Indecisive Promises at Dawn

2021 | Kehrer Verlag Berlin
Essay for Zosia Promińska’s monograph Future Perfect

Reviewed by L’Œil de la photographie


“The fashion industry is known to be particularly brutal, predatory even, in its commodification of the youth and beauty of its models. Taking this particular context as her starting point, the author operates a reversal of the usual power imbalance and the expected roles. Rather than once again instrumentalising the models, she uses fashion and the recent collections of renown Polish designers to talk about them, to explore their particular situation, and to highlight their individual experience.”

“Models have been used to present clothing since the invention of haute couture, but their role has been gradually shifting, and they are now expected to embody the entire luxurious and aspirational lifestyle that comes with high fashion. This change was famously introduced by the American fashion photographer Edward Steichen just shy of a century ago, when he started presenting his sitters not as models but in settings where they posed as upper-class women, as the very customers of the fashion houses. Like today, the models could not have hoped to purchase any of the garments they were so graciously wearing and so efficiently helping to sell. They were making a living from their beauty, but the value they created for the fashion industry was entirely unrelated to their wages. These stark economic inequalities are still a major issue in contemporary fashion, a highly aspirational industry where models often living in severe precarity, if not in squalor, work alongside others from an extremely privileged background. Their economic situation notwithstanding, they are expected to promote and contribute to selling an infinite array of products, by projecting an image of effortless but still practically unattainable beauty, tied to wealth and an idle and leisurely lifestyle. This tension is re-enacted in Zosia Promińska’s work as she brings into the quiet domesticity of their life the loud bang of high fashion and lets both universes clash around the delicate bodies of her models.”

“By interconnecting contradicting or ambivalent elements in a deceptively simple protocol, Zosia Promińska’s portraits succeed in inspiring reflections about the fashion industry and its aspiring actors. She achieves this in a process that remains very respectful of her models – a major concern for an author acutely aware of the instrumentalisation and exploitation so common in this field – and which manages to let them assert agency over their own image, while assuming the ethical responsibility that comes with photographing very young people. She plays with the discomfort she provokes in the spectator without making it feel gratuitous or meaningless, but rather using it fruitfully to confront us with our own fascinations for youth, beauty, and luxury, and its potential consequences for those working in the fashion industry. Arising from the images is also a profound kindness for the photographed individuals, stemming from the author’s similar experience and her genuine sense of care about them, which she passes on to us – and this is possibly the most significant achievement of this body of work.”