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Visuals and Meanings in KENZINE volume 2: Toilet Paper X Kenzo

Updated: Jan 16, 2019

Visual Artefact Essay 1:

There is no denying that visual imagery is always laced with meaning. In the words of John Berger, in his essay on ‘The Ambiguity of the Photograph’, “there is no such thing as a neutral photograph”, and this supports Pierre Bourdieu and Umberto Eco’s theory that ‘visuals are always ‘contaminated’ by the non-visual’, in the sense that an individual has the tendency to employ ideas from their beliefs, presumptions, experiences and ideologies as a means of making sense of a visual. I think that my chosen artefact, the second volume cover of the collaborative zine by ‘Toilet Paper Magazine’ and fashion brand ‘Kenzo’, titled ‘KENZINE’, provides ample evidence for the justification of this theory, as its ambiguity could lead each individual to draw their own respective conclusions on the images meaning.

In approaching this idea in relation to the image, I asked myself what I positively knew about the image. In short I knew that it had links to fashion and to surrealist art, due to the typical nature of Toilet Paper Magazine images. These few pieces of information provide me with what could be considered the surface level meaning of the image. However, when investigating the image, even within the boundaries of these ‘known truths’ of the visual, we can begin to get an inclination as to the deeper meanings behind what we are looking at. The first thing I would note on the image from an art perspective, is the statuesque positioning of the subject in the image, and the necklace adorning the subject, despite being far more colourful and modern piece of costume jewellery, is reminiscent of those worn in royal portraiture. Perhaps this comments on consumer culture, the idolisation of fashion brands and the pedestal on which we place our self-image. Another thing I would note is its strong resemblance to the stature of the man in ‘The Lovers’ by René Magritte, this possible emulation of the famous artwork could perhaps just be coincidence, and what is meant by this link is open to individual interpretation, but could perhaps be linked to themes of gender and sexuality.

My initial presupposition of the subject of the image was that they were male. Perhaps I made these assumptions based on the lack of visible hair, that could be considered more feminine, the strong roman nose and shoulder stance, or perhaps I decided this after linking it to the similarities to the man in ‘The Lovers’ by René Magritte. It could, however, also reveal my views on power in gender, and how men typically hold the confident posture shown in this image, that somewhat represent masculinity to me. My other response to the image was that perhaps the face remained hidden to protect the anonymity of the subject, as a statement on society’s lack of acceptance of men subverting traditional gender norms by wearing more feminine clothing and accessories.

By considering what an ambiguous image such as this one might mean to its audience, the way in which visual perceptions are constantly disturbed by external factors becomes more apparent. Whether this can be seen in potential contextual references to other known artworks, perceived commentary on society and culture or based on visual motifs within the piece. I feel that this reflects cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s idea that ‘media is interpretation’ and that images do not have fixed meaning. However this doesn’t stop society collectively speculating meanings behind visual artefacts and dispute amongst art and design enthusiasts or, as he astutely puts it, “there is no escape from the contestation on meaning”.


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