Katarina Elven stood out as one of this year’s most sophisticated fashion image-makers, with works echoing the visual aesthetics of images in today’s most compelling fashion magazines. But look deeper and the seductive lines and surfaces of her work become visual allegories exploring Marxist theory on capitalism and desire, posing questions on consumerism the role of the contemporary fashion image-maker.
Dazed Digital: On first sight, your work echoes the minimalist fashion imagery recently championed by the likes of Jop van Bennekom. Which photographers or artists influenced the development of your visual language?
Katarina Elven: The visual aesthetics used in this series of images derives from the era when commercial photography emerged in Europe, particularly in the Weimar republic. I have studied images by, for example, Florence Henri, who did abstract still life’s with an aesthetic which she also adopted into her commercial works, I have also studied Paul Outerbridge and other photographers from the 1920s and 30s, creating a timeline with images from this period to see how photography was used in art and commerce.
DD: Your images explore the aesthetics of perfume counters, and the use of objects such as precious gems in fashion marketing. What is it that interests you about these details?
Katarina Elven: My images trace the details and visuality surrounding the commodity through history. When you start looking for a certain thing like stones or seashells in shopping windows and find them all the time as well as in ads for certain products as perfumes, wallets and jewellery you start to see a pattern emerge. I interested to know more about these patterns and where these specific combinations come from. Why are certain things and objects combined over and over again? It is fascinating to see the signs and aesthetics that floats over time to be filled with different meanings.
DD: How do you deal with the tension between creating and deconstructing seductive fashion images?
Katarina Elven: It is important that it is a play with imagery and that these contradictions gets through within the concept. In the Vogue photogram it is a search for the seductiveness and the aura that surrounds that magazine, and how it is still there even if you take all those layers of images away. Seductiveness and commodity are today strongly connected; to me questioning the commercial language is not in conflict with making beautiful images.
DD: What relevance does Marxist theory on consumerism and desire have to fashion image-making today?
Katarina Elven: With my research I try to trace how certain aesthetics can be informed by such an ideology. Bauhaus is an example of this. I think Marxist theory is fundamental for an understanding of how our consumer society functions today, for understanding the connections between the production of objects and their images. More image-makers should be aware of what kind of images they make and that all images produce identities.
DD: Do you see yourself as an activist?
Katarina Elven: I think what I do could rather be seen as a form of resistance. But I definitely think it is time for us all to act.
DD: Will it now be possible for us to break free from the beautiful, seductive facade of consumer imagery we have created?
Katarina Elven: Beautifulness and seductiveness has existed for a longer time than capitalism. So yes, it’s time to reclaim the dreams.