17:01 / 19 Mar 2021 / features / text: Valeriia Raskolnikova
Can a scanner be a fashion photography's medium?
Technology helps us reconstruct the usual methods of how we communicate fashion, how we consume it, and how we create it. Fashion weeks worldwide went digital, upcoming designers infuse themselves into earlier unimaginable means of production, and fashion photoshoots can be successfully orchestrated via zoom. "Each time there is a technological discovery, it is normal to want to see what you can make with it. We are living in an age where technology becomes the art form, and the artist is a programmer; it is all viable," stated Katerina Jebb in Interview Magazine's feature back in 2013.
"Jebb collaborated with Comme des Garçons on numerous occasions since 1998"
Courtesy of Katerina Jebb
Katerina Jebb's catalogue for MET featuring the work of Rei Kawakubo
But who is Katerina Jebb? She is a British-born multidisciplinary artist based in Paris. Her work centers around photography, filmmaking, installations, and human photocopy. In particular, the photocopy practice made Katerina Jebb's way of documenting garments, bodies, and objects revolutionize the fashion image. Though she is not a fashion photographer, nor is she a fashion fanatic, her work attracted avant-garde fashion personas and somehow produced a kind of wow effect in fashion imagery production. Living in the age of countless feed posts lacking a long-lasting value, seeing some of Katerina Jebb's work makes one stop, observe, and definitely research more about her practice.
In 2021, though, scanning in fashion is not as novel as it was some decades ago. We may follow different creators, but the scanning technique pops up in magazine editorials, Instagram posts, or fashion photoshoots for many of us. But who out of a million image-makers was scanning each part of the model's body separately, adjusting a dozen parts together, like a puzzle, and composed the whole new digital masterpiece? Well, as you may have realized, it was Katerina Jebb. It just happened that her unique perspective on documenting objects (often fashion possessions) and body caught the eye of people who treat fashion as something more than just a material life's attribute.
Courtesy of Katerina Jebb
According to Katerina Jebb's biography, she was born in England and moved to California to study photography in 1984. "Her early works were the photomontages, which she created inside the camera, originating from repeated exposure of a single roll of film," says the biography section of her website. In 1989, Jebb moved to Paris to study experimental photography and embarked on the journey that made her a well-respected artist, exhibiting in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and in galleries around the globe.
Among Jebb's commercial work, one can find editorials for Purple magazine, Vogue Ukraine, L'officiel Paris, Acne Paper, Lampoon magazine, Candy magazine, and even Financial Times. Jebb collaborated with Comme des Garçons on numerous occasions since 1998, including the presentation of clothes in an unorthodox manner to creating beauty campaigns for Comme des Garçons Perfume. Her series of short films were broadcasted in Dover Street Market - a concept store that is rather a modern art space. But the story with Comme des Garçons did not finish only on creating campaigns: the artist produced stunning imagery for The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) catalog featuring the work of Rei Kawakubo.
Katerina Jebb's editorial for Purple Magazine, October 2020. Styled by Sheila Single
Digital composite scans by Jebb were used in the MET exhibition on "Fashion and the Catholic Imagination" in 2018. The display aimed to showcase a dialogue between "fashion as we know it" and medieval art. Moreover, the exhibition's curators intended to "examine fashion's ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism." The full scans of Gianni Versace's dresses, John Galliano for Dior, and 1967's wedding ensemble by Cristobal Balenciaga presented alongside medieval artifacts produced a mindblowing contrast (but at the same time similarity) of designs. Who would have created the same effect if not Katerina Jebb and her scanner?
"Photography is such an omnipresent symbol of modern society that everyone is a photographer or filmmaker"
What makes Jebb's art so attractive to me is that somehow she manages to communicate an aura of the object, adding a pinch of life to it. It makes an observer wonder about its history, its owner, his beliefs, and tastes. Moreover, when the labor invested in making an image became so undervalued because of social media, seeing Jebb's work brings you down to earth. A person looking at those photocopied magazine editorials realizes long hours put into producing the final result.
As a matter of fact, "photography is such an omnipresent symbol of modern society that everyone is a photographer or filmmaker", she says. We are no longer living through our experiences but are making digital versions for review and interaction later in our lives. How many pictures taken have possibly no destination? How many fashions lose their anthropological meaning and originality in the hands of never-ending demand to deliver? Looking at Katerina Jebb's work is a great way of reflecting how technology shapes our own relationship with material possessions.