The Politics of Image in 2020

The Politics of Image in 2020

The pandemic unleashed an overarching populism on all forms of high art. Photography too. The visual became ephemeral and conveniently self-authored 

The death of the photojournalist, who could capture a unique moment in a composition to distinguish that image even if dozens were clicking away at the same site at the same time, is not a lament peculiar to 2020. We have been witnessing that loss in the last few years as mobile devices gave everyone a way to document anything they wanted, and then edit it to suit the narrative they wanted to author. Yet the deeper erosion of photography as high art, the rapidity with which photographs landed on our devices and disappeared, the ephemerality of most if not all visuals, the overcrowding of storytellers through everyday photos was peculiarly intense this year. Not necessarily compelling.

The pandemic unleashed a populism across fashion as an industry—luxury, photography, makeup, styling and fashion shows. As the populist became popular, the high priests of aesthetics either watched with stoicism from the sideline or just got up and quietly left the front row of Instagram low art. It was not only fashion that saw this happen—culinary arts, beauty, writing, podcasting, teaching and well, even doll-making or painting… Most forms of high art became instant, quickly indulged in, then exhibited as “exciting” images. “Everyone” could bake banana bread in the pandemic, then photograph and show it. “Everyone” could do a headstand, 100 squats or 108 surya namaskars, take a highly stylised (or highly grainy-artsy, devil may care) selfie, set their hair, write a blog, do their eyes in cobalt blue, claim they were mindful and sustainable by taking their photographs in their own, previously purchased clothes. Claims became easy, self-taken images helped do away with the need for expertise and uniqueness.


Photo: Shutterstock

If the crimes of DIY would make a worthy (and delightfully ironical) 2020 memoir, the manipulation or the recruitment of the photograph to suit one’s story as it hurtled here and there with restless fickleness would definitely make a photo book.

The Voice of Fashion’s special issue ‘The Politics of Image’ in 2020 examines how visuals changed this year. Gritty and satirical selfies. Or overstated, “look-at-me, I am surviving the pandemic with Himalayan asceticism (ultra-fitness, red wine, green makeup, velvet pyjamas to WFH, Rhea Chakraborty inquisitiveness etc) documentations of self and others. Dress up games. The inclusive representation of the body. The ubiquity of the fashion film. Intimate illustrations that narrate personal stories like self-nudes. How photos look when taken without worrying about camera, lens, composition, frame, light, exposure, brilliance…


A still from Pink Peacock Couture’s fashion film, showcased at Lakmé Fashion Week 2020.

The cover image—from designer Karan Torani’s Instagram campaign ‘Kaaya’—and digitally enhanced by collagist Seher Khan—shows plus-sized illustrator Tanya Bedi in a red sari dramatically draped to show her curves. It stands for multiple ideas from the trending carousel this year. The pursuit of the populist for one. Fashion picking itself up and moving on despite huge disruptions. Mixing and queering concepts, fast becoming a routine aspect of global fashion. Inclusivity. Unconventional sexiness.

This issue, which starts rolling out today to conclude on December 31, when 2020 rides into the sunset, (unhappily I suppose), you will find pieces where different writers—staff journalists and guest writers—have interpreted the visual experiences or visual memories of 2020 in myriad ways. Karuna Ezara Parikh looks at the representation of women of colour. Amruta Patil writes about Susy Paisley a conservation biologist who is now an artist creating wallpapers with botanical themes. Arti Sandhu writes on her personal experience of teaching a virtual fashion design class. Designer Rina Singh, the founder of Eka argues why Italian brand Marni’s Spring 2021 collection and idea Marnifesto makes it the image of the moment for her. Sharda Ugra writes about how “taking a knee at kick-off” became a football ritual this year—RIP George Floyd. Sanjukta Sharma writes about Beth Harmon of The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix introduced a new kind of superheroine. There are many others. Sujata Assomull writes about the most memorable visual moments of fashion and luxury in the UAE. Parismita Singh studies the work of Naga designer and artist Imchatsung Imchen, through a selection of photographs made by him. Quotes of the year, the highs and lows of male vanity, wedding photography, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan’s interview with Booker-nominated author Avni Doshi and Naina Redhu’s photo essay where she has remotely photographed (through Zoom and FaceTime), a select list of artists and creators…


Photo: Netflix

A still from ‘The Queen’s Gambit’.

We try to hold a mirror to the changed image because the images hold a mirror to how we changed this year.

A last request from me this year. Please do follow this link to a survey that seeks your feedback on TVOF. Content, navigation, topics, design, what does not work and deserves a rethink, what to track…do tell us.

Merry Christmas and a potentially brighter New Year with a soonish vaccination…


Banner: A digital cover of ‘The Politics of Image’. Original image: designer and illustrator Tanya Bedi from fashion label Torani’s 2020 campaign ‘Kaaya’, Digital collage by Seher Khan