With the speedy progress of industrialisation and urbanisation in the early 20th century, development in the form of mass production gave birth to the market’s need to turn manufacturing goods into popularised and desirable commodities. Photography itself as one of the forms of mass re-production was seen as a suitable means by the advertising agencies to promote the spectacle of commodities (or commodity fetishism). Given the parallel ascent of picture magazines, illustrated papers and entertainment weeklies, by the inter-war period, ‘arresting photographs accompanied by text’ became part and parcel of print media with huge audiences. This led to a form of new visual culture which gave rise to celebrity, advertising and entertainment culture across the modern and developing nations.
Initially by the 1930s, advertising photography as an undefined genre began to appropriate the journalistic style of photography, which was realistic in style and was a conveyance of narrative through a combination of image and text¹. Soon it even began to appropriate the conventions of commercial cinema which employed a fusion of studio glamour and naturalistic portraiture. Naturalism allowed the customer to identify with the model and everyday mundane activities whereas glamour transmuted the ‘magical desire’ onto the commodities which were loaded with contextualised meanings of urban lifestyles. Slowly, out of the various emerging styles of advertising marketing, a strategy which was thought to be influential in developing the customers’ choice was the introduction of the advertising campaigns endorsed by celebrities. Celebrity campaigns helped the brands to convert star power into brand equity. Iconic photographic images within the visuals, fixed the identity of the star with the range of products, creating aspirations and desirable references.
In India, by the beginning of 1940s and 50s, celebrity endorsements via photographic visuals were already in use in various print mediums (such as newspapers, dailies, promotional product calendars) as a part of the ‘Swadeshi turn’ to promote Indian products produced by indigenous industries. Even international brands in India were using popular ‘Indian’ faces to promote their products. Mediums such as linotype, offset lithography printing, illustrations, hand-painted photographs (on the cover of the magazines), monochrome halftone and photographic re-productions were some of the means which were used and experimented with, to make magazines visually appealing. Out of all the famous socialites, Bollywood film stars especially actresses as ‘respectable’ public figures, were endorsing products such as saris, radios, toiletries, washing powders, cars and airlines services. Skilled photographers and artists were employed by the advertisement agencies to create glamorous photographic portraitures of the stars as images in circulation were meant to create the public persona of the stars along with the brand endorsed. These images were not restricted to the urban cities but even were part of the regional visual cultures. Post-Independence, these representations, as mentioned above, became part and parcel of investing in brand ideologies and maintaining the hegemony of commodity culture along with creating a whole constellation of desires through stars, public figures, lifestyle and leisure, which proliferated the discourses of urbanism and capitalist modernity.
– Sameena Siddiqui
- Photography: A Critical introduction, edited by Liz wells, third edition, Routledge Press.