It was 2010 when a group of brand-conscious creatives founded DIS, the online platform that took accepted notions of fashion and turned them on their head. Instead of runway editorials, they praised the simplicity of Under Armour and the strangeness of khaki. “We are more interested in Burlington Coat Factory than Prada,” founding member Lauren Boyle told The New York Times in 2012.
Since then, both fashion and DIS have come a long way. High fashion is a whole lot less insular than it once was, and DIS is now a four-person collective that has evolved beyond the stylish world it loved to comment on. “I think that we were always interested in lifestyle, and fashion is certainly one element of lifestyle that’s undeniably powerful,” Boyle explains over the phone. “In the beginning, it was about emerging behaviors and emerging trends . . . I think we’re still interested in that, but we brought in more elements, so it’s not only about clothing.”
More recent projects have ranged from a Kim Kardashian West look-alike contest at the Museum of Modern Art to a library of surreal stock photography available on DIS’s website. The group’s latest endeavor might be its most strangely addictive yet: creating the campaign image for MoMA’s “Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015” exhibit. It features Eurovision star Conchita Wurst standing at a Lucite podium against a bright blue background, clear teleprompters at her side, and the whole picture is watermarked with a MoMA logo front and center. The photograph can be seen in subway stations and on bus stops around New York City, often accompanied by a group of people staring at it with a blend of wonderment and confusion.
“The fact that they had their own stock imagery database and that they work with all the seductiveness and the tropes of fashion photography was very important for a marketing or advertising campaign for us,” explains the exhibition’s senior curator, Roxana Marcoci. “We were interested in what they were doing with the stock imagery, how they would take these images that were shot in a generic style, but then they would turn them around and bring in a twist.”
Even if DIS has left its pure fashion photography days behind, Marcoci notes that the collective, in addition to many other fine art photographers exhibited at MoMA—Wolfgang Tillmans, Cindy Sherman, Collier Schorr, Roe Ethridge, and Nan Goldin included—is establishing a new breed of image-making that is, perhaps, neither art nor fashion. “There are so many artists with whom we are working—and we’ve been exhibiting in various contexts—who blur this line between fashion photography and so-called fine art photography. I think that the beauty of these artists’ work is the porosity with which one infiltrates the other and informs the other and does something else, almost creates a new genre. It’s not one or the other. It’s not fine art and it’s not necessarily fashion. It can be both.”
Head to MoMA and see for yourself.
“Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015” is on view at the Museum of Modern Art from November 7 through March 20, 2016.
STEFF YOTKA Vogue November 2015