If all art embodies, in some fashion or another,  a struggle with the truth—whether to seek it, assert it, define it or even rail against it—photography can be said to be particularly embattled. Unlike other media, photography too often comes burdened with a prepackaged expectation of objectivity—a result of its ability to render minute detail on command. In common parlance, photographic images are “captured” or “taken,” not “made” or “created,” and the process itself—overtly mechanical and scientific in its chemical or computational development—lends itself to notions of technicians, not artists. In short, audiences often ask about the camera; they rarely ask about the paintbrush. REAL Fashion Photography, currently on display at Ringling College of Art and Design, wants audiences to think about that relationship a little differently.

In truth, the medium’s relation to what could be considered reality has been rocky at best. From the staged Civil War photos of Alexander Gardner to the photoshopped and cropped images dominating the displays at newsstands and checkout lines, photographers and critics and consumers alike still grapple with notions of truth versus reality, perception versus appearance and art versus documentation. And this all comes to a point in the highly competitive and continually innovating world of fashion photography, currently being explored in the Lois and David Stulberg Gallery.

Curated by Tom Winchester, the exhibition unites the work of six artists—Emma Bee Bernstein, Natalie Krick, Sloan Laurits, Hao Zeng and the Reed + Rader team of Pamela Reed and Matthew Rader—in an effort to understand how millennials and digital natives are taking the genre of fashion photography into a new chapter, both through use of technology and prominence of social justice. “Superlative examples offer an alternative to the superficiality of the past and advocate for equality,” says Winchester, who incorporated both commercial photography and gallery work for an exhibition of apparent opposites that collide in theme. “The combination allows viewers to see the surprising commonalities between the two seemingly disparate approaches,” he says, “both the commercial and gallery-based works strive for something more real, more truthful, less fake.” 


HAO ZENG  “His works maintain an air of inclusivity that is unique to the millennial era,” says Winchester, who selected both still photography and video work from Zeng for inclusion in REAL Fashion Photography. “These videos beautifully address the advancements of sexual and gender fluidity in our culture, and present voices that today are finally being given their due appreciation.”

EMMA BEE BERNSTEIN  ”Blatantly postmodern,” Bernstein’s work sees the late artist casting herself and her family and friends in a series of constructed photographs seemingly critiquing the contrived nature of fashion photography dominating the pre-millennial scene. “Her work resembles family photography and places the viewer as a member of her inner circle,” says Winchester.

REED + RADER  Where Laurits walks the analog path, Reed + Rader embrace the created world of virtual reality—but both approach realism and truth from a place of the unreal or absurd. “They create an entirely new world that maintains only a tenuous relation to this one,” says Winchester, “yet is also rooted in the human experience.” 

NATALIE KRICK  Similar to Bernstein, Krick constructs photographs for herself and her family to inhabit, but in a more overtly satirical critique of glossy and contrived fashion shoots. “Krick and Bernstein are thematically similar in that they both engage with the fashion system’s role in defining the feminist identity of the millennial era,” says Winchester.