Models are on the frontline of selling glamour to the public. There are several reasons. Fashion modelling is accessible to more people as it seems to require little more than a pretty face, unlike singing and acting, which require a discernible talent. A global corporate culture uses models to produce engaging images in the various media from print to television. And popstars and other public figures engage in glamour on occasion, fashion models do as a fundamental requirement for their work.
The model’s look is not just part of her work, but is expected to be her lifestyle look as well; it is very much part of her everyday experience. So much so that many agencies scout for the ‘model’ look on high streets in major cities.
For the professional model, the body is simply a marketable entity. The model learns formal gestures and poses that come from a recognisable fashion lexicon. The body of the model is shaped by signification, given a meaning, to create an experience in the viewer.
The look challenges given ideas of bodily features. The open ‘magic’ and inevitability of the look more, or in excess, of the photo; a quality that mixes the changeability and force of the model’s physical presence to make up what is best described as the models affectivity.
These can be expressed in various ways, and if done well, will effect an emotional or affective response in the viewer.
Modelling is work that produces affects in the “form of attention, excitement, or interest so that they may be bought and sold in a circulation of affects that plays an important role in post-industrial economies” (Wissinger, 2016:251).
By referring to modelling as affective work, Wissinger identifies two points at which affect, or “the embodied and sensorial dimensions of experience, is modulated and made productive”. First, the model as embodied agent executes various appearances, expressions and emotions. These are captured on specific media and circulated, and the images then “act on and elicit affective responses from their viewers”.
Models are links in a system through which energies flow. Their work imbues objects and circumstances with power to attract and organise action. The model’s role is to create relationships and a social network that includes both work and play.
By selling a lifestyle, models invite others into a way of living, a web of possibilities that suggest attention, vitality, attractiveness.
Real People as Models
Historically, it has been the beautiful, the wealthy or the famous who are featured in fashion magazines. But since the 40s, the central figure of the fashion photograph - the model - has come from various backgrounds.
Photographers use ‘real’ people found through personal relationships, on the street or elsewhere, to lend their ‘ordinary’ looks to fashion photographs. They are now a significant part of fashion photography.
These new models form a unique marketing strategy designed to appeal to a sophisticated, image savvy public. By doing so, fashion photographers introduced the “everyday and the imperfect into their images”.
The ability to project oneself online with ease and no cost, has encouraged affective labour to be part of people’s lives. Fashion models have made this world visible.