There is a formal beauty to Richard Prince's Untitled (Fashion), executed in 1982-84, that recalls the photography of, say, Man Ray. The woman is viewed in profile, wearing a strange mask over her eyes. Authorship aside, there is little to suggest that this picture is anything other than a photographer's exploration of female grace and beauty. And likewise, there is little to suggest that it was in fact a mere advert, rephotographed by Prince to avoid all the details and words that would revealed the true nature of this source. Prince has taken an ad, which was clear in its purpose and intent, and has removed any information from it; it is in this absence of significance that the viewer appreciates the photograph, and yet in that absence, it has been neutered, deprived of its functionality.
Having worked as a picture researcher, it was perhaps only natural that Prince should develop this deceptively simple technique of literally 'taking' other people's photos, throwing into question notions about authorship, the purposes of photography, the limitations of visual communication and, of course, what constitutes art. In creating Untitled (Fashion), Prince, like an artistic cuckoo, has essentially stolen someone else's work and yet has made it very much his own-- the act of removing the subsequent advertising shpiel both salvages some of the original beauty of the original photograph while also resulting in a new subversive work of art. Prince himself explained this almost healing transformation as he artificially peels back the layers of the photograph's history in order to reach an approximation of its original state:
'Rephotography is a technique for stealing (pirating) already existing images, simulating rather than copying them, 'managing' rather than quoting them-- re-producing their effect and look as naturally as they had been produced when they first appeared. A resemblance more than a reproduction, a rephotograph is essentially an appropriation of what's already real about an existing image and an attempt to add on or additionalise this reality onto something more real, a virtuoso real-- a reality that has the chances of looking real, but a reality that doesn't have any chances of being real' (Prince, quoted in N. Spector, 'Nowhere Man', pp. 20-56, in N. Spector (ed.), Richard Prince, exh.cat., New York, 2007, p. 29).
By taking an image from a fashion ad and bringing it back to this state teetering on the brink of its original condition, but leagues away from its original intention, Prince has created an artwork of great elegance that reveals the underlying mechanics of the world of media. In Untitled (Fashion), he has taken a discardable image from a disposable magazine with a limited shelf-life and has granted it a strange apotheosis, lending it a permanence that the shifting world of the media originally refused it while subversively smuggling 'low' art into a 'high' art context and format.