Image Analysis

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  • Topic: Virna Lisi, How to Murder Your Wife, La Reine Margot
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‘Esquire Magazine’ (March 1965)

Contextual Studies Essay, GD Year 1, Sophie Costello
Image Analysis

I’ll be researching the image on the front cover of an Esquire magazine, titled 'The Masculinisation of the American Woman' Issue no. 376 (March, 1965), the Verna Lisi cover in a photo shoot showcasing the iconic blonde caught mid-shave. I found the image in a book by Richard Hollis called ‘Graphic Design, A concise History’ (2001). The reason I chose to study this advert was because it stood out as a piece of graphic design, how the place of women in society has changed since 1965. The Dimensions of the cover were as follows: 1/1 (single page) - 200 mm width, 276 mm length. The cover was made from a photograph, with a collaboration of words through offset lithography by George Lois, whose works were engagingly simple and direct. Lois went on to design over 90 covers for Esquire magazine in the 1960s. He used powerful photographs and photomontages, usually by Carl Fischer, to make brief editorial statements about the United States.

The art director tells the article in Esquire at the time, George Lois, whom they say, created some of the most memorable covers in the magazine’s history. Lois’s commentary is stark about the commercial pressures he felt at the time (but got away from). This piece on the adman and art director George Lois is interesting. It's about the history of feminism, in an odd sort of way. ‘It was really pre-feminism, but if you were back then you could see it coming. You could see women getting stronger; you could see women not taking any more shit. There wasn't a full movement but it was happening. They interpreted it as masculinisation. It was a little bit of an insult but back then — it was way back in '65 — nobody took it as an insult.’ (Selling Sex And Axe Murderesses: George Lois' Esquire Lady Covers)

Pictured is Italian actress Virna Lisi, the famous actress made a dent in Hollywood comedy as a tempting blue-eyed blonde starring in ‘How to Murder Your Wife’ (1965), ‘Not with My Wife, You Don't!’ (1966), and ‘Assault on a Queen’ (1966) with Frank Sinatra and she is pictured in a change of scene here. Although possibly semi-naked as depicted from the tops of her shoulders and looking as groomed as ever, she’s using her index finger to pull the skin on her face taught whilst the other hand is just beginning to shave at the cheekbone, taking a little bit away from the sizeable amount of shaving foam that’s lathered all over her face.

My eye did not follow around the photo to one key feature, in-fact I immediately looked at the magazine cover as a whole. The image of the Hollywood actress shaving completely fits the page on a barely visible plain black background. The colours are warm tones and the image immediately stands out because of the outright obvious – an extremely good-looking woman with a colossal beard of shaving foam on her face. After the initial shock and interest, it quickly becomes humorous before my attention is drawn to the unnecessary amount of eye make-up that she is dressed in. Then again, perhaps it was necessary for her feminine features to have emphasis put on them, as the idea behind the photo was that she was in her prime as far as beauty was concerned whilst taking part in a day-to-day masculine task.

The inside article named ‘Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man’ ‘… this cover of the beautiful Virna Lisi taking it off was done before the hoopla about the women’s movement had caught the public’s eye. The movement wanted liberation from women’s traditional roles. Like any Greek male, I wondered where it would take us. Was there a point where sexuality equality would end and confusion begin? Sometimes the best way to draw attention to a trend on the horizon is with a cheeky cover.’

‘The ad guys hated it. It was too edgy. They were worried about losing clients.’ (George Lois).

‘I wanted to capture a woman being manly and still beautiful,’ he says. ‘It...
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