Photography through Fashion Advertising in Qatar
The advertising dissertation critically analyses the beautiful art of photography and its marriage with the medium of advertising. To gain an insight into the consumer tastes and preferences of Qatar apropos to the photographic images used in fashion advertising, some important influential components such as the ad placement, the ethos of the Qatar consumers and the demographics, are taken into consideration. The dissertation integrates a number of distinctive features of Qatar’s fashion advertisements. Additionally, using invaluable resources on fashion photography such as Aspers, Dyer, Whites and UK libraries such as Leeds City Library, the dissertation credibly benefits the readers and makes them view fashion photography from a different light. The dissertation comprises of elements such as observation, discourse analysis, survey, data and findings, to give a comprehensive picture on the intricate relationship between consumer society of Qatar and fashion photography. Getting a clear idea on the Qatari consumer tastes, the influence of Qatari culture on the people’s assessment of fashion advertisements and revealing the secrets behind successful fashion advertisement campaigns in Qatar, are some other points which are covered in this dissertation.
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Fashion photography is the type of photography which interprets the most admired style in clothing, behaviour and cosmetics. Photography has transformed from only recording reality to being a vehicle promoting the latest trends in fashion and clothing. Fashion photographs have also come a long way from capturing images which are a fashionable, to integrating symbolism in the photographs, which would enable the viewer of the photograph to interpret the images by using their own intellect. According to Blumer (1968), ‘fashion photography comes in many forms, and can range from advertising photography, architecture photography, interior and landscape design photography to the more conventional clothing photography, cosmetics photography, costume photography, personal grooming photography, hairstyle photography, jewellery photography and body type photography’.
Photographers have always attempted to capture a moment of truth or beauty through their lenses. The history of fashion photography traces back to almost a century, and fashion photography has since taken over the photography enthusiasts even in the Middle East. In theory, photography was invented to seek and establish the truth. Photography is a great tool for documenting the events around the world, and it was primarily used for serving this purpose (Craik, 1994). However, with the passage of time, people with an artistic bent of mind and a keen eye for beauty, began to capture the moment of beauty with the help of the photographic image. Hence, the words of poet John Keats, “Truth is beauty and beauty is truth” finds a whole new meaning when viewed from a photographic angle (Wilmshurst & Mackay, 1999).
In this dissertation, the fashion advertising industry which is based in Qatar will be described. The media industry in Qatar, its key features, best selling titles and the number of fashion magazines available within the state will be outlined. Among the magazines that will be analysed are GLAM and Women Today. Furthermore, the influence of fashion magazines from abroad, and the possible problems they may face both in terms of their content and in terms of their advertisers will be detailed. This topic is also perfect as it gives a great opportunity to interact with the photographers as well as the clients, and gives me a chance of establishing myself as a fashion photographer. Some other aspects which will be investigated in the dissertation are illustrating the effect of using photograph as well as images with regards to fashion advertisements pertaining to the fashion market in Qatar, figuring out the relationship between fashion advertising and the society, finding out and revealing the secrets which have been responsible for the success of fashion photography in Qatar and the secret of making a successful career through fashion photography, the influence of Arab consumers on the taste of Qatari society with regards to fashion photography and last but not the least, depicting the influence of customs and traditions in influencing people’s tastes towards photographic fashion advertising in Qatar.
The countries in the Middle East are aware of all types of fashion photography and there are a number of upcoming photographers in the Middle East such as Toufic Araman and Adi Barkan, who are very promising indeed. Today, the Middle East is not only a hot bed for contemporary art, countries such as Qatar is creating ripples in the world of fashion photography as well. In fact, fashion photography blends extremely well with the cityscapes of the Middle East. The streets of Cairo, Istanbul and Doha feature high up in the list of favourite places for fashion photographers throughout the world. Several high profile fashion magazines frequently have photo-shoots in the cities of the Middle East. W Magazine has recently shot in Istanbul with the famous fashion model Lara Stone, and the images have been captured by the duo of Marcus Piggott and Mert Alas. The streets of Istanbul, Cairo and Doha have a lot of the heritage and history behind them that is why these cities are increasingly becoming the hottest spots for fashion photo-shoots of prestigious brands such as Calvin Klein, Narciso Rodriguez, Stella McCartney, Chanel, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Giorgio Armani.
Hence, Qatar is getting exposure to the premium names in fashion photography, and this exposure to the biggest and the most popular names in European and American fashion is transforming the outlook of the young generation of Qatari people. Although the Qatari people were aware of famous fashion photographers of the past such as Herb Ritts, Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton, it is an unforgettable experience watching their favourite fashion photographers like Annie Leibovitz, Steven Meisel, Patrick Demarchelier, Peter Lindbergh and Mario Testino from close quarters.
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2.1 Reason for the Choice of This Topic
The industry of fashion photography is growing at a brisk rate. The successful fashion photographers get huge pay checks and also a guarantee of leading a lifestyle which is extremely glamorous. It is also one of the world’s most desired professions. For each and every successful fashion photograph in the world’s best fashion magazines, a number of professionals get an opportunity to boost their careers. According to Sykes (1976), among the people who get directly affected by successful fashion photographs are fashion designers, fashion models, art directors, and most importantly the companies which advertise the product through fashion photographs. Besides fashion photography, fashion photographers also automatically find their niche market in areas such as art photography, portraiture of celebrities and also work related to the paparazzi. The inherent qualities of detecting and representing beauty which one develops when one is constantly attached with the trade of fashion photography helps him to gain expertise in diversified markets. For beginners of fashion photography, it is important that a perfect portfolio is initially set up (Finkelstein, 1996).
It is extremely tough to break into the fashion photography market of the west, especially in New York and Paris. But with the upswing in the fashion photography market in the Middle East, it is equally difficult for breaking into the fashion testing industry of Middle East countries. Initially, the struggle for survival in this fashion industry will be tough, and just like the Western peers, it will be essential for the novice fashion photographers to submit their best work to the best fashion magazines in Qatar and the Middle East. Another way of breaking through, besides submitting photographs to glamour magazines, is by selecting a professional photo agency or trying to organize a photography exhibition in a leading gallery in Qatar. Budding fashion photographers often starts as an assistant (Macrae, 2003). To rise to the major league of fashion photography, one needs artistic talents, the attention to detail and the inherent quality of capturing the spirit of the mood in a fashion photograph during a photo shoot. The knowledge of how to utilise the lighting is also critical for fashion photographers. The knowledge of cameras, having a business mindset and being extremely self motivated are the tricks of the trade. Fashion photographers are predominantly freelancers, and that is the reason why selling their work themselves is an important role in the success of a fashion photographer, whether they operate in New York, London, Paris or Doha. Another one of the critical skills that a successful fashion photographer develops is the ability to communicate and coordinate with a diverse group of people (Bourdieu, 1990). Not only would the fashion photographer need to deal with the business associates, he would require interacting with models and stylists as well. Therefore a personality which blends perfectly with different types of people would eventually help in furthering the career. Goldberg (2003) states, ‘one of the common pitfalls that photographers encounter when bidding jobs, is that they forget to take into consideration the additional days required to rent and prep gear, build sets, and get props and wardrobe. The size and complexity of shoot will determine how much prep time is needed. For this particular shoot, Mark needed one day of prep. He had to call in the rental orders and then do the pickups around town. Usually, one end’s up getting the gear all from one rental house. But, if its car season in Los Angeles, rental gear can get booked up for weeks at a time by all the big production shooters. This will necessitate a search for the equipment that is needed. If one happen to find the gear at a shop that one doesn’t normally do business with, keep in mind that one need to get an insurance certificate to that rental house before they’ll let any of their gear go out the door.’
If one looks around in the main roads and streets of Qatar, one would find a number of fashion photographs displayed on the billboards. Whether one accepts it not, fashion photography shapes the culture of people and it is presently changing the outlook of the conservative people of Qatar. Thus the fashion photographs which appear on the magazines as well as the billboards are helping the people of Qatar to be more globalized. Photography in advertisements were present in Qatar since the nineteen seventies, however the way the culture of the Middle East is being changed through fashion photographs is commendable. According to Aspers (2007), ‘presently, the most popular genre of photography is probably fashion photography and fashion is really an integral part of the Western world, and since the Middle East is becoming gradually more westernised, the fashion photography is appealing to broader segment of people than ever before.’
2.2 The Media Industry in Qatar
As in other parts of the world, fashion photography in Qatar is established entirely on the idea of selling a particular type of lifestyle. A lifestyle can be promoted by various other methods of advertising but the advertisers have eventually realised that the best way of marketing a lifestyle product is fashion photography (Catalogue Age Staff, 1999). Fashion photography for promoting the lifestyle includes a number of suggestions and visual stimulations to sell a lifestyle product. One of the best techniques used by global fashion magazines and the leading fashion photography magazines of Qatar, namely Women Today and GLAM, is trying to portray images which transport the reader to an environment which is practically not easy to attain. These environments are designed in such a way that make the readers feel that they need something better and something similar to the ones advertised in the fashion photograph. The sophisticated photographic techniques and the highly aesthetically developed photographic themes and designs are now being rendered in the state of the art fashion photography studios of Doha.
Since countries in the Middle East are not as liberal as their Western counterparts, it is quite natural to expect that fashion photography industry in Qatar would have its own share of conflicts and concerns. There is no escaping the fact that fashion photography and female models are inseparably linked to each other. There have been a number of issues raised by several traditional agencies in the Middle East, regarding the objectification of women and the concerns over sexual themes in fashion photography magazines. One of the issues that have made a major impact in the advertising space of the Middle East is pertaining to the image of women as promoted by fashion photographers. Some of the cases have been observed in the countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Qatar, where there have been reports pertaining to women who have developed eating disorders under the influence of fashion photography. Most of these women are youngsters, aged between fifteen and twenty five. This is just one of the many issues that the nascent fashion photography industry of Qatar has to encounter occasionally, but the fashion photography industry, and to a large extent the advertising industry of Qatar, have always been sensitive to the ethos and values of the Qatari people, and they have successfully handled all kinds of obstructions and hindrances, which have frequently crept up.
The controversies which sometimes surround the fashion photography industry and the Middle East are the same controversies which had mired the fashion industry in Europe and America a few decades ago. Just like the readers and the public of Europe and the U.S. eventually understood the aesthetic value and the artistic appeal of the fashion images, so are the people of the Middle East beginning to comprehend the underlying messages and the underlying beauty of the image portrayed by fashion photography (Ratty, 2000). For example, the images of women who look very glamorous and sometimes look very different from normal women are the women who serve as role models. These images inspire other women to achieve something beyond the mundane existence. Therefore, the images have to be taken more figuratively and not literally as some agencies in the Middle East have taken. Additionally, similar to the attack on gender stereotypes by the Western fashion photography fraternity, the Middle East fashion photographers have also joined hands to combat the narrow mindedness present among a number of people in the Middle East. Fashion photography opens the windows of beauty and glamour, and portrays fashion in a manner which not only sells products for the advertiser, but also changes the mindset of certain people. According to Dyer (1982), ‘it also has additional benefit to the woman, who views the fashion models as role models, whose beauty and sense of fashion are worth emulating’.
Some critics have argued that the images promoted in fashion advertising, are images which are highly skewed and unrealistic. Simply put, these are exactly the images which art directors and fashion photographers try to integrate in their photographs. Fashion is intrinsically art and it is like a ship which decides on its own course, rather than being a car which needs to follow a demarcated route (Checefsky, 2007; Siege, 2008).In other words, fashion is not conceptualized to conform to the conventions of reality and the conventions of traditional culture; rather fashion is the trendsetter or is trailblazer, which creates routes for others to follow. Fashion is therefore another version of reality (Miller & Museum of Contemporary Photography Columbia College Chicago, 1998). Fashion moreover is the vehicle which blends fantasy with reality and it is where the beauty of fashion and fashion photography lie.
Around the world, morals have changed. For instance, quite a few of the conventional cultural values which existed in the Middle East in the 1950s are now obsolete. In Qatar, the demographics are slowly changing and the sexuality and independence of women are being realised more and more. With the new wave of feminism hitting the Middle East, a new kind of culture is developing, which nonetheless blends perfectly with the religious and cultural values of the Middle East (Mullen, 1998). The fashion and the advertising industry in the Middle East have advanced hand in hand, and unlike their Western counterparts wherein the boundaries of conservatism have been pushed frequently, the Qatari advertising and fashion industry have been more understanding to the local needs and values of the Middle East people, hence the fashion industry has improvised and utilised images, models, art and designs which do not clash with the traditional mentality of the Middle East people. Hence, the Qatari advertising industry has successfully propagated the ideas of beauty and truth, through the medium of innovative and expressive fashion images. Keaney (2007) remarks, ‘financial obstacles were once significant for the prospective photographer, but this is no longer the case. Ten years ago, for example, a studio, a darkroom and other photographic equipment were considered necessary to a fashion photographer. As a consequence of this change, today a photographer who does not yet have a studio of her own can survive on fewer assignments than before. This is also a reason for today’s great abundance of fashion photographers. The technological and economic aspects of the process have become less important, and the aesthetic aspect has become more important. As a result the photographer today has to develop a distinct style. No longer can a high status Swedish photographer photograph cars today, dogs tomorrow and fashion the day after tomorrow. With the number of photographers increasing, specialization in one or a few genres and personal style has become more important.’
The printing and publishing industry of the Middle East has been experiencing phenomenal growth lately. The countries which are being transformed by this new flourish of advertising growth ranges from Egypt and Lebanon to United Arab Emirates and of course, Qatar. There are as number of publications which are inundated in the domestic markets of the Middle East countries, and the publication wave is being spearheaded by Women’s Today and GLAM in Qatar. With the increase of publications, it is natural to expect the advancement and quality of print publications. To facilitate the growing demands of the Middle East customers for quality fashion and glamour magazines as well as advertising publications, the printing technology has advanced in leaps and bounds in the Middle East. What’s more, the advanced printing technology and the modern marketing channels have allowed the publications such as fashion magazines and lifestyle magazines to be available not only in the major cities of Qatar like Doha, but also municipalities such as Jariyan al Batnah Ad Dawhah, Al Ghuwariyah, Al Khawr, Al Wakrah, Umm Salal and Ash Shamal. Moreover, the fashion photography magazines and other glamour magazines are published in the shortest deadlines and marketed in the interiors of Qatar, thereby proving once and for all the rising popularity of the fashion and advertising industry. The Qatari fashion industry is not only limited to fashion magazines, the number of international fashion events are on the increase too, where there is ample scope for budding Qatari fashion photographers to showcase their talent. According to Entwistle (2002), ‘with the increase of competition and the increase of demand for fashion and lifestyle products, the margins have become narrower while the playing field has become much tougher and much more levelled’. Tastes and preferences of the magazine readers are gradually changing as well, and nowadays the Qatari people are expecting more from the print media. With the constant international exposure to fashion events that the people of the Middle East are having, there is an increasing demand for fashion products and the fashion industry has become highly competitive. This is definitely a challenge for the creative set of professionals who are from the Middle East, and they are not only living up to the expectations of their readers, they are often exceeding the expectations.
The challenges, the rewards as well as the pressure for the fashion photographers have never been as high as it is now. They have to constantly keep in touch with the latest trends in the fashion industry, and be aware of the thin line which divides the tastes and preferences of the Middle East customers and the tastes and preferences of their Western counterparts (Bunnell, 2006; Bovone, 2006).There have been a number of magazines which deal with aspects of printing and publishing, one of the most popular being ME Printer. ME Printer is one of Middle East’s unique magazines, which provides invaluable insights and inputs for the