What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportsmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.”
The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live in
Editorial To Me You Are a Work of Art. Photography by Dirk Alexander. Styling and illustration by Nicola Formichetti for Dazed Digital. Model: John Kharalian. All clothes by Mugler SS 2013 Collection.
“The shoot is a Nicopanda and Mugler mash-up,” Formichetti explains. “I do these illustrations for my brand Nicopanda and come up with new characters everyday. This one’s called “Chetti” and it’s an amoeba-panda! It’s a virus affecting the Mugler world, I wanted to do a shoot where Mugler and Nicopanda got mixed up, two completely different worlds living in the same dimension.”
“The nexus of Born This Way and the soul of the record reside in this idea that you were not necessarily born in one moment. You have your entire life to birth yourself into becoming the ultimate potential vision that you see for you. Who you are when you come out of your mother’s womb is not necessarily who you will become. Born This Way says your birth is not finite, your birth is infinite.”
(talking about the meaning of Born This Way)
The first song written and recorded for the album was the title track itself which she wrote in Liverpool and Manchester, England, described by Lady Gaga as a “magical message” song. She wrote it in ten minutes and compared the process to an Immaculate Conception.
“I want to write my this-is-who-the-fuck-I-am anthem, but I don’t want it to be hidden in poetic wizardry and metaphors. I want it to be an attack, an assault on the issue because I think, especially in today’s music, everything gets kind of washy sometimes and the message gets hidden in the lyrical play. Hankering back to the early ’90s, when Madonna, En Vogue, Whitney Houston and TLC were making very empowering music for women and the gay community and all kind of disenfranchised communities, the lyrics and the melodies were very poignant and very gospel and very spiritual and I said, ‘That’s the kind of record I need to make. That’s the record that’s going to shake up the industry.’ It’s not about the track. It’s not about the production. It’s about the song. Anyone could sing Born This Way. It could’ve been anyone.”
Nick Knight directed the accompanying music video, which was inspired by painters like Salvador Dalí and Francis Bacon and their surrealistic images. Gaga is depicted as giving birth to a new race during a prologue. A series of dance sequences later, the video concludes with the view of a city populated by this race. Critics noted cultural references to the work of Madonna, Michael Jackson, Björk, late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, as well as to Greek mythology, magical realism and surrealism.
Laurieann Gibson explained the inspiration behind the video to MTV News:
“When she played it for me, it took me a while to find out the visual interpretation that I could give back to her. And so I woke up one night and I got it, and I said, ‘I got it: We have to birth a new race.’ From the gate, Gaga was like, ‘I want Nick Knight for this video. I want a visual.’ She was always birthing something visual in her head, and Nick Knight is just, well, he’s prolific but he’s so genius. It was about pushing the bar of what a music video should be and can be. […] It’s a different time; it’s a different era; there are no limits. It is a viral message. I think that there’s something in there for everyone, and that’s what’s so amazing about the video and so specific about the message.”
Released on Monday, February 28, 2011, the video begins with a brief shot of a unicorn’s silhouette in a steam-filled alley, inside a pink triangle frame. The triangle transitions to a shot of Gaga, with two opposite facing heads, inspired by Janus, the Roman god of transition and beginnings, sitting in an ornate glass throne amidst a star-filled space. As Bernard Herrmann‘s prelude to the movie Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) plays, Gaga tells the story of the creation of an extraterrestrial race that “bears no prejudice, no judgment, but boundless freedom.” Gaga sits in the throne, giving birth to a “new race within the race of humanity.” She explains that this was followed by the birth of evil, due to which Gaga splits into two opposing forces of good and evil. Her new half gives birth to a machine gun and fires it. The prologue concludes with Gaga questioning, “How can I protect something so perfect, without evil?”
The video featured full-bodied tattooed model Rick Genest (Rico), better known by his stage name Zombie Boy. Gaga painted her face in a similar way to Genest, in one of the main series of sequences. She said that the sequences displayed the fact that she would not allow society or critics to dictate her sense of beauty. “I tell you what I think is beauty, and hence the scene was of me and Rico defining ourselves in artistic way and not relying on society to dictate it,” she added. The costumes for the video were designed by Nicola Formichetti, who blogged about the various designer pieces shown in it. In the opening sequence of the video, Gaga wore a head accessory by Alexis Bittar, a diamond neckpiece by Erickson Beamon with earrings by Pamela Love, and a stained-glass dress by Petra Storrs. Finger rings were provided by Erickson Beamon and chiffon clothes by Thierry Mugler. For the skeletons sequences, both she and Rico wore tuxedos by Mugler while the slime during the orgy scenes were courtesy of Bart Hess. For her Michael Jackson impression in the alley at the video’s end, Gaga wore shirt and pants by Haus of Gaga, shoes by Natacha Marro, a Billykirk belt and LaCrasia gloves.
Roxanne Lowit is one of the pioneers of behind-the-scenes fashion photography as we know it today. “For the first 10 to 15 years I was the only one shooting backstage at all the shows. I had no credentials to begin with but quickly realised that that was my métier, that’s what I found most fascinating.”
The revelation came when she was gifted an Instamatic camera while still attending the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York studying Textile Design. At the time Lowit was a keen painter, but with this new tool discovered a more efficient way of capturing the spirit of her subjects. “I wanted to paint the people I admired but nobody had the time, so I thought I’d take a photograph of them and work from the photograph,” she says. “However, once I took the photograph I realised that I didn’t need to capture the whole soul in a painting. So I traded in my paintbrushes for a camera.”
Her background in textile design became her backstage pass when she was invited by the designers who worked from her patterns to photograph the completed garments before their shows. Eventually word got out that Lowit’s images were something worth publishing, and in 1978 she was contacted by Annie Flanders from the SoHo News. “She heard that I was going to Paris so she said ‘if you get a real camera I’ll use your pictures when you get back’. I learnt how to put film in a real camera on the plane on the way over. Next thing I was on the top of the Eiffel Tower shooting with Yves Saint Laurent and Andy Warhol. It was all downhill from there because how could it get any better?”
But things did get better, much better. After that first trip to Paris doors flung open for Lowit and her career as a backstage fashion photographer gained swift momentum. As industry insiders came to know and love her, the invitations to the parties flooded in, which was where much of the magic happened in front of Lowit’s lens. The 80s were heady times for fashion and she was always there, stationed in the fray, ready to catch the fanfare, frivolities and outright excess as it happened. “It was phenomenal,” she recalls. “We had the Supermodels and all those designers who loved the Supermodels. There were great parties – Elton John was always there and all sorts of celebrities started coming to the shows and parties.”
These days Lowit finds the more homogenised collections produced by contemporary designers as a result of an increasingly commercialised fashion industry much less inspiring, but revels in rising to the challenge all the same. “I usually play a game with myself, how good can I make this look?” she laughs. “But really it’s just about taking a great picture and finding a great moment. It’s always exciting to think, where am I going to go and what am I going to shoot next?”For the fashion designers themselves, as Lowit recalls, it was a time of tremendous creative freedom, where their unique artistic vision was nurtured by the industry and experimentation was encouraged. The shows, it seems, were less about selling clothes and more about the artistry, theatre and spectacle of it all. “It was so much more creative back then. You didn’t need a name at the end of the runway to know who it was you were watching,” she tells me. “When you saw long red nails with vampish clothes and great big hair you knew it was Thierry Mugler. When you saw flower dresses and a girl on a horse you knew you were at Kenzo. Stripes and knits, you were at Sonia Rykiel.”
Lowit gets a kick out of shooting just about anyone who gets a kick out of being shot. “All the pictures I’ve taken are important to me. They’re all like my children. It’s always the next image I look forward to. But looking back I think my favourites are the ones where the people just enjoyed having their picture taken – they were just having a good time. That’s really when I can capture something great.”
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