In a press conference in May 1997 American President Bill Clinton drew attention to what he saw a major problem of contemporary fashion. ‘’The glorification of heroin is not creative it’s destructive. It’s not beautiful it is ugly. It’s not about art it is about life and death. And glorifying death is not good for any society.’’
Georgina, Brixton is an image shot in 1995 by fashion and documentary photographer Corinne Day. It is extremely representational of her work in this part of her life. In her diary she writes about her dad being a bank robber and in other interviews she states how he was obsessed by money but the truth of the coldness and lack of love and intimacy when she visited his house. Coupled with the feeling of social unrest and unemployment in the 80s due to the Thatcher austerity measures could of unveiled the falseness of glamour and fashion photography to Corinne. In the late 80s Corinne became a model herself and it wasn’t long after she was introduced to a camera by future husband Mark Szarszy. Her subjects were other struggling models, photographed in their own clothes in the seedy hostels where they lived. ‘I started to realise that it was ambiguous, the life. Even though you’re surrounded by all this glamour, there was a lot of sadness. We couldn’t buy the clothes that we were photographed in, couldn’t afford to go out and do the things we would have liked to do as teenagers.’ No one was as perfect as Naomi Campbell or Christy Turlington. Enthused by this new found view of anti-glamour, Corinne began to shoot skinnier ‘waifish’ models such as Kate Moss causing controversy with the Heroin Chic label attached to her natural, untouched photographic style.
Corinne Day’s ‘Diary’ is reminiscent of Nan Goldin’ book ‘The Ballad Of Sexual Dependency’ as it has a similar honest aura and authenticity. Corinne’s argument is that she was attempting to bridge the gap between fashion and the everyday person. Corinne and husband Mark spent a lot of time with the band Pusherman leading up to the time when Georgina, Brixton was taken. ‘It was a great time of music, festivals, drugs, parties, music’, Corinne says about this period. Her photographs before meeting Pusherman were more focused on the natural beauty and frankness of untouched fashion photographs, like the cover of the FACE in 1990. The Pusherman influence seemed to add a dimension of drug use and darkness to her photographs as is obvious in Georgina, Brixton, which probably resembled the company she kept around this time.
Corinne Day criticised Clinton’s statement claiming that the images introduced reality to contemporary fashion images. Her argument was that hers and similar fashion images attempted to move away from the traditional representations of impossible beauty. Day was instrumental in pushing away from relentless perfection.
Having researched Corinne Day, the era in which the images were taken and past and contemporary fashion images I have begun to understand Georgina, Brixton in the context of its release and the author. ‘I think fashion photography has gone full circle. Grunge has become glamorous’
The image ‘Georgina, Brixton’ denotes heroin chic qualities. The skinny model, the unsettling environment, the unusual body position creates an idea of the undesirable counter culture that exists within the youth. Rock and Roll music for years has been regarded as ‘cool’ especially by the young in society. Their lifestyles usually involve sex, drugs and excessive alcohol. For decades younger generations have been imitating rock stars in terms of clothing. There is always an undesirable counter culture that abuse drugs or hold strong socially wrong views on subjects. Fashion seems to focus on younger cultures since the post-war era after World War II and subsequent years of experimentation and creativity. Therefore the increase in heroin use by young people and famous people for example Kurt Cobain from Nirvana contributed to the new style.
Corinne Day could be considered to have been in a fortunate position at the start of the 90s. A reputable photographer/film director teaching her how to use a camera, the experience of being a model, being surrounded by models and meeting supermodel Kate Moss who has now graced a record 30 front covers of British Vogue, her feelings of anti-glamour were resonant with much of society in this period. The time she had available being a model and on the doll. The grunge culture integrating into British culture along with touring with Pusherman. No one person can criticise Corinne for her role in the rise of Heroin Chic fashion. The era was presenting some of these new controversial structures and signals to youth culture and fashion.
Are Supermodels any better for the nation in fashion photography? Flicking through the pages of vogue you obtain a sense of jealousy, desire and unfairness. For some it may be pertaining to the sheer attraction to the images in the magazine, but for the majority it is the familiar feeling of inferiority to the incredibly perfect models. The beautiful models can make any item look desirable causing the onlooker to buy into the myth.
I think Bill Clinton is right to raise the issue in attempt to stop the use of heroin use. However I think the issue is or was far deeper entrenched than fashion which is the last stage and easiest cultural text to read.
At heart it is obvious Corinne Day enjoys documenting. Her images resemble the different influences in her life. Later on in life when she is surrounded by wealth due to her success, her photographs become more glamorous. She still insists on documenting, for example when she collapsed and recovered in hospital she asked husband Mark to photograph her. Georgina, Brixton may connote meaning associated with drugs and idleness, however it was the death of the supermodel that Corinne was trying to uncover, the relation to fashion to the everyday person while dismantling the myth of perfect beauty in being fashionable.
– Photography: a cultural history, Mary Warner Marien, pg7-107, enter fashion, 2002,laurencekingpublishers, accessed 28/11/2010,
– Corinne Day, Diary, November 2000, Kruse Verlag
– Fashion, desire and anxiety: image and morality in the 20th century, Rebecca Arnold, Heroin chic pg48, 2001, accessed 28/11/2010
– ‘I’m a photogaphy junkie’ Interview with the Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2000/sep/03/features.review7, 9/2002