me think of a girls night out, walking to a bar or club, or coming home the next day. The dark angel trend is set well in what looks like a back street with steel shutters and rough pavements in the background. It allows me to imagine using the studded shorts or the peek-a-boo dress, as it cleverly maintains some movement in the image.
Burberry is also jumping on this bandwagon, with recent videos on their website including two models mimicking the use of their winter clothes whilst being blustered and blown around by wind and snow. Even though this video is not set in the ‘real’ outside world, I thought that the use of the weather elements and acting by the models was very evocative of walking round in winter in the city. The way the models contract into their coats and scarves reminds me of hurriedly stomping round Manchester, well, all year round with our weather! Check it out!
One of the less successful attempts of context which I have seen is on the Topshop website, which I have to say is a constant source of disappointment to me. In the picture below we are presented with a rather vapid looking model in an equally un-inspiring setting. This does represent the dishevelled, worn-in looking clothes, but doesn’t exactly make me want to hit the mouse clambering for her outfit. If anything it does the exact opposite. What would be better perhaps would be an ironic, contrasting setting to offset the clothes such as the model in a cramped room being totally still and unruffled and ergo standing out. This I think is one shot where context does not make the clothing seem attractive to me, but rather wouldn’t look out of place in Girl, Interrupted…
This Topshop banner ad also shows how a lack of context can make something look tired and static. I wonder whether it would be better for the models to be in context, on a runway perhaps, or walking through a forest in their warm winter coats. Certainly, the roughly photo-shopped cut and paste look has been done to death over the last 5 years. I think it is time that online designers and marketers took more inspiration in the offline world, as the challenge is always to represent the clothes in the most life-like way possible.
Value retailers are also jumping on the contextual bandwagon: New Look are exhibiting their clothes in a chic winter garden, allowing them to be seen in a vivid and engaging way.
Finally, we come to premium brand Jigsaw to show two images, one in context and one in a studio. I think that isolating the clothes in a hyper-real environment does allow viewers to focus on the detailing and the garment itself, but surely the bottom image is more telling of how the clothes will actually fit and interact with the offline world. I can certainly imagine myself wearing the dress in the latter picture, flopping onto the sofa after a large Christmas lunch or after a night on the town. Jigsaw have always produced beautiful fashion photography in the form of a look book, and I cannot wait to see how they progress into moving images in the future.
A final thought I have been having is how sustainable this trend is? Could it be the future that ALL products are styled and presented in animation for us to enjoy? Will the new web designers be fully literate in movie making as well as have flair for more traditional, static design? Comments below please, would love to hear your thoughts!
Rachel Ashman, 05 November 2010