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Framed
April 26, 2017

Exclusive Snapshots From Dior’s ‘The Women Behind The Lens’ Series

Text by Shirin Mehta

Brigitte Niedermair reminisces on her experience photographing the Dior SS17 collection

The heritage label’s first female creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, expectedly revisited Dior’s codes and icons in her debut prêt-à-porter collection this season. What was unexpected, though in keeping with contemporary sartorial sentiment — that she has in fact played a major part in asserting — was the socio-political message that she presented. T-shirts were emblazoned with the feminist slogan ‘We should all be feminists’, taken from the title of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay published in 2014. Designing for a strong and committed woman, Chiuri took cues from the uniform of the female fencer. Following on from the #TheWomenBehindMyDress series, which turned the spotlight on those who had worked on putting Chiuri’s very first show together, today the House presents #TheWomenBehindTheLens, a project in which female photographers each offer their own visions of the collection.

Exclusively presented here is a set of diptychs by Brigitte Niedermair who discusses what this collaboration means to her….

What has been your approach to fashion photography?
“To quote artist René Magritte, ‘I use photography to show your thinking.’ Photography speaks a universal language that is direct and powerful. Even when I’m working on fashion shoots, I always try to tread the fine line between ethics and aesthetics. I firmly believe that fashion is a political act, understood as the creation of a powerful aesthetic that strongly influences social behaviour. And when I shoot, I always try to have two great allies on my side: the great history of art and the goddess of beauty, who has always protected and guided me. My aim is always to take a long, artistic look inside fashion.”

What does the Dior SS17 collection mean to you personally?
“As I said, fashion is a political act. And Maria Grazia Chiuri, an extraordinary designer and woman of exceptional awareness, has created her first collection for Dior with great formal and aesthetic rigour, in keeping with the French fashion house’s history. But she has also done something much more important: by creating those fencing doublets or the T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, she wanted to draw the world’s attention to the issue of sexual equality. And she has implicitly said that to stand up for all this, we all need to fight together. That’s why, as a woman, I’m very happy to have shared this adventure with her.”

What is your view of feminism?
“I like to answer that question with the words of Simone de Beauvoir: ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’. Feminism means awareness of your role in society and doing everything to improve our relationship with male power, to achieve equal rights between the sexes and equal opportunities between people. I should emphasise that I have never had any negative experience related to my identity as a woman, but I sense silent, hidden but ever-present prejudices. It should, however, be remembered that in the world, certainly in Italy, women are paid (for the same job) less than men: it’s an injustice, even if less serious than the violence and oppression that women must suffer in the world…. Being a feminist means fighting together with women, for women, each with their own tools.”

What was the inspiration and approach for the shoot?
“The T-shirt (with the slogan) is a statement, a kind of flag, a banner to hold high for everyone to see. That’s why I shot it as if it were a political manifesto; you can’t put a manifesto on a model’s body, but it should be a symbol. And to give the photo and message even more power, I put it on the bench where the book’s author sat during the Dior show. To me it seemed more powerful, effective and authentic.”

What’s the message that you would like to put across?
“A great Italian writer, Erri De Luca, wrote some wonderful words on the relationship between men and women. ‘The male sex envies the female power to give birth. It has taken for itself power, war, politics, areas of government that pale in comparison to the ability to bring life into the world. The female replicates the work of creation. It’s the age of mothers.’ I carry with me my awareness of being a woman in a man’s world. I’ve learnt that we need to stand up for our identity, firmly at times, without ever losing tenderness. And I’ve learnt never to give up.

Being a woman is an adventure that requires courage, it’s a challenge that never bores. This is true for all women. I try to photograph their beauty and, above all, their courage and strength in facing the challenges of the world. That’s why, for me, photography is a challenge that never ends.”

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