Make It Up As We Go Along: The Portraits

As Dazed's 20th anniversary exhibition at Somerset House continues, we look closer at some of the magazine's most iconic portraits over the years

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The many portrait photographs from Dazed & Confused’s 20-year history reveals a healthy plethora of famous faces and future stars of popular culture. Over the years, our cover and inside pages have played host to Dazed friend and icon Björk, Britpop sentinel’s Pulp and Blur, and more recently, R’n’B queen, Beyonce, amongst many more. We take a look at the portrait chapters of our 20-year anniversary book, 'Making It Up As We Go Along', and exhibition of the same name, for a closer look at some of the portrait images from our archive… 

Dazed & Confused has always sought to present both up-and-coming talent and established figures from the film, fashion, art and music industries in new, visually exciting and innovative ways. Portraits were not seen as a restrictive means to capture a 2D moment, but as an opportunity to explore the subject’s personality and boundaries, involving the individual in concept-driven shoots to encapsulate a certain feel and time. Dazed allowed photographers to push the limits with their shoots – presenting the subjects in new environments and settings to give inspiring work which went beyond the flat aesthetic of a photograph.

Familiar faces were often deconstructed, disguised and morphed to present the reader with something more than a fashion shot – displayed as they had never been seen before. In the book, we re-visit the erotically charged Chris Cunningham shoot that captured Grace Jones in unsettling, digitally manipulated images which morphed her form to create exaggerated visions. We also see poignant and incredibly detailed close-up shots of the Manic Street Preachers, which sought to represent the sensitivity of their band mate, Richey Edwards’ disappearance.  

Perhaps one of the most thought-provoking portrait shoots was Rankin’s Michael Jackson cover, which can be seen in the book and exhibition at Somerset House. This image wasn’t even a portrait of the star, but a fake. The idea played with notions of the artificial vs. the fake, and how this can manipulate society’s view on the celebrity figure. Rankin remembers, “The fake Michael Jackson shoot came from me being very obsessed by this idea of being able to use digital enhancement and retouching. I realised that I could make somebody that didn’t look like Michael Jackson, but was making a living looking like Michael Jackson, actually look like Michael Jackson. Taking this guy and morphing him was a commentary on the real Michael Jackson, who had morphed himself with plastic surgery. It was that moment in time when plastic surgery and enhancement had got to a really fascinating point, and Michael Jackson was the epitome of that. At that point people didn’t really understand how much retouching was taking over in fashion photography, it was becoming absolutely the norm to digitally enhance everything – every single photo you would see. I wanted to show how ridiculous that had become.”

Famous faces from pop culture jostle alongside portraits of significant cultural and political figures throughout the book and exhibition, and continue to be paired together in the magazine to this day. 2000’s controversial Eminem cover shoot – which features the rapper smoking a bong – shares the magazine’s pages with American writer and political activist Susan Sontag, a pairing most unlikely. However, It is this rich mixing pot of individuals from literary, artistic, musical, political, fashion-focused and filmic backgrounds that allow Dazed to flourish, as founder and editorial director Jefferson Hack says, “Dazed & Confused never had a unified aesthetic for portraiture, it had a code of liberation.” 

'Make It Up As We Go Along' is at the Somerset House until January 29, 2012. More info on the exhibition HERE and find out about the Dazed book HERE

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