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Lindsay Lohan Is Eating Your Brain

Indrani explains the many layers of celebrity through the example of Lindsay Lohan.

Lindsay Lohan is eating your brain. You think you know her. Everyone thinks they know what she is. A woman-child, an innocent, a victim, a genius, a deviant? Do you know as much about yourself? We’re all sure we know what Lindsay needs. But no one can agree. Aren’t these projections of what we need ourselves? Loving parents, a good lawyer, tough love, a wake-up call. Why do our great pundits devote time to Lindsay’s analysis—so eager to help her or to bask in her glow? What is Lindsay Lohan? What is a star? What am I? What’s real? What’s an ideal?

As an image creator, I am drawn to these issues of ideals and objectification, artifice and authenticity, fantasy and reality, light and shadows, smoke and mirrors—these are the tools of my art. I enjoy finding great thinkers throughout history inspired by these same elements, which they use to represent their ideas. Philosophers’ chief concerns appear to be that things are not as they appear. Our shoots remind me of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”, where the light represents truth, and subjects cast shadows that are representations, forms or ideas. He exhorts us to break the chains of illusions we perceive as the material world, and gaze instead at the transcendent reality in the light of truth, then set others free. Plato probably wasn’t thinking of reality TV, but it may be the brightest light we’ve got right now.

Descartes, Kant, and Marx were all concerned with how to overcome the duality, with many, like Schopenhauer, seeing art as a means to spiritual freedom. Nietzsche views philosophy, morals and ideals themselves as “idols”; reality as a continuous state of transformation through the “will to life” in the material world; and art as the only justification for life. Life takes on meaning only as it is expressed in art.

We make art from life, through our images, and life from art, as iconic images attach their aura to their subjects’ lives. We’re completing the circle by filming the process, to recontextualize the missing meaning. The million-dollar question is no longer what is real, but how to make one person’s reality become the fantasy of millions around the globe?

Lindsay and all the stars whose income is derived from revealing their private lives, are to me performance artists—weaving a web of contradiction and trapping people in subverted expectations of normalcy. The public’s addiction grows with each contradiction and unexpected act, just as their addiction grows to the public’s attention. In the end, though they are subject to the same moral laws as the rest of us, they must be viewed as objects of art living in the public imagination.

Postmodernists from Benjamin to Baudrillard proclaim the “murder of the real by the image”. Is that what Lindsay--one of the most photographed people on the planet-- is going through? I hope our Post-postmodern approach can give new life to the imaging process by fusing the viewer with the viewed. As an ex-model myself, I know how existentially upsetting it can be to be flattened and objectified all the time. That’s why in our photo shoots, we put our subjects’ desires first and enhance what is normally one photographer’s perspective with dynamic discussions to include our subject as well as an array of creative collaborators in our decision-making. The big question for us is not, “How could Lindsay be so late?” but, “How can we create an image that will truly represent her, both how we see her, and how she wants to see herself?”

In our images Lindsay both frames herself and uses a beam as a stripper pole to transform a ravaged space into the psychadelic site of a grand new construction. In the process, we’ve been criticized from all sides, by Lindsay’s fans and enemies alike, though our client got great press. Did we set Lindsay up to fail as she claims in a Twitter war? Watch the episode, it's clear we did not. But perhaps society has. Are we enablers? Fans blame us for being kind when she came 11 hours late. Should we have tortured her as Tyra would and sent her home in tears, or pulled out her extensions as a Jersey Housewife or prison warden might? Reminding us how far reality shows are from real life, such dramas might increase ratings, but would not be true to us, our business, or our art. Are we exploiters? Lindsay’s fans blame us for filming her lateness. But Lindsay knew she would be filmed, and chose to represent herself this way, gaining huge publicity for her 6126 brand. That’s why she is so loved: Lindsay appears normal, accessible, the girl next door, yet she’s an artist living free, thumbing her nose at society’s rules, and generally getting away with it.

In our culture, we crave heroes to follow. Celebrities become representations of ideas, vessels on which we all project our own fantasies and needs. My image-making work is devoted to bringing out those qualities that make individuals into icons. Whether our clients are psychologically or organizationally equipped to handle the consequences of the stardom their images achieve has been our concern. Our job is to inspire.

The seeming irony of my work is that it is directly responsible for supporting these celebrity cults, while my attempt to document the process and make it transparent could undercut them. But inevitably the process only adds additional layers of interpretation and interest. We called our show Double Exposure, because what we create is an image that reveals these two layers of meaning superimposed.

As artists, working in a world where consumerism is key, we use all the mediums we can, to reach the widest audience with our images: through ad campaigns, fashion magazines, and now TV. The stakes are very high and the challenges are great, yet our passion overcomes practical limitations.

We seek to create art, through fashion and advertising photography. Clients may not want art, they may just want something that sells. But I believe in using every opportunity to the fullest to maximize our creative process, to explore and find ways to convey meaning and depth and beauty with everything I do. That's part of the self-tortured angst I thrust on Markus every day, and the cause of much of our friction. I always want to push things further, to turn ideas or objects upside down, to explore, stretch, communicate, and create something with meaning and timelessness and the sublime, in a world where surface and speed is all that counts.

If you want to know Lindsay better, watch Double Exposure again carefully. If you want to use the secrets of the stars to be important to your target audience and achieve your highest goals, join my explorations in personal alchemy and look for my book Image Craft at Harper One, later this year.

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