|© Jacqueline Hassink|
"Dutch photographer Jacqueline Hassink has earned a reputation as an assiduous cartographer of the symbols and manifestations of international economic power. In Domains of Influence she portrayed successful businesswomen from around the Arab world; in Table of Power she photographed the boardrooms of European multinationals. And again the symbolic life forms of globalised power constitute the subject of her latest book - Car Girls - an analysis of the models and saleswomen who work the motor shows from Detroit to Tokyo. She spoke to Guy Lane about the work. For someone who does not drive, Jacqueline Hassink has spent an inordinate amount of time in recent years looking at cars. Since 2001 she has visited, and re-visited, the international motor shows of Shanghai, Frankfurt, Paris, New York and Geneva - to name just a few. Not that the cars were ever her subject…
I’d never been to a car show until a journalist who works for Fortune Magazine said if you really want to understand something about corporate Japan you have to visit one. So I went to the Tokyo Motor Show - it was an incredible, inspiring and fascinating environment for me, and after spending several hours there I came up with lots of ideas, and started thinking ‘I have to do something with this’. That’s how it started. I was really fascinated with how the car industry used the female image as a way of corporate identity through the car girls. I think it’s really interesting that - in that case - a local industry like Toyota or Nissan - tries to create a seductive fantasy image of a woman that is highly attractive to the male audience; and they do it in a very smart way. They have to appeal to thousands and thousands of visitors because the Tokyo Show goes on for days, and attracts a huge audience. So you get a real sense of an aesthetic based around seduction and female beauty. And there is also an attempt to create a kind of manga women - an ideal derived from the drawings and magazines that are so popular there.
Hassink took no pictures at that first show in Tokyo, but started photographing car girls soon after, when she attended the industry’s annual extravaganza in New York.
I realized that the Japanese car girls look completely different to what you see in Shanghai or what you would find in Detroit - so, in a way, through them you can try to understand about a local culture. In New York they were completely different again! The New York car girls are the most boring in the world - I don’t understand why that is, because American culture in general is so geared towards seduction and entertainment. If there is one place in the world that should understand the whole idea, it is America.
Though her goal was not to interact with them, in the course of the project some of the girls - especially in the States - began to recognize Hassink; and she was to employ several during the making of a campaign film for BMW. She explains how her understanding of their roles and their working lives, changed:
I found out that there were different functions, or three different levels, that these car girls have: there are the so-called sexy girls who are not allowed to talk - they are just there to seduce and stand beside the car; and then you have the microphone girls who stand on the platform talking about the new technology - everybody listens to what they say; then there are the women on the ground - the sales girls in business attire wearing simple trouser suits. In the course of visiting the shows, observing and watching, I got more and more respect for their profession. I started to talk with them and they would tell me about their high heels - how their feet were hurting. And after years of photographing I saw them more as actresses - they were performing; they had a certain role that was given them by the car company, and they had to perform that role.
As the apparent objectivity of much of Hassink’s other bodies of work might suggest, she makes no claims for an explicit evaluative or critical perspective to the Car Girls project:
I am totally respectful towards their profession. It’s a job - they’re doing their job. They’re getting paid for it, and they’re free to take the job, or not to do it. There’s nothing wrong with it. I’m trying to map and to understand the global players of the car industry, which when I created the work was one of the largest industries in the world. I’m creating bodies of work in which I investigate certain topics that are highly fascinating to me, without really judging. But I think if you look at the maps, and look at the results of the work you can create your own conclusions, but that’s another thing. That’s more to do with you the viewer and how you want to perceive the work. But I’m not judgmental by any means - that’s not what I’m interested in. I’ve never done that - not even with Table of Power which was another body of work that could be seen as highly critical. And I’ve been approached by many magazines and many groups who wanted to use those images in a totally political kind of way. But that’s not what my work is about. I don’t make any kind of huge statements.
The considerable ambition, scope and intricacies of the Car Girls project presented their own challenges when Hassink and award-winning designer Irma Boom began work on the book publication.
There are two editions of the book - a small travel edition and a larger luxury one. We wanted to get that feeling of extravagance and seduction, so Irma came up with this idea of using a metallic kind of ink - some of the pages are silver, for example; and there are further colored pages that are related to the cars or the dresses. And we have twelve different foldouts which really map the project on a lot of different levels. For instance one of them is called car brands - you can open the three pages to see the brands in alphabetical order, against a list of all the cities that I’ve visited, so you get a whole overview of how Ferrari girls look in Shanghai, how they look in Detroit, and so on. It’s very colorful and very dynamic. I think it’s one of the happiest books I’ve made." [Guy Lane / Foto8]
Carl Girls, Carl Girls (Travel Size) e o mais recente lançamento Car Girls Portfolio.