‘After reading Diary of a Stylist e-commerce product pictures will never be the same.’
– Geert Lovink, internet critic
‘All at once this piece is a journal peppered with droll axioms, a searing personal reflection, a technical indexing of events and a snippy collection of judgments surrounding a work life. This indelible portrait of Imamović’s working mind presents the stylist diary I didn’t know I needed in my life.’
– Lacey Verhalen, design daddy
‘With irreverence and insight, Imamović gives a rare behind-the-scenes look into the unknown every day of the various labourers within the e-com factories located in contemporary Western metropoles. It is not insignificant that this is the first time we get to learn about this side of the site.’
– Jess Henderson, author of Offline Matters
‘This is the story of the only circular economy currently in existence: the experience economy, which relentlessly upcycles the old into the new new.’
– Sepp Eckenhaussen, researcher at Institute of Network Cultures
and co-director of Platform BK
‘Diary of a Stylist not only captures the spirit of late capitalism,
but also its actual operations: a strange conflict between professional and
personal motivations, the pressure and desire for perpetual productive activity,
the struggle for autonomy and self-realisation, matched by general disinterest
and a desperate need for escape and rest.’
– Jack Self, Editor-in-Chief Real Review
“Lifestyle self-fashioning, continuous re-education and identity politics become the concern of everyone, from the sweatshop worker to educated cognitariat and the ad executive.” – Marc James Léger
In 2019 I started the job of an e-commerce stylist. Each working day I enter the warehouse at 8:34 AM. When inside, the first thing I do is walk myself to the clocking-in station where an iPad asks me to enter my clocking-in code. An iPad greets me happily: “Hello Maisa, welcome to your styling shift 9:00-17:00.” I smile out of surprise that the device refers to me by my first name and not by the digits of my digital existence. Above the iPad, there are names and numbers listed in various colors of a spreadsheet where I can find the “assigned set + photographer” next to Maisa.
I work on the left side of the warehouse, which tells you that I’m a product stylist – meaning that I shoot items such as bags, shoes, toys, books, commercial art, and whatever else is hiding in the crate parked on my assigned set.
Today, as I have often been in the past, I’m married to set 4 – which is not my favorite per se. Unlike set 5, where products can excite me (i.e. sculptures of Calder), set 4 is half the size. On this set, items which I wonder if I will ever need in life are documented such as [think of a personal example].
I walk towards the set and greet my photographer. We exchange a few words about how we’ve been, after which I leave the photographer alone for some minutes to set up the digital, working environment. I use this opportunity to grab coffee upstairs and say hi to other experts in the field. Hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, good, good, hi, good, good, oh hi. We set up politeness to follow us throughout a typical hard-working day and save the moans for the lunch break. Politely, I walk back to my set. At this point, the photographer nods to confirm that the lights, white balance, new folder and the rest of physical and digital working assets have been set. We begin to work. I check the crates to see how heavy our day will be. I smile at my photographer and tell him/her that today is our lucky day. Commercials start banging in my head as I scan through the shoe boxes. I start sounding like a commercial too, rapping out the brands we’re going to touch today. By the way, our day is lucky, because all stylists and photographers favor shoes. They’re easy to shoot, quick to shoot, need only a bit of retouch, and most importantly, they’re i n d e p e n d e n t. In most cases, they look good enough to not have to make them look better. While they dance on our sets, rarely does anybody object to their original shape. Yes yes yes, shoe days are the best days.
*breathing out…* *breathing in…*
It’s around 9 AM, a time when the work becomes thoughtless, robot-like. The users are about to go online and start scrolling down the content I created for them yesterday. While wondering if my styling skills will wake them up, I find myself setting up my working environment for today’s content aka tomorrow’s consumption. 10 boxes of shoes are laid out on my desk. Plexiglass blocks, blu tack, and fishing wire are prepared to accompany the shoes and help them stand tall on the set. I start opening the boxes – one by one. With the speed of Gonzales, I unwrap the shoes, take out all their fillings, and strip them fully naked. I untie the bows, hide the laces. I place a pair on the set with my hands trained and prepared to help them look clean and express their attitude. Here comes the moment of styling: help the shoes slow down the user’s speed of scrolling and invoke some ‘clickability’. When my hands stop touching them, it’s time for the shoes to act responsibly: charm the user and bring out the hidden colors of their souls. When they’re ready to do so, I reach out for the camera. As I dig images out of my memory, I press the shoot button simultaneously. FRONTAL 1, FRONTAL 2, DETAIL 1, and DETAIL 9 – shots which demand a little above a minute to be documented, resulting in a long-term, online vision of a product from 4 different angles.
With a 10by10(AM) motto, I shoot at least 40 products/day, adding up to a sum of 160 images. 160 images are to be uploaded to the management’s server by the end of the shift.
Somewhere else but here, the internet user, bored of another weekend of clubbing, goes back to work with the fullest of stamina. While still a bit slow, the user decides to invest first, before starting to work. Purchasing an item, spending some amount of money, he thinks, will motivate him to work more aka spend more in the future. As he’s rapidly scrolling down the images with his cart prominently displaying its emptiness on the top right corner, he hopes his purchase will end up being a memorable event. Between household and personal items, the user finds an additional layer to his public image, worth buying.
Notice the different scrolling behaviors, from aimless (aka bored) to goal-oriented digital actions. In the case of bored scrolling, the user ends up not (necessarily) buying the product. If a purchase occurs, a sign that the digital platform has some entertaining feed to offer today is clear. The term entertaining can be analyzed in terms of colors, sale, special offers, seasons, and the user’s mood. If the user shows goal-oriented scrolling behavior, the purchase is destined to happen at the moment of a scrolling session. The goal-oriented consumerist impulse does not originate from the successful digital effects, and in fact, depends solely on the user’s passion to consume. While passion can be a rigorous emotion, what is still mysterious here is whether both scrolling behaviors are linked to the user’s weight of loneliness.
Keeping in mind the user’s behavior, we find ourselves in a warehouse where a portion of the e-commerce content is being produced. Upon entering we see 10, 12, 18 photography sets aligned to the sides of the warehouse. Product photography to the left, fashion photography to the right. In the center of the warehouse, managerial desks producing keyboard sounds can be found.
Evening after Work – STYLIST GOES HOME –
The young stylist goes home after work. Inspired by all the unaffordable objects she has touched today, she decides to level up her profession by sprinkling her skills over her indoor surfaces.
She pays attention to her style of styling as she sets up the vibe of her home. When she feels the absence of a Persian rug in her living room, she wonders: How is this absence related to my zodiac sign? If I had a Persian rug on my floor, would I still be considered a true Sagittarian? Would my nonconformist charisma fade out? Forgetting about the rug and reflecting on her love for nature, she thinks: I know that I will never reject a plant given by a friend of a friend of a friend, but does a jungle in my house reveal my animalistic urge to climb a mountain? Or my zen? Can I choose to donate my love a little bit more selectively?
From this thinking trajectory, she concludes that mass taste shaped by the algorithms on her favorite platforms, is something she doesn’t want to be associated with. Instead, she wants to invest in the things she doesn’t need at the moment of investment, just to discover later on, that she actually needs them. For instance, she remembers this one time when she bought a microphone. After the purchase, she figured out that she bought the mic just to discover the color of her hidden voice, as if there was no other way.
With excitement arousing from her reflections, a stylist at home decides to have full control over her public taste [full stop]. She also decides to decide more consciously in the future, especially when it comes to the future state of her living comfort [full stop].
Having this resolved, she gains more awareness of her presence in the space; the fashion in which she interacts with her belongings. She starts taking selfies with posters flashing graphics in the background, with an aim to document the fashion in which she gazes out of her window and reaches out for the stars. She records the fashion in which she changes the page of a very interesting book, while sitting in a finely picked corner of her house. She documents the fashion in which she sits on her balcony, almost convinced that her camera is chipped to her neighbors’ eyes.
“On one hand, there is something romantic about this ‘active sense of living’ which we all enjoy, before reflection shatters our instinctive world for us.”
– Benjamin Schneider quoting William James
Whether she reached the stars, found the book interesting, or managed to perceive herself through her neighbor’s eyes, is less important than the fashion of her deeds.1 In her thoughts, which are attuned to this growth of consciousness, she no longer refers to herself as “I”. She refers to herself as “she”. Her brain is fully employed, as her reflections build up into what seems to resemble an exotic, institutional bio:
She is the kind of person who doesn’t open her curtains before she’s fully dressed for work. Because breakfast comes before the coffee, she avoids having both at the same time. Before she goes off to work, all gadgets must be removed from the table, so that they don’t stress her out when she comes back from work. At work, she strives to be the kind of stylist who doesn’t talk much, but whose fashionable gestures explicitly reveal the manner in which she was raised in this world. When she likes something, she likes it publicly, and with a passionate articulation. At the same time, she doesn’t want to like too much publicly, as she learned that leaving some mystery to why certain things excite her will trigger more public curiosity. She wants new friends and new neighbors (all the time). She could even pay them a little for dropping a line about her, at the party she decided not to go to, because she wanted a great presence of her absence. At the same time, She’s not the girl who misses much.
The young stylist sees herself seeing the world so much that she starts missing the feeling of belonging to it.
1 This grandiose project potentially has much larger implications even than the “attention economy” that is said to be taking over our lives. Where the attention economy seeks to monetize our ability to focus, the experience economy targets the everyday activities and relationships that form our personhood. It wants to lay claim to our sense of having lived, of having done or seen or felt anything at all.
New Day at Work – A GOOD PICTURE –
We find ourselves back in the warehouse where commercial digital content is being produced for online shopping platforms, such as brand1.nl, brand2.com, brand3.international, global.global. Thank you for making it on time, the tour begins right now.
Out there in the back, goods enter through the garage, get sorted out, and are then passed to get touched by many different hands (managerial, styling, copywriting). These various professional hands help items reach their ultimate frame of digital existence. What I mean by this is that the main product coming out of this factory is a high-quality image; a good picture.
What do we mean when we say that a picture is good?
The picture-making process follows the style-guide, more or less perfectly. A good picture has no dust on it, nor blu tack sticking out in the background. A good picture is a ‘natural crop’ and only needs a few adjustments concerning its straightness. A good picture has no brand labels in it. A good picture does not have reflections that are too bright or too dark, which tend to stick to surfaces made of metal (for instance). A good picture has no stains whatsoever on the background paper. A good picture needs little to zero editing. A good picture has it all and deserves to go on holidays. Photographers say that a good picture is “Top”, while managers say that it’s “OK”. We can argue whether perfection, in this case, exists.
Where do good pictures live?
Good pictures temporarily live in folders created every morning per team/set. When the hardware gets densely populated and starts slowing down the production, old(er) folders get evacuated to the bin. No folder can avoid this stage of desktop extermination. However, once they’re sent to the cloud, they get to live forever in their jpeg immortality.
When both, visual and written, productions get approved by both management teams, the representation is deployed online, and ready to be consumed.
This long story short of the image’s life is brought to the user by the work of stylists, photographers, retouchers, copywriters, models, and managers, who live their nine-to-five days around these products.
New Day at Work – THE DISSIDENTS –
“We are a constellation of starting points
Living in the image of a finish line,
But it is not our place to try and keep pace
With all of these things that we wish to feel least.”
– Buddy Wakefield
While in a rush to set up the working environment, greeting each other politely and checking each other out is everybody’s morning duty. Scanning who is wearing what and who wears it better is an explicit exercise, even when the conclusion is always the same: everything looks nice, great, amazing, and sometimes rad on everyone.
While flexing and waiting in line for coffee, commenting on the presence/absence of each other’s under eyes bags is a good strategy to find out what it is that we missed out on. “Did you have a rough night or a rough night?” is a question which opens the stage of fantasy-guessing-about-each-other’s-sins. Thoughts of a colleague in front of me start to battle: Was I the only one going to sleep early last night, while all I truly wanted was to have a beer with my pal, so that when I speak about my life, at least it sounds exciting?
As the conversations develop over coffee sips, jokes enter the room and start waking everybody up. Gradual snicker is growing into laughter and stretching the saddest of smiles in all directions: east-west-north-south. The next thing we hear is the sound of Friday.
When the shift officially starts, this collective laughter breaks down into VIL (very important laughter) and LIL (less important laughter). VIL travels to the management desks, while LIL spreads across the 18 sets. Is it necessary to mention which one is more exclusive?
[Somewhere in the background, ‘kick-off’ notes on managerial desks infect the air with a target-oriented motivation.]
Here comes a surprising situation: It’s past 9 AM and I find myself unwrapping the shoes. While I liberate them from their plastic shells, I observe my colleagues and hashtag them with a bit of shame: #family-oriented, #eco-woke, #commercial lifestyles, #post-art academics from miscellaneous art departments (#metoo), #mainstream knowledge, and the #fem of course.
I zoom out of this limited perspective and, as if I’m an outsider, start thinking about the defining hashtags of the warehouse. #stylish, #nice, #cool, #hot, #young, #how come broke?, #contemporary?, #again cool, #high-quality, #loveIKEA.
I listen to the voice from the warehouse which says: don’t judge the context by its hashtags.
The truest of truths is that, even though we all dream of shooting snakes around the sense-numbing products, we are not really the innovators of an authentic style here. Our main task is to maintain a given style, which, in order to liberate ourselves from, we expressively hate amongst each other.
For example, when the T-Shirt Poetry recites:
Good good days – no bad days, only good days
Have a nice Dai-sy
Swipe up – free wifi
Restart the weekend
We boo with:
And then we giggle and also point fingers at them (T-shirts). We close the circle of soft hating by having a good laugh. It looks like we all grew up on the same advice here, doesn’t it? But, as workers, we have no rights to not document an item which we ethically or stylistically don’t agree with. In fact, we shoot every detail of it.
“The values of the counterculture, like self-expression and nonconformity, would produce new market opportunities for an economy that needed to keep growing even after people’s material needs were supposedly fulfilled.”
– Benjamin Schneider
Behind this soft hatred, our duty is to acknowledge that for a good scrolling+shopping experience, a detail shot is a crucial piece of information (for clicking ‘proceed to pay’). At the same time, we believe that the sole of the shoe is not the shoe’s actual soul.
What’s also dwelling behind this soft hatred, is a common belief that unnecessary jpeg accumulation leads to beastly purchasing tendencies, which is why we frown at the fact that we are the ones responsible for triggering it.
This ambivalence, if you can call it that, is what turns dissidents dissident. While disagreeing with the methods used to deliver information to the society, and while getting angry about societal demand for more, we find ourselves confronted with bigger worries than cheap-poetry on T-shirts.
The Circle2 gets hold of us. Familiar to many 9-5 workers, including freelancers (aka their-own-bosses-but-not-really), the main struggle of content creators is to reject a shift during which accumulation of content occurs and accelerates the speed of production. Of course we complain about having to work while having decided ourselves to work as much as possible. But when asked what do we want? What do we really really want?, the answer is as vague as our ambition: Less knife fights in our egos, less commercial rebellion, and the lives that we need. For the sake of clarification, the lives that we need are the lives in which work doesn’t distract us from enjoying life.
In order to make life great again, we want more free time with the same income. But until then: Worry less, don’t stress, and contain it if it’s a mess.
2 Not Dave Eggers’ book.
New Day at Work – BETWEEN MAD AND GLAD –
The need for destruction at work is nourished in every working context. Whilst there are many (commercial?)3 ways of resisting The Circle, I often wonder if there is a new style of resistance available on the market.
“Rebellions break the threads that have been holding the system together and throw into question the legitimacy and the supposed permanence of existing institutions. They shake up old values so that relations between individuals and between groups within the society are unlikely ever to be the same again. The inertia of the society has been interrupted. Only by understanding what a rebellion accomplishes can we see its limitations. A rebellion disrupts the society, but it does not provide what is necessary to establish a new social order.” – Grace and James Boggs
Next to the workers strongly associated with pointing fingers at T-shirts, there is a different kind of working species who are not easily made to smile and who are, recognizably, the ones who groomed their inner fights the longest.
Misunderstood for being sad, their normal day consists of signing an agreement with the world that there is no way out. Years of overcoming this fact has led them to not bother with doing things excessively (i.e. of having to socialize, socialize, socialize). They just want to do their duties, hit the expected target, go home, and contemplate the last day of the month to receive their salaries. They don’t want trouble. They don’t want to be in anybody’s way, nor do they want to hurt anybody with what they talk about or laugh at. Long story short, they don’t want to do any extra work.
Which I dig.
At the same time, they can be slightly OCD about their job and have a true eye for detail. Because the boundaries of perfection can be the mind’s leisure, perfection is possibly their obsession.
One of the mature workers told me once: “Nema odmora dok traje obnova” meaning “there is no rest while the renovation lasts”. The phrase was used in the Balkans when little communists were building up a country after the Second World War. This time, what the mature one meant was that, as long as Calvin Klein is reinventing different details of the same shoe model, there is no rest for us.
In the end, all working stereotypes fall asleep with the same wish every night: more sleep.
3 First of all, commercial is an easy term used, in most cases, to reach out to masses. When used in a sentence/dialogue, the reaction usually sounds like: “I know what you mean”. An exemplary commercial way to resist The Circle results in a repetitive verbalization of one’s wokeness within a marginalized system. Who doesn’t agree that everybody is more or less woke and resistant?
New Day at Work – 10BY10 MOTTO EXPLAINED –
Being a stylist today, apparently sounds hot. It reminds friends of my friends how their childhood dreams were to become one. I guess of anything, you know? A stylist, in general.
Focusing inwardly on the core of my existence, I admit that I have an eye for details, which legitimizes my position. I notice a good product from far away. If I get to interact with one, I do so with the most delicate touch. If I get to talk about one, I make sure it’s another stylist I’m talking to, just for the sake of an advanced conversation + taste comparison. And thanks to so many things to like in this world, the greatest skill of a stylist is to maneuver through these paths of taste.
I consider myself to be an average stylist – meaning that: while aiming to keep up with the authentic taste linked to my position, I do my job according to the authorities’ expectations. It also means that these expectations don’t motivate me to voluntarily spend my free time browsing for inspiration through different online shopping platforms, in order to have a better taste.
I’m a questionable professional.
All professional stylists work with a creative limitation: the target. A target-oriented stylist’s motto sounds like:
If 10 products by 10AM, then 20 by 11AM?
Which is not per se, a competitive thinking trajectory, in which a stylist believes that there are winners and losers in the field. It doesn’t trigger an attitude which screams of a stylist’s desire to be better than other stylists, nor does it create a measurement of self-worth comparable to other stylists.
The 10by10 motto is thrill focused. When a stylist’s attention is absorbed by the body’s automatic performance, it is not for the sake of achieving performance’s succession (read: new record). In fact, the stylist is distracting oneself from the urge to be around and within the things they cannot wait to enjoy after the shift. Focusing on their performance and avoiding the natural pondering-away helps them think less about the passing of time – the time left until their shift ends. When they check the time on their phone, they hope for the hour to surprise them.
*Dangers of the 10by10 motto: managerial eyes are looking, evaluating, praising and raising the average target of the day, by +-5 products.*
Acknowledging the disadvantages of being a target-oriented stylist like myself, I find myself bored. I’m radically + romantically thinking: turn on, tune in, drop out as a solution, even though I’m aware that it wouldn’t work in this case. Becoming a “wilderness hiker who flies into a remote region with expensive hiking gear in order ‘to get away from it all’ as a meaningful expression of opposition” 4 wouldn’t either. Becoming a photographer? A deadlier-end. Photographers are target-driven workers too, but cemented in a chair and digital organization.
As always, I wonder: Can I skip 10by10 and participate (preferably in the emancipatory fashion) in the market?
4 How to Be an Anti-Capitalist in the 21st Century by Erik Olin Wright.
New Day at Work – BOREDOM FOLLOWS MASTERY –
An unwrapped, edible chocolate letter travelled from stylist’s hands to the set, where it was shot several times. A set of different images of the same chocolate letter are being discussed. One expert joins, and then another, and then another. There are three aesthetic authorities discussing the quality of images. The chocolate letter has a striped pattern which is disbalancing the overall shadow of the object. There is no consistency. It’s horrible. The experts are trying to come up with a strategy. Suddenly, after some more minutes of discussing, the whole team is holding white boards and lights around the chocolate letter. Their mission is to make the chocolate shine naturally like a chocolate, as if it’s laying on somebody’s kitchen desk. The problem in the image is clear: the chocolate doesn’t look like chocolate.
A conversation erupts:
Expert#1: Guys, you need to call Expert13, because let’s face it, we don’t know how to do this.
*Expert13 was called and by now, he should be on his way. Until he’s back, guys are facing it, except for Expert1 who is reaching out to India.*
Expert#1: Hello, is this India?
India: The number you have dialed does not exist.
India: The number you have dialed does not exist.
Expert#1: Oh hi, nice to hear back from you. We have a quick technical question from Europe. Is it possible that dust can disturb the consistency of a product’s shadow? Say we are shooting a chocolate letter H, and it has this really annoying light exposure. Could dust be the cause of the issue?
India: We only clean the dust, we don’t write books about it. You may call Expert13 for further European advice. By the way, he is in Germany now, saying that the number you have dialed does not exist. Are there any other questions concerning the Photoshop-removal of the dust?
In the context of styling, there’s much to explore conceptually, but not when one is confronted by a tight workflow, as exampled above. Rules by which the styling game is played don’t allow the stylist to actually invite the snakes to dance around the products, nor to find other (more moral) symbols which could enhance the product’s functional design.
The inability to work out of the margins defines the mastery’s leap into boredom. Boredom as we know it, causes anxiety, depression, and in the most dramatic scenario – death. Hence the reason why we avoid it, and why our run on the treadmills of entertainment is worth writing historical comedy about. But, if you ask me, this kind of boredom sounds like a mainstream boredom5.
While dwelling in the source of its own production, boredom can be explicit and demand change. Running away from the expected self-loathing, in order to experience a personally-authentic boredom, I ask myself more questions.
If I were to count the number of products I shoot per day, what would that amount to by the end of the summer? Can holidays be measured in the lack of products shot per day? What was my favorite product of today and why?
# of products: 43
Favourite product: Ring Stick Up Cam.
Why?: Reduces a specific working anxiety (fear of losing personal gadgets which are now chilling at home). Although Ring Stick Up Cam is one of them, it is on top of the hierarchy. It records all gadgets live, and streams their distant presence through an app. This gadget can also detect pets left home alone.
# of products: 40(!)
Favourite product: Fjällräven Kanken Rain Cover
Why?: Useful to apply on the backpack which doesn’t feature waterproofness for a reason.
# of products: 29
Favourite product: none
Void-avoiding questions follow: Is the tote bag for luxury shoes meant to protect the shoes, justify their over-price, or be taken for a walk? Where is the orchestra? How is bubble wrap made? If there was a UBI, would stylists look like stylists?
Boredom gets boring, even when one builds personal activities to make it pleasant. When boredom becomes boring, it’s easy to go the previously mentioned, mainstream direction, or act depressed.
When the slope got slippery, I slipped too. I started desiring an abundance of different things so much that, in the end, all I wanted was to slip into a Friday. When the reality didn’t vibe like Friday, I spaced out, shook up.
I imagined myself looking at myself. I looked at myself looking at my hands. Unaffected by my mental turmoil, they were holding the camera as if they were the bare hands of a photographer. Fully focused on taking that perfect picture; they were calm. The body attached to them was standing confident before the set. The products where the body walked to next, were all in order.
5 Examples of Mainstream Boredom from a global perspective: 1.Starting to appreciate art because default knowledge claims that art saves the world from rotting. 2. Insisting to discuss hot topics (such as ecology, politics, global news, and human rights), not because we should discuss them, but because the stage is ours. 3. Becoming a yogi because the world is a crazy place and all we gotta do is stay calm and protect ourselves from the expected rage we are told to face.
New Day at Work – DO THE BLUES GO AWAY? –
”People will always find ways to make their work meaningful” – Mary L. Gray
If Mary is right, and I know she is, it’s bad news.
I remember the time when I came up with an alternative to make my work pleasant and start a revolution. I said to myself: the users must know the truth about the production of these images and become aware of their digital behaviors. With time running out, I felt the need to hurry and break the representative aesthetics which by now, well define our standard.
What was not a revolutionary option) Not removing the dust. It is true that all products are dusty by nature, but if you don’t remove it, the photographer will. If the photographer doesn’t remove it, India will.
Revolutionary option 1) Style the products without applying the style guide rules. Aka, be creative.
Revolutionary option 2) Leave fingerprints or pieces of plastic (which came attached to the product) somewhere on the product, and jump to Revolutionary option 2.5.
Revolutionary option 2.5) Distract your photographer from paying too much attention to the detail which might reveal your subversive act. It’s best to do this while you’re selecting the perfect pictures together.
Revolutionary option 3) The best way to say “I was here” is to leave a piece of hair somewhere on the set. Then apply option 2.5.
Revolutionary option 4) When challenged to shoot a reflective product, don’t try to hide your reflection in it. Be a present appearance in the product. Then apply option 2.5.
Revolutionary option 5) Give up?
Why give up? Because subversion bounces back from where it was thrown and stabs you right in that little heart. In this context, it comes back in the form of an expert body marching towards your set, to tell you to j u s t follow the style guide, making your and your photographer’s reputation a little less fancy.
For the above options to work, you have to become a different kind of expert – the one whose audience is only you. A lot of energy and time for them to work (on top of default energy and time needed to just follow the style guide) must be invested. You need to know your management better than your colleagues. At the end of the day, your tired body is left to confront the most existential working questions: Is struggle worth leaving some history behind? Wouldn’t it be a win-win to j u s t swallow the pride and settle for less?
While doing what one really enjoys doing doesn’t pay off for everyone, citizens around the world are forced to have jobs that don’t really align with their souls. Their bodies shrink to the size of the molds which their jobs force them to wear, and wearing them is not necessarily uncomfortable.
The mold which I shrunk into came with an unexpected, yet unsurprising, self-pity. Next to working, I pitied myself about exhausting all my imagination to have fun at work. I got familiar with every corner of the warehouse, with all its objects which quickly lost their charm to become toys. Then I thought about the container where all these emotions land (the warehouse), and I concluded that they’re not channeled in the right direction. I wondered: Besides my colleagues and the walls, who cares about my adventurous endeavors, boredom, and self-pity? What do I get out of this besides a stable income?
Barthes’ A lover’s discourse is echoing while I (romantically) sit on a branch and reflect on my working existence. I remember his distinction between a reasonable sentiment and an amorous sentiment. A reasonable one is saying that everything works out, but nothing lasts. Amorous sentiment says that nothing works out but it keeps going on. Somehow, this reminds of the duties here, and someone’s else’s duty elsewhere. While it always feels like we’re stuck in the endlessness of work, it keeps on happening.
Capitalist stylists were once anti-capitalist stylists (perhaps now they’re both). And once upon a time, they were students too. Even when offered a critically creative education throughout their studies, we find young art students/designers fetishizing their critical creations, in order to start a discussion or trigger something. In favor of their own skins around their creations, they demand admiration for the idea, amongst the audience interested solely in the experience of buying the product. When there is enough public admiration (on social media platforms), the idea behind the surface of the skin suddenly becomes a good idea, and vice-versa/dead, when there’s not enough admiration.
“The triumph of love and sexual freedom marked the penetration of economics into the machine of desire… In its very erasure, it is economics that now comes to haunt desire.” – Eva Illouz
Let’s talk about the rise of the aesthetics. Is it completely random that I, an art school graduate, ended up being a stylist? I like to think not. Styling is part of activities which I take seriously closer to my heart. If styling is about filling up the premade template in order to meet aesthetic expectations of the public demand, then it is pretty similar to the rules of my (funding to funding, cousin to cousin) art practice.
Conversing with almost every-working-body I know, I like to naively think that every practice in the end, is as predictable. I also like to think that acknowledging the monotony fades the guilt of our multi-being on the market. When I recognized the shades of a personal monotony, I had to think of how to better present my-professional-self to the public. Me thinking:
Were I to be called something other than a stylist, what would it be? Info-worker? Information producer? Is it possible to experiment with the word ‘curator’ somehow? Info-curator of digital content materialization?
By being an occasional stylist, I don’t feel like I’m a walking betrayal to myself. Books in our bookshelves don’t always illustrate the fact that we’ve read them, right? My imperative to consume defines the speed of my consumption, the speed of my existence, and regardless of the context. It can happen that my consumerist choices turn me into a person I’m deep down nothing like. Like that Corona-sale New Yorker subscription, of which I read 2/7 issues. Or that Venice Biennale tote bag, a long time ago.
[ A feeling kicks in. A dream to come, but never true. ]
Once or twice, in my work-triggered fantasies, I was married to a woman. The aesthetics of our marital institution were inspired by the American dream. She was calling on the phone while I was at work. She asked what time I’d be coming home, to which I replied: “Honey, I’m stuck in the office tonight”. Having said that, I glanced over my office desk, its impersonality, temporality, insecurity, its copy (10x). I probably felt bad for lying (about having a personal office desk); which sparked some dull positivity in me: If I feel bad, is it because my working ethics are still strong? If yes, I’d like to know now, because at this point it feels like they’ve walked away from me.
Remembering that fantasy provoked a higher working ambition in me. I started to desire a made-up position of a hardware cleaner, so that I would feel less like I’m not telling the truth to my wife. A hardware cleaner evacuates folders to the bin once a week, in order to avoid production slowdown. A hardware cleaner has a working station, where a family portrait can be placed. A hardware cleaner has a big desktop mess to clean, due to the company’s overload of digital history. If I were a hardware cleaner, I’d be the decumulation hero of the company. I’d feel important.
New Day at Work – HOW COME WE ARE ALL STYLISTS? –
A style is a protection from individual, cultural and institutional chaos. Style is patterns which follow through reproduction of patterns. The way we perceive a style says a lot about what we know and oftentimes, expect to understand.
I’m not sure if this is still a diary of a stylist or that of an artist. Whether or not it matters, I must spit out that an artist cannot reproduce an on-going spice in her work without it being prompted by her boredom. Boredom produces change, accelerates progress, scratches the surface. The extent to which she – an amazing artist – allows boredom to affect the reproduction, displays the extent to which she is devoted to her practice (the attention to and criticism of – her practice). This might be the biggest challenge for an artist: to allow boredom to impact the trajectory of a style’s development.
“While style usually can be defined in reference to a more or less fixed block of historical time, the study of its processes of change requires reference to the succession of events within that block” – James S. Ackerman
A story of another artist starts with a massive fear of becoming too incomprehensible. Because of this fear, he well characterizes the form of his style, in order to perpetuate the production of his art. He is doomed to his own succession because an image of reaching the peak of his style is so vivid to him, that he forgets about the progress of his work. He forgets about the (not narcissistic) reflective process which excited him about his work in the first place. Because of such alienation, he is now bearing the consequences of estrangement caused by the technical reproduction of his style.
“Anyone who seeks to alter or to accelerate the change of style in the hope of anticipating the future is likely to become, like the fashion designer, an expert in and purveyor of taste.” – James S. Ackerman, again
A cloud with a quote by bell hooks passes over my head:
“To be in the margin is to be part of the whole but outside the main body.”
And in her book from 2003 called The Substance of Style, Virginia Postrel wrote:
“In the age of look and feel, ‘creative’ individuals no longer need to be isolated, romantic souls who’ve given up worldly success for the sake of their art.”
Today, everyone is a stylist because today, styling is applied to everything: forming opinions, ways of conversing, ways of living, ways of socializing, ways of careering. High awareness of the way I do my things is shaped by the social media platforms where the audience is wide-eyed active. The main investigation included in having a profile is to find out whether “Yes” is the answer to “Do you like my style?”. The truth is measured with the amount of ♥s served by our followers. Approval from our digital networks is what creates the currency of a style, and our role becomes to maintain it.
But, listen to this. With years of scrolling experience on digital platforms, we are able to decide better what we want and how we want something.
Do you wanna look like a graphic designer (,) boy?
Carefully listening to our consumerist needs, we have raised the aesthetic standard a little higher, making the game of styles a little bit more competitive than it was. Virginia Postrel said so many good things:
“What was once a luxury, or a strategic advantage, is now just a requirement to stay in the game.”
While everything feels like everything looks the same (even when it doesn’t), our hunger for distinction still persists. Listening carefully to this urge, our job has become to
“No form of aesthetics matters more to us than personal appearance, the most inescapable signal of identity. We are not just visual, tactile creatures; we are visible, touchable creatures, inextricably bound to the bodies others see us in. That human consciousness arises from and inhabits physical form is the great mystery and the fundamental reality of our existence. Our bodies are us. Yet our sense of self does not always match our physical form. Our bodies impose definitions and limitations that falsify our identities and frustrate our purposes.” – Guess who from the three (Virginia, Postrel or Virginia Postrel?)
IN ORDER TO STAND OUT.
New Day at Work – THIS IS A MASTERPIECE –
“What is remarkable about the image-system constituted with desire as its goal (and, it is hoped, semiological analysis will make this sufficiently clear) is that its substance is essentially intelligible: it is not the object but the name that creates desire; it is not the dream, but the meaning that sells.” – Roland Barthes
The production of knowledge, rooted in educational institutions, conference stages, and online, is not to be excluded from the aesthetic touch.
To catch public interest about knowledge (read: content itself), the institutions must invest, first and foremost, in the representation and delivery of the message – the marketing and the experience of what’s marketed.
Does over-explanation of the content distract from looking straight in the content’s eyes?
As we can see, this event clearly promotes experimental knowledge and invites the audience to the stage. According to its promotional text, we can easily buy the idea and feel like we want to get closer to its complexity. We want to stay curious, and participation seems to be the only way. On top of the knowledge we are guaranteed to gain, bright colors of the graphic design make everything about the conference feel modestly Hollywood-like, and we want to identify with these colored concepts.
The user, who is now attending the .draggable conference, stands next to the banner and asks a stranger to take a picture of him. Acquaintances from his life, who couldn’t afford the time to be seen here, won’t miss out on his participation, as it will shortly be posted on his IG account, in a form of a moving image.
After the conference, the user goes back to the office and, fully inspired, starts talking about the amazingness of the .draggable event. After multiple times of being asked what he enjoyed the most about the conference, it was evident that the user was stoked by the graphic identity. It is unclear to him why exactly he likes it, he just does. The feeling goes beyond the limitations of the language. He publicly concludes that anyone who is able to appreciate similar graphics will be his friend forever.
Of course, a lot of different scenarios can come out of this event. The exemplary one aims to ask: When we talk about the form, what are we talking about? When facing whatever’s underneath the surface, how do we face it? When we talk to others about the form, are we telling the truth about it? Do we care? Is Chronicle Boredom a thing yet?
Another day without work – THIS IS DEFINITELY A MASTERPIECE –
There are two kinds of people in this world: the ones who have tattoos, and the ones who don’t. Whichever skin we’re perceiving from, all we want to know in the end, is who will end up going to hell.
This text can be perceived as a piece of styling. A text accompanied by good endorsements is what makes the text good. Is this a Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood kind of happy ending?
By the way, what do you style?
Maisa Imamović is an Amsterdam-based writer, artist, designer, and web-developer. She graduated from Gerrit Rietveld’s Architectural Design department in 2018. She then pursued the Full-Stack Web Development certificate at BSSA. Her main research interests are ‘the island of boredom’, the impossibility to be bored, bodily restlessness and constant search for distraction. Maisa observes trends, cliches, conditions of honesty, and writes about them. As a designer, she doesn’t produce much in the physical. Through web-development, she is an observant of ways in which codes and user experience ethics program lifestyles and modes of being. Since 2019 she is a senior researcher at the Institute of Network Cultures (Amsterdam University of Aplied Sciences). She was published in Kajet, Simulacrum, Forum, and runs her own blog at Living Industry.
Marc James Léger, Don’t Network: The Avant Garde after Networks, Minor Compositions 2018.
Buddy Wakefield, Gentleman Practice, Write Bloody Publishing 2011, 2012.
bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, South End Press, 1984.
Mary L. Gray and Siddharth Suri, Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass, Highbridge Audio 2019.
Eva Illouz, Why Love Hurts: A Sociological Explanation, Polity Press 2013.
James S. Ackerman, A Theory of Style, Viley, 1962.
Virginia Postrel, The Substance of Style, HarperCollins Publishers 2003.
Roland Barthes, The Fashion System, University of California Press 1990.