A Distorted View

The other day I came across a couple of sets of interesting images – one a public service ad and the other a project by two photographers. Both make a strong social statement through the use of the design principles of scale and proportion. In each instance the artist/designers have modified the expected proportions. The simple act of changing this one thing alters our interpretation of the work.

Both groups of artist/designers have also employed a single focal point and a fairly symmetrical layout to reinforce their message. This layout let’s us know that there is no equivocating, “Pay attention, there is important information here,” it fairly screams.

The first image that caught my attention was from the design group Rethink. The Canadian Fair Trade Network hired them to help raise awareness about the working conditions found in the textile manufacturing industry. Rethink came up with the Long Tag campaign. We’re all familiar with those awful tags sewn into the necks of our clothes – I always cut them out because I hate the way they itch and poke into my skin. Rethink has elongated the tags, using a scale and proportion for the tags that causes a double-take and makes you actually read them.

blazer with long tag

Long Tag Blazer

The tag reads:

100% cotton. Made in Bangladesh by Joya who left school at the age of twelve to help support her two brothers and newly widowed mother. Her father was killed when a fire ripped through the cotton factory where he worked. She now works in the building across the street from the burned down factory. A constant reminder of the risk she takes everyday. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.

Hoodie with an extra long tag

Long Tag Hoodie

The tag reads:

100% cotton. Made in Sierra Leone by Tejan. The first few times he coughed up blood he hid it from his family. They couldn’t afford medical treatment and he couldn’t risk losing his long-time job at the cotton plantation. When he fell into a seizure one day it could no longer be ignored. The diagnosis was pesticide poisoning. The lack of proper protective clothing has left him with leukemia at the age of 34. He has two daughters. One of them starts work at the factory next year. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.

The second set of images I noticed were by photographers Bruno Metra and Laurence Jeanson who investigate a different aspect of clothing and fashion in their altered portraits.

photos of models with collaged images on their face by Bruno Metra and Laurence Jeanson

Metra and Jeanson cut out body parts from fashion magazines and then tape them onto the face of their model. The models end up looking like the victims of bad plastic surgery – the tape looks like scar tissue or stitching. Like the design firm Rethink, the photographers use the principle of scale and proportion to get their point across. The eyes and lips are just too big for the new faces they’ve been taped to. We know what a face should look like, and these proportions are all wrong. We both laugh and feel very unsettled looking at the photos.

Of their work Bruno says, “Laurence and I are fascinated by the power of the media and how it influences people’s identities…The act of representation has taken over what’s real; models erase themselves in order to gain another self…Here we are portraying identities weakened by the diktat of appearance.”

You can find out more about the design principles of scale and proportion in our book Design: A Beginner’s Handbook.

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