persuasion

Getting things done often means convincing others of a course of action. We educate and train; explain and argue; encourage and threaten. Persuasion can be subtle or heavy-handed. Sometimes it means getting people to do things that are not necessarily in their interest, but that are presented to them in such a way that they appear to be. Advertising and propaganda, marketing and promotion… these are commercial arts that have risen to exceptional levels of sophistication in modern societies, often to the extent that large numbers of the population do not realize that they are being directed. Photographers lift the lid on these manipulations, allowing us to glimpse the subtle strategies others use to have us do their bidding.

55 | Persuasion

Alec Soth

Grand Palais

2007

from series Paris / Minnesota

Courtesy Magnum Photos

Soth’s Grand Palais conveys subtle messages on several levels. It is, of course, ‘about’ the theatre of Parisian fashion, which still manages to maintain its gold-standard position in the global fashion world. It is also a portrait of someone for whom the word ‘icon’ is – for once – appropriate: the late Karl Lagerfeld, who understood Soth’s game and played his part in it. But, by pulling back and including another photographer, peeking in from the side, Soth is willing to puncture our assumption of exclusivity, showing that he is not alone, merely another pawn in the construction and maintenance

56 | Persuasion

Brian Ulrich

Chicago, IL

from series Retail

Courtesy the artist

Brian Ulrich’s picture of an American family in a vast electronic cornucopia speaks to the seductive powers of mass media, and mass marketing, its seductive messages multiplied and amplified. His framing takes in this gigantic building, which might be called a factory of consumption: it is literally producing consumption. The family stares spellbound at a white-clad figure (a ‘celebrity chef’?) making a heroic gesture; cloning turns him into an army, a thought reinforced by the ordered march to infinity of the lighting fixtures. Only thousands of dollars stand in the way of this family’s enhanced visual pleasure!

57 | Persuasion

Andrew Moore

Al Meena Mall, Abu Dhabi, UAE

2009

from series Abu Dhabi

Courtesy Yancey Richardson Gallery

Until late in the 20th century, the mall seemed to be a quintessentially American thing, like fast-food and motels. All were the logical outcome of the rise of both suburbia and automobility. Malls were often built on urban fringes, and were inward-facing, cleverly designed to focus everyone’s energies on consumption. Today the mall is a global phenomenon – at least for the moment, for on-line shopping is taking it’s toll. Andrew Moore’s Al Meena Mall could be almost anywhere, save for the gigantic banners of Abu Dhabi’s elite, and possibly the taste for bedspreads. A lone human seems to be guarding the outflow from this economic oasis.

58 | Persuasion

Patrick Weidmann

on the left
USA0161-2017, 2017

in the center, from the top
JAP5011-2016, 2016
DSC1230-2016, 2016


on the right
JAP5096-2016, 2016

2016

Courtesy the artist

Patrick Weidmann is not interested in simple documentation of the landscape of persuasion: billboards and signs: Free! Improved! Or in racks of luxury goods on the shelves of trendy boutiques. His interests lie in the deeper structures of consumer psychology – the visual language of persuasion. What principles draw us to consume en masse? Why are we drawn to certain products? The glitter of light on plastic and metal, the seduction of sinuous form… Weidmann’s close croppings obscure scale and confound meaning. He warns us: blind materialism leads only to a dead-end

59 | Persuasion

Robert Walker

from left to right

Times Square, New York, 2010
Times Square, New York, 2009
Times Square, New York, 2004

2004

Courtesy the artist

Marketeers, promoters, politicians … Almost everyone is bombarded daily with messages encouraging people to buy this or that product, adhere to this or that ideology. For many years, Walker has focused his camera on that epicentre of incessant, strident messaging – New York City’s ever-pulsating Times Square. He keenly observes the interplay between monumentally scaled flashing signs and their moving targets – the tiny human figures of the tourists constantly streaming through this glittering playground, spellbound. Do they not recognise that, for a brief moment, they are actually part of the spectacular tableau? Walker suggests that people are complicit in the theatre of persuasion.

60 | Persuasion

Dougie Wallace

Harrodsburg

2016

from series Harrodsburg

Courtesy the artist

In his series Harrodsburg, Wallace looks at the excessive wealth and consumerism that can be found around the Knightsbridge area close to the world-famous department store Harrods. From the mid 1970s onwards, Gulf millionaires began coming to the area, later joined by the Oligarchs and the Hedgies. Wallace intends the work as a stark exposé of the emergence of this ultra- affluent elite who are changing the face of the city and, in Wallace’s view, ‘pricing out not just ordinary people but even the upper middle class natives of Central London, and marginalising old wealth from their time-honoured habitats’.

61 | Persuasion

Eric Thayer

A test card pattern on a Jumbotron above the Quicken Loans Arena as preparations were underway for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

2016

Courtesy New York Times e Redux

Thayer’s reportage at the Republican National Convention in 2016 was extensive – made for the moment, as is all good photojournalism. But this image transcends its immediate time frame. It stands for the current media-saturated civilisation and could just as easily be the product of a Chinese, Arab, European or South American propaganda machine. In the oft- quoted words of media theorist Marshall McLuhan, ‘the medium is the message’. Here the all-important video imagery technology is being fine-tuned, its vibrant colours and rapidly morphing shapes soon to seduce and cajole not only the participants in the great hall but also the millions tuning

62 | Persuasion

Andy Freeberg

Sean Kelly

2010

from series Art Fare

Courtesy the artist

Freeberg prowls the galleries of New York, along with contemporary art fairs in Basel, Miami and New York, in search of unguarded moments that reveal that the surface glitter of the art world hides a more mundane reality: the high-stakes game of the six- to eight-figure hard sell. Freeberg has described the way in which borders seems to melt away in the contemporary art world – as he notes, ‘This gallery was founded in Switzerland, its owner is English, its director is French and the artist, Kehinde Wiley, is of Nigerian and African-American descent – and has a studio in Beijing where Chinese painters assist him’.

63 | Persuasion

Shigeru Takato

Cologne V

2004

from series Television Studios

Courtesy the artist

Over twenty years, Takato has photographed more than two hundred television studios. Television portrays the world through reporting and storytelling, influencing people’s perceptions of the world. Television studios are places where an enormous amount of energy converges from many different corners of our planetary civilisation. This is why they often have a circular structure, implying that they are at the centre of the world. In Takato’s work, these studios remain silent, although they are primed to tell their stories. A muted studio is deprived of its basic function – ironically, this allows us to see it more clearly.

64 | Persuasion

Nick Hannes

The Persian Court at the Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai, 2016

2016

from series Dubai. Bread and Circuses

Courtesy the artist

Bread and Circuses is a three-year documentary project on leisure, consumerism and market-driven urbanisation in Dubai. It showcases the city as the ultimate playground of globalisation and capitalism, while raising questions about authenticity and sustainability – a Persian Court cum Starbucks? Dubai’s rapid transformation from a dusty fishing town in the 1960s to the ultra-modern metropolis of today fascinates supporters and critics. With its prestigious shopping malls, artificial islands and iconic skyscrapers (not to mention hordes of migrant workers), the little emirate on the Persian Gulf may prove to be a future model city or a short-lived playground for the fortunate.

65 | Persuasion

Andrew Esiebo

God is Alive

During the monthly Prayer service called “Holy Ghost Night” of Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries, pastors knelt down to seek forgiveness and prayers from their leader after they controversially left the church.

2011

Courtesy the artist

In Esiebo’s eyes, God is at the heart of life in Nigeria. Religious spaces are found in every nook and cranny of the country. The current wave of Pentecostal and Charismatic movements arose in the 1970s from the literate environment of Nigerian colleges and universities. These movements expanded their reach to form linkages with similar movements in the United States. They have since grown into mega churches, boasting a hundred thousand members or more. The late 1980s also saw the adoption of media technologies to propagate their evangelical messages, enlist new members and advertise themselves to the public.

66 | Persuasion

Sato Shintaro

from the top

Kabukicho, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo / Kabukicho, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo

Dotonbori, Chuo Ward, Osaka / Omori-Kita, Ota Ward, Tokyo

1997-1999

from series Night Lights

Courtesy PGI, Tokyo

Entertainment districts in Japan are full of places that cater to human desires for food, sex and amusement. The myriad billboards create intriguing rhythms of colour, light and shape. When shooting, Sato eliminates human figures in order to accent the physical texture of the city. At a certain moment, he opens his lens, then, when people arrive, he quickly covers it with a sheet of black paper. By repeating this procedure several times, he accumulates the necessary exposure time of between thirty seconds and one minute. Gaudy billboards remind Sato of ‘flowers that bloom while breathing the air of obscenity’.

67 | Persuasion

Priscilla Briggs

Happy (Golden Resources Mall, Beijing)

2008

from series Fortune

Courtesy the artist

Briggs imagines civilisation as a teeming organism in which cultures overlap and intermix, constantly evolving into new forms. Global economies of manufacturing and trade shape the fate of people around the world, not to mention the future of the environment. Her photographs of the retail and manufacturing landscapes of China reveal a specific historic moment of rapid economic growth when ‘mega’ shopping malls became symbols of economic progress. Here, within the burnished marble halls of Prada, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, the influence of Western culture and its preoccupation with wealth and luxury find fertile ground in a rapidly modernising China.

68 | Persuasion

Natan Dvir

Desigual

2013

from series Coming Soon

Courtesy the artist

Dvir’s urban spectacles, where gigantic advertising billboards dwarf the people below, offer a stinging critique of unbridled consumerism. However, the photographs are not without irony and, indeed, humour. The passers-by unwittingly feature in the tableaux, mimicking poses and postures, or act as counterpoints, drawing attention to the absurdity of the advertisers’ claims – ‘Happy Ideas All the Time’ or ‘Better & Better’. Dvir’s pictures suggest that modern urbanites take this messaging in their stride, ignoring the chirpy slogans, paying attention instead to their mundane, immediate needs. Or so they think: the advertisers know

69 | Persuasion

Mark Power

The funeral of Pope John Paul II broadcast live from the Vatican. Warsaw, Poland

2005

from series The sound of Two Songs

Courtesy the artist and Magnum Photos

At first glance, this image perplexes: what is that gigantic technowall? – Power actually illuminates two distinct parts of a contemporary event: a funeral crowd, squeezed into a narrow band at the base of the picture; and, taking up eighty-five per cent of the space, a wall of gigantic video monitors. It takes a moment to work out that the crowd is actually in the background, looking at screens, not in the foreground. Power’s subject isn’t really the Pope’s funeral; by amplifying the importance of the monitors, he highlights the power of media in our lives – dominating, controlling, overpowering.

70 | Persuasion

Valérie Belin

all the works

Untitled (Models II)

2006

from series Models II

Courtesy the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Parigi/Bruxelles

The Models II series from 2006 comprises twelve photographs of young models – six boys and six girls – chosen from catalogues proposed by various modelling agencies. A selection of four is shown here. In contrast to the ‘anthropometric’ method Belin chose for her earlier series of portraits, on this occasion she worked from a preconceived idea of the subject in order to create a stereotype. What emerges from this series is a particular aesthetic, which brings to mind the avatars used to represent humans in virtual worlds. One could also say that this is a series of portraits of chimerical beings.

71 | Persuasion

Andreas Tschersich

peripher 1827 (Detroit)

2010 / 2011

from series peripher

Courtesy the artist

Many photographers are drawn to the central cores of big cities, where crowds, buildings and signs jostle for space. Andreas Tschersich is drawn to the quieter life of suburbs, and has been travelling the world for the past fifteen years to focus on what he calls ‘periphery’. However, the photographer resists being categorized as a documentarian. The places really do exist, and there is no manipulation, but his vision is highly subjective. It’s a feeling for the place he’s after. In the case shown here, a ravaged post-auto-era Detroit, that feeling is essentially one of pathos. As the dominating billboard suggests, escapism is the only answer.

72 | Persuasion

Lauren Greenfield

Selena Gomez, 17, at an album cover photo shoot, West Hollywood, 2010. After landing the lead role in the 2007 Disney Channel hit Wizards of Waverly Place, Disney groomed her to be a multiplatform star with a huge social-media following.

2010

from series Generation Wealth

Courtesy the artist

Greenfield’s terrain, as we have seen earlier, is the surplus of American wealth, glamour and fame that seems to enthral the entire world. Here, she notes, is a singer who has been carefully groomed for global success. Greenfield shows one small part of the less-than-glamorous process in a kitschy tableau structured like a religious painting – an apt treatment for the almost-religious cult known as Celebrity.

73 | Persuasion

Han Sungpil

Duplication

2010

from series Façade

Courtesy the artist, Art Space Ben di Seoul e Blanca Berlín Galería, Madrid

Sungpil has travelled the world contemplating the oddity of temporary façades used to conceal construction sites and ‘unsightly’ building renovations. Sometimes these monumentally-scaled images are simply straightforward renderings of the buildings that existed beforehand; after renovation or modernisation has been completed, they will be removed. Sometimes the imagery is more romantic, in the form of a trompe l’oeil or a work of pure phantasy. The global prevalence of this increasing practice seems to betray our civilisation’s desire to hide from us the rough, messy aspects of our built environment in favour of a smooth, glossy ideal.

74 | Persuasion

Andreia Alves de Oliveira

from left to right

Lobby, Advertising agency

Lookout room, Brand consulting firm

Open space, Hedgefund

Hot-desking workspace, Audit, tax and advisory services firm

Accountant’s desk, Law firm

Breakout space, Transportation finance bank

2014

from series The Politics of the Office

Courtesy the artist

Andreia Alves de Oliveira is interested in the modern arts of persuasion but prefers to go behind the scenes to see where the strategies are conceived, executed, refined and evaluated. In her series The Politics of the Office, shot over three years, she accesses the workspaces of advertising agencies, financial institutions like specialised banks and hedge funds, law firms and brand consultants, appropriating the catchy terms they have devised for their trendy spaces – a ‘lookout room’, a ‘breakout space’, ‘hot-desking’ and the like. Individuals are immaterial – they will come and go. The ‘persuasion industry’ will remain.