Barbara Brickner and the Editorial Quest

For contemplation he and valour formed,
For softness she, and sweet attractive grace…
-Milton, Paradise Lost, IV, 298–299.

Unlike magazine advertisements, which traditionally have a straightforward commercial function, editorial layouts promote a designer’s work by raising his marquée status (the hot/hip/happening factor). Editorials do have a promotional intent, but of a somewhat different nature than that of commercial images, and because they allow for more overtly artistic qualities than ads do, they offer the entire team that is involved in producing them an opportunity for greater creative expression.

Like MODE before it, Grace is one of the very few magazines which publish editorial spreads featuring plus-size models. However, based on the results to date, it would appear that Grace is still searching for a hallmark editorial style. Therefore, the question that everyone who creates editorial images in Grace, or in any other publication, might want to ask themselves is this:

What kind of editorial style suits plus-size models best?

Of course, it goes without saying that if you are a plus-size model, you could just create the same sorts of ugly images that one finds in the editorial pages of modern fashion magazines. You could end up looking like an alien in a low-budget sci-fi flick:

Or like a heroin addict:

Or…just plain odd:

Our modern age has perfected the “art” of making anyone (or anything) ugly, no matter how intrinsically beautiful they might be. So yes, you could create images just like these.

But why would you want to?

Instead of merely copying the assembly-line modernist material that turns up month after month in most fashion magazines, plus-size models have an opportunity to create something quite different, something unique. They have a chance to develop an editorial style all their own.

People have come to worship at the shrine of “edginess” in our day and age, which is a term so vague as to be all but useless in aesthetic discussions. But a logical definition of the word would relate it to something that is uncommon, on the edge, on the frontier, something that pushes the boundaries. Therefore, in order to understand what is “edgy,“ we must first identify what is not edgy—i.e., what is commonplace. And in modern fashion editorials, it is ugliness which has become commonplace. Ugliness and, of course, emaciation (the two are not quite interchangeable):

So if ugliness and emaciation are commonplace in fashion editorials, then the opposite of those two elements must be uncommon—and therefore “edgy.”

Ergo, since beauty is the opposite of ugliness, and fullness is the opposite of emaciation, then the beautiful, full-figured model is edgy, by her very existence.

But there is more to it than that. In mainstream fashion, images that are described as “edgy” are those which take those two fundamental features of the fashion model (ugliness and emaciation) to a supposedly “daring” new level. Thus, if a model is painted over with especially garish and grotesque makeup, which possibly makes her look like a drug addict, then this is seen as “edgy” because the feature of ugliness has been pushed to a new extreme. Likewise, if a model is underweight to begin with, and is then photographed in such a way as to emphasize just how skeletal she really is, then this too is seen as “edgy” because the feature of emaciation has been pushed to a new level.

But this sets the stage for plus-size models to break out into wonderful new territory—genuinely new, and truly unique, because no other models could possibly do it. If “edginess” involves pushing the basic features of a fashion model to unprecedented extremes, and if plus-size models are distinguished by being uncommonly beautiful (as opposed to ugly), and being genuinely full-figured (as opposed to starving), then the best destiny of plus-size editorials is to create images which elevate beauty to an entirely new level, and which emphasize rather than minimize the attractiveness of a curvaceous figure. Indeed, the very “edgiest” images will be those which succeed most admirably in both respects.

Whenever they have been available, we have presented images on this forum which realize this possibility. Examples of actual editorial work that meet the criteria described above include Lara Johnson’s Talk magazine reincarnation of the “Venus pudica” pose, as well as Mia Tyler’s profile shot in the Fall 2002 issue of Grace—so reminiscent of an Alphonse Mucha painting.

But we may now have before us the best example yet of the possibilities inherent in plus-size editorial work. These are test images, it is true, but they point the way to what plus-size editorial can be, at its highest level of accomplishment. They are the result of a match made in—no, not in Heaven perhaps, because the photographer’s vision is so nocturnal, and so darkly sensual—but an ideal match nevertheless: Barbara Brickner and New York photographer Douglas B.

Long-time readers of this forum will know that we tend to be somewhat skeptical of photographers here, simply because they sometimes resist the push towards size celebration. (Please forgive the generalization.) But from the moment that we first saw this photographer’s work, we were immensely impressed by the shadowy palate of this prince of darkness. We kept wondering, “What would happen if, just once, this man shot a beautiful plus-size model instead of an ugly straight-size model?”

And Fate brought him Barbara Brickner.

These are quite simply the most beautiful shots of Mrs. Brickner that we have ever seen—ever, even after four years of admiring her work. Better than her MODE swimwear or lingerie work. Better even than her Elena Mirò calendar—which we thought could never be surpassed.

They are like nothing we have ever seen before.

Here is Barbara shrouded in darkness. The chiaroscuro effect is worthy of a Rembrandt painting, and while the attire has been updated to the present day, it is exceedingly feminine.

And here is a thrilling headshot, with an expression that is wilder and more passionate than anything we have ever seen from Mrs. Brickner before:

And if those images are edgy in terms of how they emphasize beauty, then this image is an unabashed celebration of the model’s opulent curves:

And finally, here is a magnificent headshot in the same outfit:

The photo session that produced these images took nine hours, no less, but it was surely worth every minute. These masterpieces are likely to remain some of the best work of both the photographer’s and model’s careers, for it is hard to imagine either one of them ever creating anything better. Shooting with such an innately gorgeous model compelled the photographer to push his abilities to the limit, just as Rubens created his best work when his muse, Hélène Fourment, served as his model. And the photographer’s nocturnal sensibility brought out a darker, more passionate side of the model—qualities which further enhance her allure.

Why be conventionally edgy, when you can create something truly unique?

(Originally posted on the Judgment of Paris forum, October 29, 2002.)

Barbara Brickner Galleries:
I · II · III · IV · V · VI · VII · VIII · IX


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PAGE CREATED 2003.05.18