Posted Under: Artists,Consumer Behavior,Flickr Artifacts,Q&A,Retail
The other day I came across a pretty interesting photo set on Flickr. It’s called “Dressing Rooms,” by Gretchen Ludwig, who has been taking a series of retail dressing-room self portraits. Apparently, this series developed out of a project for a digital photography class. The explanation continued: “While politically, I hate the idea of being marketed to and I hate the amount of consumption that goes on in the States, at the same time, I am a slave to it as well.”
That sounded pretty interesting, and a lot of the photographs were really striking. After spending a day or two wondering whether it was worth trying to ask the photographer a few questions, or if she’d just write me off as a weirdo who scours Flickr for pictures of women in dressing rooms, I decided to give it a shot. Happily, she either didn’t think I was a weirdo, or decided to answer my questions anyway. And the answers were interesting — even ranging into some of the unexpected effects the project has had on her shopping. The brief Q&A follows, and there are more of her images after the jump.
How did you hit upon the idea of the dressing room as a site for exploring that love-hate situation that you describe in your explanation of this set?
I have an aversion to marketing, advertising, and any other ploy to get me to buy products that are extranneous. This anti-advertising politic has developed even further to become anti-corporation. However, even though I am able to intellectualize all of this, at the same time, it’s so easy to fall prey to a good ad. Underneath it all, I have a weakness, and it’s for fashion. I try to attribute it to my visual arts upbringing and tell my friends it’s because I’m attracted to exciting visual stimuli (and there are some very exciting things going on in fashion, artistically) but the fact of the matter is, I just love clothes. It seemed so perfect to exploit this weakness in my own convictions, and to then turn my consumerism into something more, something that, once photographed, becomes anti-consumer.
The dressing room is not only a very private space, but it is also a space where consumers make most of their decisions. And it’s also mostly void of extraneous marketing ‘noise.’ You don’t have the trendy atmosphere, you don’t have the pressure of others watching and judging you. It’s a private experience, and I wanted to turn that on its head and make it public.
Is it hard to execute these pictures? A lot of the images are pretty amazing, and I’m just wondering how, exactly, you manage to do it, and what you’re looking for when you edit the pictures.
I don’t think it’s hard to execute the pictures, and most of them come about from visual ideas I have that aren’t so concrete. They are self-portraits, so I’m not able to focus on the more traditional means of setting up a good photo (composition, lighting, etc). I have a general idea what I want, but I think the most important part of the photos (and what makes them exciting) is the actual ‘acts’ that are taking place within the frame.
I try to set up the camera so that it will not only get a different, interesting angle, but that it will also capture the movement of the clothes in the confined space of a dressing room. To execute them I repeat movements again and again until I get the photo I want. I repeat the process of taking on and off the clothes, also looking at myself in the mirror, everything that I would normally do in a dressing room. When I edit these pictures down, I’m really looking for both an interesting composition and lots of movement. I don’t tend to edit many out, because its really about the process of trying on and off the clothes and less about getting the perfect photo.
Is the project having any effect on, for example, your actual shopping? Do you WANT it to have an affect, is there a kind of personal agenda built into it? And I know it’s cheating to ask three questions at once, but: Where does it go from here, what are the long-term goals?
I think that the project has had an effect on me as a consumer. I find myself being more discerning not only in the dressing room, but in general. I find myself buying less and buying smarter. I didn’t go into this with that agenda in mind, but I must admit that I’m glad that it’s having this adverse effect on me!
One thing I do is to keep a log while I’m trying on clothes. I make sure to write down where I am, what time of day it is, which clothes I try on, and my feelings about them. This is very important to me, because I want to record the whole experience. Not once since I’ve started doing this have I actually bought something. It’s almost as if after taking pictures of the process, I am so turned off by the decadence and consumption that it ruins my taste for shopping and for clothing. Which is exciting, because my initial intention was to document the weirdness of shopping and consumption in the first place.
I think the long-term goals are to both push myself as a photographer to continue visually exploring the dressign room spaces, and to experiment more within those spaces without getting caught in the act by dressing room attendants. I also want to make the experience even more personal and even more public, so maybe exposing more of the process to the viewer, capturing more emotions in the dressing room and all the stages of getting dressed and undressed. As I continue with this series I also find that my logs are becoming increasingly narrative and descriptive, so I am interested to see how that develops as an added component.
Murketing thanks Gretchen Ludwig for her answers and her time. If you haven’t done so yet, check out the complete Flickr set (link). There are lots of great images.