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May 20, 2010

Take That, Kneester-Hipsock American Apparel Formula!

<span style="font-size: x-small;">Holly Norris/Jes Sachse
Holly Norris/Jes Sachse

Photographers Holly Norris and Jes Sachse have collaborated to create ‘American Able’, a searing satire of fashion photography and brand management.

Using the white backdrop, helvetica captioned kneester-hipsock formula of American Apparel ads, Norris and Sachse replaced the “highly sexualized and generally thin [models], and who appear to be able-bodied” with Sachse herself. Sachse is differently-abled.

The seriousness of the message is only matched by the sheer enjoyment Sachse has in front of the camera. And why wouldn’t she be having fun as she plays actor, advocate, comedian and social commentator?

Norris and Sachse point out that people with disabilities are usually cast as “asexual” and we routinely fail to examine the pervasive influence of imagery in mass media. The ease with which Norris and Sachse strip away the facade of fashion photography is alarming. If the use of the same playful and suggestive captions put alongside images of a woman – who is not the commonly seen shape – jolt us, could it be we harbor only expectations for the blandly-repeated female form?

American Able Gallery
American Able Slideshow

This work is part of Contacting Toronto, a group exhibit for CONTACT 2010 and will be showing on over 270 digital screens in 50 Toronto Transit Commission stations on May 6, 11, 22 and 31. Jes Sachse’s “The Justice League of Gawkamerica” is showing at The Junction in Toronto as part of CONTACT 2010.

  • Malika

    “Gawkamerica” indeed. We get our ably-formed butts handed to us.

  • Marie

    It’s true, it’s a visual shock to see a body that is out of the norm and rarely seen, maybe a shock because we are not used to seeing bodies outside a narrow range of characteristics. Also a shock to be confronted with my own discomfort. Well, I’ll get over it.

    But what struck me most was how joyful the pictures were. Maybe we are not at home with seeing differently abled bodies, but Jes is certainly at home with herself. She looked like she was having fun.

    • futurebird

      The bodies used in advertising for women are ALWAYS “out of the norm” just in a different way than Jess. I was not “shocked” by the ad. I’m used to seeing women in ads who don’t look like the majority of people I see on a daily basis. She’s no more freaky than your average supermodel.

      It’s refreshing, though, to see someone who is beautiful in a different way from that old barbie mold we normally see. But, a real diversity would be even more exciting.

      I’m totally jealous of her skinny legs. I struggled with anorexia for years and it is hard for me not to start wishing and crying since I will never have legs shaped like that. My reactions aren’t normal, but I think they area magnified version of what many women feel. I have tried to make my body in to something it’s just not– it would be like Jess trying to diet herself into a longer torso. It just doesn’t make any sense.

      The only women who I see in ads who are shaped like me are “ghetto whores” featured in rap videos. There is a “role” for women with my body type. The role is whore as fr as I can tell.

      For Jess, it’s worse, she sees no roles in media… so she makes her own! Ad it works she *owns* that hipster look. She’s hot.

      Makes me want to do my own photo shoots putting the “wrong” kind of bodies in the “wrong” places. I would put skinny white waifs in rap videos. I would put fat women in Victoria’s secret. I would put old women with gray hair… everywhere. I would put curvaceous black girls and Latina’s in elegant black and white diamond ads. I’ve make Jess my super model.

      I would be so much more in to fashion if the world reflected more women and didn’t box us in and type cast us.

      Jess is a hipster and so am I– real hipsters look like all kinds of people. They aren’t boxed in by race, body, height, shape or size.

      And we are so much cooler than all those AA models. They say they give us what they do because “it sells” But, I’m so turned off. I’d buy some AA if they really had Jess as their model.

  • Wayne Dickson

    I can’t help contrasting these images with those of Diane Arbus. With Arbus I always wonder about how the subjects feel about what’s happening to them (or being done to them or revealed about them). The difference here (apart from color vs. b&W) is that the subject is fully aware of what’s going on and is an eager partner in the project. Fascinating.

    • futurebird

      Something about the work of Diane Arbus, made the people seem “more freaky” where as this, make her seem more normal the more you look at it.

      I think they are opposites in many ways. Diane Arbus, gives us subjects who are not smiling, who look isolated and well… creepy. These photo just make her look like a cool friend who you’d want to go party with.

    • Dominic Robinson

      I think the difference is that in Arbus’ photographs it’s Arbus who is making the statement as curator of a collection of oddities.
      The American Able series is a joint statement from both photographer and model; making it a humorous response to the fashion norm, especially AA’s typical use of the young & fashionably ‘perfect’.

  • Michael Shaw

    Maybe Jes is not that easy to talk about. As much as the faux ad is biting mockery of fashion photography, it also takes aim at us for so mindlessly consuming the everyday fare. I stand guilty as charged.

    At the same time, though, once you “adjust” and you’ve cleared the norms — by looking at the image long enough, or, after consuming the series — Jes is sexy.

  • Pete Brook

    I just ran across this article from yesterday – ‘American Apparel to go Under’

    I like to think Norris and Sachse delivered the fatal blows!

  • yg

    attitude reminds me of SNL’s mary katherine gallagher, aka superstar!

  • gmoke

    I’ve always thought the American Apparel ads were weird and exploitative and wondered why the young women who were pictured allowed themselves to be portrayed in such a demeaning manner. My impression is that the models were supposed to be real American Apparel employees but all of them are skinny/shapely.

    Jes is interesting as a model. Her body is not what we are used to seeing semi-clothed. I wonder how she moves.

    • RZ


      From what I have read the models in the ads are employees. The problem is that they seem to find exploitable young people (clueless, poor, susceptible to inducements and so on) and then…exploit them. Including in their ads, in a pretty shameless way.

    • julia

      “why the young women who were pictured allowed themselves to be portrayed in such a demeaning manner.”

      eesh. that is borderline victim blaming territory… you can imagine any number of reasons why the models might choose to pose for these ad campaigns or any other sexist ad campaign. because they get paid. because they like to. because they were coerced. because they might find it anything but demeaning.

      but at the end of the day it’s important to follow the dollar sign. who is deciding that these are the kinds of “demeaning” ways we want to portray women? and to what end? that is who we should be criticizing.

    • Brittany

      The American Apparel ads are weird. Exploitative? According to who?

      And as to “why the young women who were pictured allowed themselves to be portrayed in such a demeaning manner,” I’ll add to Julia’s comment.

      1.) Because posing like this is fun, or can be.
      2.) Because it’s empowering, or can be.
      3.) Because it’s awesome to make people cringe, or can be.

      Of course there are girls who are cooerced, who have low self esteem, who don’t know why they let people gawk at them, but don’t think that’s all–or even most–of them.

  • doug

    While I absolutely despise their marketing, I have to say that I love some of their clothes. The t-shirts are fantastic — well made and oh-so-comfortable. Of course, I avoid some of their stupider fashion fantasies (gold lemay? what?).

    I would rather buy from AA than almost any other company that exploits people in more serious ways.

    It’s kind of weird that their product is better than their marketing, which is exactly opposite of most things we buy these days.

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