Beauty Culture: Annenberg Space for Photography Exhibit

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From May 21st – November 27, the Annenberg is hosting the Beauty Culture photography exhibition featuring a compilation of over 100 famous photographer’s pictures of famous models, actors, sex symbols and more. Their work conveys the way celebrities have placed their mark on culture by creating the concept of beauty as we know it. The photos are oftentimes taken from ads for companies like Chanel or may have been used in magazine articles, projects, movie posters or simply for the sake of art in capturing beauty itself.

The moment a person walks in, one of the first things she sees is a photo of five beautiful nude models forming a cluster. A little further next to that photo is one of five other nude women in the same pose with the only difference being…they are obese. With this bold move, the exhibition sets the mood right away for what it is about: using photography in unconventional ways to challenge these constructed notions of beauty.

The exhibition centers around the way photography expresses beauty and how this has created standards that have shaped societies’ conception of beauty. Then it takes it a step further by portraying the impact these constructed standards have had on millions of women around the world.

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In addition, it tackles with how beauty has become a multi-billion dollar industry by utilizing today’s consumer culture to create a demand for new and otherwise unnecessary products and services. By constantly changing beauty trends, this industry is able to generate new supply and demand cycles for different products, especially in many advanced capitalist societies.

In its layout the exhibition it is made up of different sections, each dealing with a different theme found within “The Beauty Culture.” Some examples are “The Pin Up Girl,” “The Model Industry,” “The Cosmetic Industry,” “The Marylin Syndrome,” “Is Size a Beauty?” and “Is Color a Beauty?” So for instance, “The Marylin Syndrome” conveys the use of actresses as sex symbols and symbols of ideal beauty, while “Is Color a Beauty?” exposes the reality of how race plays a detrimental role in whether one is perceived as beautiful or not by mainstream society.

Patrick Demarchelier’s exquisitely colorful depiction of the Chinese supermodel Du Juan, Ellen Von Unwerth’s stylized and vivid hair salon scene called “The Eccentric Ones” and Maiko’s captivating “Geisha” are only a few of the hundreds of uniquely eye-capturing photos. The works featured, among other things, also celebrate beauty, like in the case of Albert Watson’s Warris Derrie (Desert Flower) photo. This photo praises how the beauty industry has helped a woman escape the harsh conditions of her country to find a better life full of fame and glory.

In addition, the exhibition includes a “Digital Gallery,” which features a short documentary that expands on the exhibition’s themes of beauty as a culture and an industry. A key idea in the documentary is how technology today, such as Photoshop, has raised the standards of beauty to unprecedented and implausible heights creating an unattainable illusion. This has many implications, such as in contributing to the development of eating disorders that affect many young women today. The documentary also presents different views on the notion of beauty. For instance, Jamie Lee Curtis believes that beauty lies in simplicity and being natural, while Cindy Margolis believes it is merely a constructed fantasy.

The Beauty Culture photography exhibition is an eye-opening experience that challenges its audience by making it question its views on beauty and ponder on how this has had an effect on their lives. Finally, the exhibition makes people realize “photography’s undeniable influence on conceptions of the self” and how beauty is nothing but a constructed concept.