Salon crosses ethical boundaries

The power of photography should never be underestimated.

With one shot you can move virtually anyone to tears, anger or happiness. In one photograph, you can even incite the rage of hundreds of people.

This fact should’ve been taken into consideration by the Canadian beauty salon Fluid. In a series of photographs, the salon took its slogan, “Look good in all you do,” to disturbing new heights with a shocking series of photographs. Since late August and early September, Fluid has received a lot of flack for its poor taste in advertising.

One photograph features a woman pulling a dead body out of a hearse. Another depicts a woman who looks as if she’s just been in a motorcycle accident.

But the ad that got people’s skin crawling and tempers flaring was the photograph showing a woman with a bruised eye sitting on a couch with a man behind her. The same “Look good in all you do” slogan is present, making the ad seem to suggest that you can look good even as a victim of domestic abuse.

Naturally, those who have fought against abuse or know someone who has could not help but be offended at the advertisements. To make matters worse, the salon defended the ads; salon owner Sarah Cameron told people to “please interpret the ads as freedom dictates — that is your right — just as artistic expression is our right.”

Unfortunately, the term “artistic expression” is a trite one, often used as an excuse for almost anything these days. When an artist creates something confusing or controversial, the go-to justification is oftentimes these two words.

But what this salon does by calling its advertisements art is shedding a bad light on a freedom that allows artists to create positive, pleasing works.

“Artistic expression” is what results from the passion of an artist who experiments with cans of paint, performs for an audience or creates something otherwise stunning. It has nothing to do with creating pieces that could quite possibly ridicule a very serious and dangerous act like domestic abuse.

If the advertisements were meant for shock value, Fluid shouldn’t have tried to cover up using “artistic expression” — viewers deserve the truth. There are artists who express themselves with less-than-pleasant works, but this shock value is inherently part of their image and approach to art. What’s more, not all artists are trying to convince people of a certain viewpoint, while these advertisements are obviously meant to persuade potential customers to drop by the salon to look good.

And though the advertisements are specific to their salon, the images are powerful to anyone, anywhere. The salon has used the power of photography to virtually surpass the need for words — almost any woman walking by the ad would understand the message.

The domestic abuse scene could mirror the lives of many women from different walks of life. Just one glance of these photographs could excite emotions in people that have nothing to do with getting a perm.

Controversial art pieces can be found throughout history, from Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 “Fountain,” — a urinal signed with the name R. Mutt — to Andres Serrano’s 1987 “Piss Christ” — a photograph of a plastic cruficix inside a jar of Serrano’s urine — and even Banksy’s contemporary street murals.  Duchamp and Banksy’s work might be seen as comical, but “Piss Christ” was actually damaged by angry protestors. Various artists have abused the term “artistic expression” as well, but this only serves to show that perhaps some topics, such as domestic abuse, are better left untouched.

Concern about offending audiences will always be an issue, but artists should consider the consequences of being insensitive.

As for the ads, Cameron has promised to donate money to Edmonton’s women’s shelter when someone mentions the ad inside her salon. Even still, the public is unlikely to be placated so easily. In fact, a street tagger took action into his or her own hands and spray-painted a simple but effective message over the ad depicting domestic abuse: “That was violence wrongly named art.”

In creating the ads, the salon is not only being insensitive, but also creating an inaccurate picture of what art is. It is unfair that these photographs cast a negative light on the term “artistic expression.” Artistic expression is much more.


Eva Recinos is a junior majoring in English.  Her column “Art Box” runs Thursdays.