VICE’s Suicide-Themed Fashion Feature: Art, Offensive, Or Both?

UPDATE: We just received the following statement from VICE:
“Last Words” is a fashion spread featuring models reenacting the suicides of female authors who tragically ended their own lives. It is part of our 2013 Fiction Issue, one that is entirely dedicated to female writers, photographers, illustrators, painters, and other contributors.
The fashion spreads in VICE magazine are always unconventional and approached with an art editorial point-of-view rather than a typical fashion photo-editorial one. Our main goal is to create artful images, with the fashion message following, rather than leading.
“Last Words” was created in this tradition and focused on the demise of a set of writers whose lives we very much wish weren’t cut tragically short, especially at their own hands. We will no longer display “Last Words” on our website and apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended.
Originally Published at 10:30 AM:VICE never, ever hesitates to push the envelope, and we love them for that. Hardly a day goes by without a mini controversy breaking out over one of the mag's features. But today, there's a major issue, and one that we're pretty reluctant to justify under the headline of art.
The feature, "Last Words," depicts the suicide of a number of influential female authors like Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Iris Chang, and Charlotte Perkins. And when we say depict, we mean it quite literally. Beautiful look-alike models are posed in staged photos based on the real-life last moments of these influential voices. One holds a gun to her mouth, another drains blood from her wrists into the sink, yet another lies splayed on the ground after a fall from a tall building. No doubt, Annabel Mehran's photographs are powerful, guaranteed to illicit a deep and possibly disturbed reaction. Those are all things that, we think, are common features of great art. But it's when you scroll down and see "Suno dress, Chloë Sevigny for Opening Ceremony x Bass shoes" below a photo of a Sylvia Plath gazing into an open oven that things start to feel wholly inappropriate.
The fact that these women's lives ended that way doesn't mean that they should not be honored. Furthermore, suicide is not an issue that should be ignored. There are plenty of reasons why an artist might take interest in these painful, contemplative precipice-like moments of life (and death). But when you frame it all as a fashion editorial, something's just not right. This looks a lot more like glorifying and beautifying suicide, than an honest portrayal. And again, if we saw these photos in a gallery, we might feel entirely different about it — indeed, we're not even necessarily making a judgment about the artistic and aesthetic quality of the photos themselves. But in this case, the context does matter, and for our part, that's what makes it a pretty insensitive feature that doesn't so much push and challenge boundaries, as completely shatter them for the sake of shock value.
Here's a selection of the photos if you want to look, but be warned. They are captivating, scary, and graphic — but are they offensive? You be the judge. And, again, we'd recommend viewing them in their original context on VICE as well, to get the full feel for the feature. (VICE)

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