Epatage: The Shortest Way to Popularity. Part I

* Remember all in this blog is my personal private opinion. All written here do not pretend to be the truth in the last instance and even just the truth.

Originally this article was in Russian. I’ve found one little problem in the process of translation. There is no stable definition of the word “epatage” in English. However, I believe that this term most closely matches the above topic.  Therefore, in the introduction I'll try to check some common aspects of the typical definition.

The word “épatage” has French origin. It is formed from the verb épater – to overwhelm, to bring a surprise. Epatage is defiantly scandalous, shocking, outrageous, behavior that violates generally accepted social and cultural norms.  Do not confuse epatage and deviant behavior, as epatage is primarily a conscious action, but not the result of mental disorder, it does not carry destructive or self-destructive features and certainly not accompanied by social maladaptation. The sole purpose of epatage is  self-advertisement and self-presentation. Consequently the “must” elements of epatge are publicity, watchers and the most important: epatage have to provoke subsequent discussion. Epatage as the way to popularity is the fastest method including for photographers.



Photographer’s activity assumes the audience by default. But you can make an object of epatage both your actual creative work and the actions which are not connected with photography at all. The latter method is somewhat easier, especially for photographers, whose professional qualities have not risen above the average level.
So what can photographer do in isolation from the pictures? Actually fits everything, what could be called "informational reason".  But most interesting is that there is no need to invent anything or come up with. All the techniques have already been worked out by celebrities and politics. These methods are universal and do not have specifics on any kind of activity.
I’ll try to tell a bit more detailed about the most popular ones. Here is my selection with some examples:

1) Indecent behavior is a well proven and still regularly working method. Be bad and obscene! Abnormal behavior always attracts a lot of attention.  A good example of this method in the photographer's performance was Robert Opel's scamper across the stage during the Oscar ceremony in 1974 (46th Academy Awards in 1974). The number of people who saw his works can be considered negligible compared with the amount of people who saw his escapade. But let’s do not dwell on the photographers. So Paris Hilton illustrates this method perfectly.  Only her video “1 Night in Paris” is worth a lot.

Violation of professional ethics can serve as a particular example of indecent behavior. Look through Wikipedia article about Terry Richardson if you will have some free time. Perhaps it is a bit strange but the biggest part of it is not about the photography.

2) Public statements. There are a lot of “hot” or delicate topics in every society. Shocking statement must either maintain a minority, or represent the position of the majority in the extremely grotesque way. The main thing here is to catch the moment, to catch audience attention at the initial stage of public debate. If you are a little late, you will have to wait for people’s decision and show your conviction to it after. This method is beloved by politics. Especially significant are performances of the radicals. Well, if suddenly it is all quiet in the society we can call to memory some old themes, where all decisions were already made, and to stir the swamp again. Here the good example is the activities of Lady GaGa dedicated to LGBT community support.

Public statements are very closely interwoven with the next method.

3) Rumors and gossip. Imagine that you do nothing.  Absolutely nothing. But at the same time you do not want people to forget about you. The creation and launch of rumors and gossip can help you in this case. Most often this method is used by actors and musicians. Gossip and rumors can distribute in space faster than the speed of light! But you need some special skills and appropriate experience. Good rumor should be created first and then launched into free flight. There are assistants in this complicated business. Rumors are the bread and income of yellow paper, both printed and electronic. If you are unsure about your own abilities in this field entrust those dealing to yellow paper. Perhaps this is expensive, but you need to be discussed not only by your friends, do you? As for examples, do not even know whether we need to move to specifics. We always hear some "shocking" news and to assess the veracity of them often is not possible. Many of the epatage characters are constantly surrounded by a certain aura of rumors and gossip. Topics may vary from manic-depressive disorder and severe childhood to unusual sexual preferences and sex-change operations.

4) Support of alternative and radical organizations and movements, flouting of accepted values. Inclusion in the social circle of well known scandalous persons. This method can be represented as a set of the above methods or based on any one of them. Its main feature lies in the fact that it involves not a single action/statement but long term activity. Of course, I’m not talking about something like funding of global terrorism. You can simply declare yourself a follower of the existing sects (remember, Scientology and its famous fans) or you can come up with something new - mysterious and incomprehensible.

Sexual orientation has already lost the symbolic meaning, but even in this area not all is lost, for example, the press paid a lot of attention to Samantha Ronson and Lindsay Lohan.

You may choose any social value to demonstrate your non-stereotypical approach. It can be national symbolic, religion, accepted social structure, morals and so on. The regular burning of the national flag is a hairy reception. But it still works very well.

If the conventions do not allow, at least turn yourselves in terms of communication of already known trouble-makers and epatagers. Self-communication is not necessarily, presence in the same place at the same time is enough to declare you an extraordinary personality. Although there is it is no big deal in such communication. In fact epatagers tend to be together. By the way your presence in the right place can bring you work. Known for their controversial advertising employers very often search for a new brawler for each of the following project.  And the easiest way to choose it from some existing group of communication gro. In any case, there is less effort to find.

5) Harassment, diseases and abuses. Tell everybody about your endless sufferings! This may include a variety of “troubles”, suits everything that can be represented in a dramatic way. For example, If you tried to provoke some negative reaction of public and had a success in this uneasy business, do not forget to make all censures and harassments a public domain. Tell about all horror you had to go through.

The recognition of some strange disease also produces strong effect (remember, Daniel Radcliffe's Dyspraxia Diagnosis), although drug or alcohol abuse and of course touching rehabilitation process  fit very well too ( I think all celebrities do this from time to time, for example, Amy Winehouse). If your disease has some kind of intimate nature it works even better.

This method is closely connected with “Rumors and gossip”.

6) Unusual appearance. I suppose this method does not any require special explanation, but the illustrations can be useful. There are a lot outstanding the world of music: Elton John, Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga, Madonna is some periods of her career, Slipknot, lesser known but no less spectacular - Anna-Varney Cantodea and many many others.

To sum up i would like to notice that my classification of all these methods is rather conventional; hardly anyone uses only one method. Usually they are combined and complement each other for achieving the maximum effect. Sometimes it is very hard to define where one method ends and another begins. Thus, as an example of a combination of the first and the fourth methods can serve a collection of beach towels in honor of Gay parade in Amsterdam made by American Apparel jointly with the “Butt” magazine. Models were artist Brian Kenny, fashion design student Juan Jose Quiceno, adult film star Arpad Miklos, introducing composer and lyricist Ernie Lijoi, and photographer Devin Elijah. This also proves once again that your occupation does not really matter for being epatager.

Everything seems to be too simple. But I won’t bet this impression to be correct. To choose the right combination, topic, audience, time, place, to create mass media support, to get the right impression from the public – all this is some kind of art. You need special talent or special experience for this or great helpers.  Balance is a key word. About this balance, main risks, missteps and the most popular topics and ways of epatage in the photography itself and try tell you in the second part of the article.