Sterben in Schönheit. Zur Inszenierung des Todes in der Modefotografie


  • Burcu Dogramaci



Burcu Dogramaci

Leaving a Beautiful Corpse. The Staging of Death in Fashion Photography

The “dead woman” is a recurrent motif in fashion photography. This is all the more amazing as it seems to undermine the very purpose of fashion photography, which is supposed to make clothes appeal to the consumer so that they may be bought. How can such images promote fashion when the taboo of death is put on display? But despite this apparent contradiction, the photographs of Izima Kaoru, Helmut Newton, or Guy Bourdin are strange and fascinating. In a self-referential manner, the images force the observer to see that fashion always plays with the notion of its own demise.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, cultural philosophers like Georg Simmel, Giacomo Leopardi, and Walter Benjamin wrote about the cyclic nature of fashion, wherein only the “death” of a trend can give rise to a new style. These authors constructed a connection between death, fashion, and women and created the topos of the “beautiful corpse”. Reflections of these ideas can still be found in the works of fashion photographers such as Guy Bourdin or Izima Kaoru, whose work focuses on the very end of life. In the mid-20th century, Bourdin was one of the first fashion photographers to artistically expose the cruelty of high-fashion beauty, referring to the Surrealists. Guy Luchford and Kaoru followed his lead, but intensified the images by even staging fashion deaths.