Thursday, October 05, 2006

Editorializing knitwear

There is something odd about the need to editorialize knitting in publications. Rowan does this, and VK really does this. You know, make up a story to go with the knitting that is somehow supposed to contextualize it. "Modern English." These are supposed to be leisure shots of a certain type of woman - English, quirky, stylish. In stark contrast to the "Gray's Anatomy" spread in the same magazine - that woman is modern all the way. She doesn't dye her hair, she owns tons of black, she's a city dweller.

So, does it mean that a small-town girl can't knit a Gray's Anatomy sweater, or that a city gal can't wear Modern English? Of course not. But what works for normal, fashion editorial shoots may not always work for knitting patterns.

Fashion shoots have a cartoon, larger-than-life quality to them. Stiff poses, unlikely contexts and the heavy use of irony (think: a model exaggeratedly eats sushi at a table placed neatly over train tracks) contribute to this unreality. Models are too big for the locations they're in - arms and legs are in danger of going off the page. Bodies pose at exaggerated angles. People stare off into space. Situations that are blatantly not real life are used to up the drama level. Generally, the more realistic the shot, the less drama it contains. (Photographers spend their whole lives creating drama, in a sense. A beautiful image is more than just recording what is physically there.) Drama is one of the hallmarks of fashion photography. Even runway styling reflects this.

So why apply this theory to knitting? Why make the shots over the top? Well, VK doesn't, not really, in the sense of making way over the top, high-fashion spreads that would run in regular Vogue. But they do do it. I think it's partially to lend an air of luxury to knitted items, and in that respect I think it's successful. It's boring to turn page after page of functional but dramaless pictures (devoting my life to magazine art direction is proof that I believe it needs to be done). But in other respects?

Well, what's the number one complaint y'all hear about Vogue Knitting? That's right. Awkward Poses (also known as I Can't See The Sweater I'm Knitting). Knitters may love the look of something, but the plain truth is, we need reality in shots of knitwear. We need to see how the fabric drapes in a normal pose, or how exactly the seams fit together. More importantly, we need a sense of the model's figure left unaltered by contortionism. Because most of us knit things we see on models that we think would fit us the same way. In this sense, the concept of Interweave Knits using a portrait photographer to shoot the knitwear is pretty inspired. Say what you will about the aesthetics (and I could do a whole nother post on their cover design), but you can generally see what you're supposed to knit.

Update/Edit: I removed my initial praise of the Simple Knitted Bodice photos after Turtlegirl's excellent catch - you can see she's pinned in the back. Having not actually knitted the pattern, I am So Busted. Please, if you have a pattern example that mixes fun and function, post the reference to the site so we can see it too!

Some pattern houses go too far in the direction of realism. Most are mom-and-pop shops that probably don't even use photographers to shoot the work. A little bit of drama never hurt anyone. But drama is like salt - there is a fine line between a nice flavor and saltiness overpowering the dish.


Blogger turtlegirl76 said...

I'm sorry. But I disagree that the SKB is a good example of knit photography. You are never shown the back of the sweater, and the garment is clearly pinned back in the case of the green long sleeve version. The girls got wings where the arms are pooching out of the pinning.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

Oooo! I stand corrected! Having not actually knitted the piece, I'm guilty of making assumptions!

2:25 PM  
Anonymous einsteinella said...

Have you been to Brooklyn Tweed's blog? THERE is a boy who can photograph knitting! Oh, and he can knit like nobody's bidniss, too. His pictures take my breath away. Wish HE would photograph the next VK. Who can we call to make that happen?

9:51 AM  

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