Monday, 14 January 2013

A Leopard in the Snow

Untitled, from Cartier Winter Tale Holiday Campaign 2012

I'm interested in the way that we use images of animals, to enhance our self-worth, whilst ignoring the actual animal in the process. This leopard cub in the snow, curled protectively around a Cartier watch, is there to add value to the product. This image is from Cartier's recent advertising campagn (and is a collage of several elements).

This cub, only a few months old, is obedient, a trained animal in a controlled environment, a studio with fake snow, against a pine tree. It's possibly an Amur leopard cub, one of the rarest types of leopards with only a tiny population still living wild in the remote Primorye region of south eastern Russia. Its eyes, naturally a yellow/green, have been enhanced to a vivid green perhaps to contrast with the red of the box, or to appear a little more human. The product, the watch, magically propped up next to its small leather case and a gift box. All of these objects are loaded with meaning and significance. This image is about time, past and future. The past in the longevity of the make of the watch, its self-conscious nineteenth century packaging (sealed with wax, and a red ribbon) suggests a timelessness of the product. This watch will still work when you're old and grey; it's an heirloom to pass onto your children. The old fashioned face, using roman numerals instead of the more usual Arabic numerals, a classic (implied) design that will last for years. All of this, in contrast, to the subdued wildness of the animal. This animal is gorgeous but its not only there because of how it looks. The leopard has always been a rare animal rarely seen, secretive living in isolation from other animals. They were used by the Romans in parades of powered and triumph, to reinforce how everything could be bought and controlled. Julius Ceaser had many leopards (as well as other animals) in his parade through Rome after his return from Egypt. Pompey, who was emperor after Caesar had even more leopards in his triumph parade, contemporary reports were of around 400.

And whilst leopards have always been rare animals prized for their looks and carnivorous strength, Cartier has tamed them. The power of the watch has subdued the beast. And there it sits for our pleasure and entertainment. This cub, endangered and rare, suggests a future for the watch, which is also rare and precious, but the watch will outlast the animal. The use of this animal seems obscene and extreme. It has no life of its own, and as a cub is cute and fluffy, humanised and removed from its real life in the wild. This animal hasn't chosen to be a model, it was born in a place that wanted to use it for this purpose. It will never hunt or fend for itself. Our fantasy of it, is as the guardian of the watch, attracted naturally to the object, as we must be.

If we buy this rare object we will also, like the animal, be rare and beautiful.

Suky Best (Foam Magazine issue #10/Stories)


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