Ad Hoc

Welcome to Ad Hoc, our newest feature on the art of advertising. We are proud to welcome Dr. Richard Zakia as the author of this page each month.

Victoria's Distorted Secret

Were you puzzled when you first looked at this ad and wondered what is being shown? The photograph is confusing and ambiguous and intentionally so for it gets you to spend more time with it. It is a visual puzzle, an anamorphic image. One has to spend time reforming it to see it and that engages the viewer. So what are you looking at? This may help. The model is lying on her back and her mask like face appears in the lower right corner. Her long light hair wraps around her face. The two small dark shapes side by side suggest a pair of eyes. Picasso, in 1966, wrote, Two holes---the symbol for the face, enough to evoke it without representing it… The mask like face resembles the iconic tragedy and comedy masks of theatre and grab attention.

Are there other features to be considered in this drama? Is anyone other than you looking at the model proudly displaying her breasts? Recall some of the earlier Renaissance paintings where a woman is bathing and a man is hiding and peering at her. If you look to the right of the photograph at about 3 o’clock, just above the T in Secret, you will notice a pair of what appears to be rimmed glasses looking directly at the models breasts and pretty blue bow on her bra.

Putting all this together takes a lot of looking and imagination and that might be the distorted purpose of the ad.

Regarding Dr. Zakia's Bebe interpretation last month, a visitor writes: "WOW. This is an interesting site and your "ad hoc" pieces are terrific. The use of women in advertising is a fascinating topic."

Richard D. Zakia is Professor Emeritus, Rochester Institute of Technology and author/coauthor of several books on photography, perception, semiotics and advertising.

c. Corinne Whitaker 2009

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