When looking through the slide shows at the online newspapers there are times when I wonder how some of the photographs could be coming from the same planet. Let’s start with this one:
A Komi deer hunter is setting meat out to dry near his lodge on the Yamal Peninsula north of the Arctic Circle. You probably have a similar rack of meat in your backyard, right?
To someone who grew up reading popular histories of the Plains Indians, the picture appears to record a lost world. The lone hunter stands near a nomadic tipi with his dogs and fresh kill in a harsh natural environment. The shockingly raw slabs of the deer carcass suggest that he lives on the edge of survival himself. If you look around, however, you might notice that family members are tending to strong sleds while a good fire is going in the lodge. And look at the dog: he is disciplined, not lunging for the meat just above his head. Nor is everything austere, for the hunter has decorative wear on his leggings and boots. Instead of raw meat against a cold, barren landscape, we are looking at a sustainable culture.
But a very different culture from the one that produced this hothouse plant:
You are looking at one of the offerings from a fashion show in Paris. This show featured ready-to-wear outfits–you know, something you might need when visiting the Yamal Peninsula. Her features might fit in there, and the color scheme features red, white, and black somewhat like the first image, but that’s the extent of the visual similarity between the two worlds.
She stands alone only because she already is supported by a vast social and technological network that includes everything from the media to the microwave oven in which she’ll cook her dinner. And rather than living in visceral closeness to nature, she is immersed in culture. Indeed, her livelihood depends entirely on dressing for display, while the outfit of the moment features a world of signs: fabric appliques mime a face while the smiley icon suggests that everything about her is but distinctive variation within a process of constant circulation. As the circles on her top are echoed by the circular motif on runway and wall, she exists in perfect harmony with a wholly artificial environment.
Can these two worlds converge? Should they? How might each attempt to do so? These questions can be answered from either standpoint–and usually in the negative, I would think–but I don’t have good access to either. There is one example of something like a synthesis, however, also from a fashion show. What might the fashion designer do if confronted with life above the Artic Circle? This is one answer:
That, anyway, is how someone in Madrid imaged winter wear. He got the color scheme right, I guess, but it doesn’t look sustainable.
Photographs by Vassily Fedosenko/Reuters; Pascal Rossigno/Reuters; Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press.