Discussing the Discussion: Elle and Time

Discussing the Discussion: Elle and Time

In the past week, we have reported on some hot button issues. First we dropped the story regarding Time Magazine's controversial cover. Not long after, Elle Brazil was next up to the plate with yet another contentious cover. Let's look at what some of you had to say and discuss the issues further, because I know I wasn't the only one who felt that there were those of you who were getting really fired up.

So let's start with Elle. In case you missed it, in a nutshell the story goes down like this: Elle photographers shot model Coco Rocha for the cover of their magazine. All was well until she revealed how shocked she was when she discovered that an image of her taken for the cover had been retouched in order to show much more skin than she had anticipated. Coco was quite adamant that they had gone so far as to breach her verbal and written ‘no nudity’ contract.

From Richard Erye on Facebook
"I think Coco is in the Right, dependent on the contract, if she has a 'no nudity or partial nudity' policy then here agent should have ensured this was in her contracts. If this was the case, then Elle are in breach of contract, if not in her contract, then they are truly free to do virtually whatever they want."

From Eugene Fraxby, on Fstoppers.com
"My girlfriend is a retoucher for a major fashion photographer. For models and jobs of this calibre, the model would have had to have seen the final image prior to publication. And let's not forget, the retouchers that everyone loves to demonize, are under instruction from photographers, stylists, picture editors etc. Not doing these alterations off their own back.... it's the industry/publications that are to blame."

To which our resident retouching genius Pratik Naik responded:
"Very true. Most of what we do is actually from strict and rigid direction from the editors, art directors, and photographers especially during major editorial submissions. We have to adhere to what they want, even when we may highly advise against a certain direction."

But what if she DIDN'T approve the final image?

Nate Powers from Facebook
"Contractually models don't have much say in post...Look at what Vogue did to Adele. Unless the contract states that the model must approve the final edit then the editors have free reign. NOW whats messed up is if they told the model that the clothes would be the image and then they released this. Thats deceitful and wrong ethically. But it comes down to the Contracts."

Oh. So it might be possible that Coco overstated herself when she said "This was specifically against my expressed verbal and written direction." Without seeing the actual contract, we'll never know. However it's important to note that it is more than possible that there was not really a no nudity clause in the written contract. If so, apparently Elle was happy enough to destroy a future relationship with Coco just to get the shot they wanted. Because even if they are legally safe, Coco won't be jumping up and down to work with Elle again.

Richard L. Dawson from Facebook
"Interesting twist on usage rights. It's up to the model or the agent of the model to READ the agreement BEFORE signing it. If either one of them didn't then it's on them."

So models... read your releases! Assume nothing!

Ok now let's go on to what got some of you REALLY fired up. Some of the comments were extremely well thought out and critical, and I think it is only fair that they get a second look. I have posted the comments that are on both sides of this debate, and some that create a new side all their own.

Fahad Jafarullah from Facebook
"Yeah somewhere out there some pedophile is having the time of his life seeing this. I can't believe Time magazine actually lost their brains and put this up on their cover. You might well as change the headline to "child pornography". This is sick! It's one thing when a mother breast feed her infant in public and it's another when the kid is this old."

Janice Groves Maioli from Facebook
"The reason it's so uncomfortable is simple. It's like looking at sexual molestation, incest, and sexual abuse by a parent. That boy is hitting puberty. That mother is committing a crime, really. There's nothing comfortable about this. They arrest parents who fondle their children. They arrest adults that fondle minors. I'm shocked that this is on the cover of Time magazine. It's not uncomfortable, it's disgusting. And I'm a liberal."

Yikes. It's easy to get lost in what these photos were intended to do. This was an artful (not the same as tasteful and albeit a little raw for Time) and carefully planned endeavor.

Vicky Miller from Facebook
"Why do these images make people uncomfortable? The pose, harsh light, clothing, expressions, well done! People aren't used to seeing this."

Jenny Hodgin Armstrong from Facebook
"This mom did an interview on a morning show about this cover image and even she admitted its more about nurturing at this age and that this photos isn't realistic to how it is for them at home but she understood the magazine chose the image for the shock factor."

Jenny and Vicky hit it right on the head. The photos were created specifically to do what happened: spark controversy. Time is getting ridiculous publicity from this, and that's exactly what they wanted and expected. These photos were shot for a reason, and that reason succeeded.

Michael Cleary from Facebook (possibly the longest comment we have ever received):
"One needs to deconstruct this image, being careful not to add our own personal subjective attitudes.

The woman is standing in a, "traditional photo glamour pose". She is mature, but young and attractive. Her elbows/shoulders are back, chest is out. Her attire is relaxed, but modern and stylish. Her hair is also attractively styled. Her breast is partially exposed, and she is nursing. Her left hand is on the shoulder of her son, reinforcing a connection to her child. However, her attention is clearly directed out of the photograph, and not at her son. She is confronting the viewer, meeting our gaze with her own eyes. She is confident in her pose.

Her child son is breast feeding. He is not an infant, and is about four years old. He is well groomed, dressed in clean play-clothes, camo's and a gray shirt, with his sleeves casually pushed up. He appears to be well cared for. His arms are limp and at his side. He is standing on a chair. His body is pressed against his mother in an intimate, but not not affectionate way. The boy is also looking out of the image meeting our gaze. However, it is not a confident pose, as is his mother's. Rather, his shoulder is turned to the camera lens, in more of a defensive manner.

To continue with this interpretation, we must still stick to the simple facts. This is a posed photo and not a candid/intimate moment between mother and boy. Notice that I did not say child or infant. I am still sticking to the facts. Another fact is that the photo is set up with a tension between the way that the mother is standing and is dressed, and the way her son is standing and is dressed. Let me explain further.

The mother is attractive with her body language, style, pose, and her attire. She is, in a few words, beautiful and powerful. However, her son is propped up on a chair in play clothes. The boy has no power, and his gaze back to us also seems to confirm this fact. If you doubt this, try to imagine the boy with his hands on his hips, feet apart, dressed in black slacks and a black button up shirt, standing on the hood of a race car while nursing his mother. See where I am coming from? The mother has all the power and beauty, and her son is entirely under her control.

To further my conclusion, this is not a photograph about nurturing, love, or the bond between a mother and her child. This is a photograph about control and power."

Michael, you make some solid points, but maybe take things a bit too far in the power and control thing. I think you might be right about the mother being strong and firm in her role, her position, and her chosen path. The photographer played on that, and produced an image that spoke to what the mother's feelings may be on the issue while simultaneously creating the raucous commentary and publicity attention grab that the editors demanded.

Even if we can't agree, we do need to look at this from a photographer's perspective, if for no other reason other than because that is who we are. This photographer was given a task and succeeded wildly. Whether or not we agree with the issue at hand, it is the image that made this an issue, not the article. If anything, we should all applaud the photographer, because this image is perfectly composed to broadcast a message.

From Jaron:
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