The stare of disdain

“Fashion photography – think Horst P.Horst in the early to mid-20th century – has also long used the haughty look to suggest the status that the right clothes could bring to the wearer in a more socially mobile society. Essentially, this look says: “I am better than you”, because it refuses to offer the open, smiling face of welcome that we conventionally use to engage someone we wish to interact with. It also conveys the self-control, stiff upper lip and nonchalance of the European upper classes – “civilised” qualities which the “jolly old working classes” in those days supposedly found hard to convey.’

John Berger:

“Every publicity image confirms and enhances every other … all such images intend to excite envy, of oneself for a possible future self, and of others…”

“All publicity works upon anxiety”


“The spectator-buyer is meant to envy herself as she will become if she buys the product. She is meant to imagine herself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others, an envy which will then justify her loving herself.”

“The happiness of being envied is glamour. Being envied is a solitary form of reassurance. It depends precisely upon not sharing your experience with those who envy you. You are observed with interest but you do not observe with interest – if you do, you will become less enviable. In this respect the envied are like bureaucrats; the more impersonal they are, the greater the illusion (for themselves and for others) of their power. The power of the glamorous resides in their supposed happiness: the power of the bureaucrat in his supposed authority.”

See also:

John Berger: “Ways of Seeing”


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