Editorial or Op-ed: Gradations of Richard Armitage trendy?

I thought I’d put this here as a sort of “op-ed” rather than harshing on the resounding *ooof*s of all my fellow Armitage admirers. (I’m not sure it’s an op-ed since this is my blog, but I know this position is a bit different from Guylty’s, at least, which is extremely well informed, and to which she is entitled.)

I was left largely cold by the two photoshoots we’ve seen this week, and of which Guylty has kindly provided rush discussions: the one from the December 2013 issue of UK Esquire and the one that is about to appear in New York Moves. Having looked at some of the interviews on the latter’s page, though, I’m still hopeful for a thoughtful interview (particularly after reading the piece on Armitage’s fellow LAMDA alum, David Oyelowo, who’s been seizing the US film world by the horns lately).

And then there was this. I’ve forgotten who tweeted it. I assume based on the slacks, shirt, and tie, that it was part of the “Moves” shoot as well?

btsphoto

Someone wrote in to ask for a commentary on the choices above, when this photo was tweeted, and I declined, saying I was sure it was part of some kind of marketing plan.

After the last two shoots, I’m more confident in saying that publicly, and I think we can now start to provide a basic history of how this has worked out, although I can’t make this as precise as I’d like, again due to the recent data disappearances. So, some very broad generalizations here for now.

Stage I: Surprised and a little hapless

Almost all of the early photos fall into this category. Interest in interviewing Richard Armitage began because of the Internet phenomenon of the reaction to North & South. Apart from professional photos for self-presentation (headshots, etc.), most pictures available of Armitage as Armitage were taken for a newspaper article or to illustrate Armitage’s presence in the context of a specific role (I don’t mean publicity photos for series, but for example, the pictures of Armitage that make him look like Lee Preston). The phenomenon of the shirt taken out of the package at the photoshoot falls in this category. It’s not about the self-presentation at all, the art is the main thing and the publicity is a hassle, even if Armitage is being his usual cooperative self.

Stage II: TV blitz + edgy exclusive

I’d like to specify a change around 2006 or so. At this point, it feels like Armitage is a bit more aware of how he looks in the press (e.g., his statement that he wanted to do just a few chosen interviews for The Impressionists, nothing flashy), and the photoshoots start getting better. He wants more exposure but not too much exposure.

More pictures appear, not all equally great, but many or most of them are clearly intended as possible illustrations for the up and coming British television actor. Most of these end up as illustrations in the television press and the ones in the penultimate year or so of this phase were particularly beloved of fans — I am thinking of photos created around Spooks 8 and 9 and for Strike Back. (Again, I’m not talking about photos of Armitage in character but photos of created to accompany press that usually appeared in television press or major press venues.)

The “TV blitz” photos are accompanied throughout by something less obvious that I want to call “edgy exclusive.” (There’s a bridge — the “no escape” photos, which stand on the boundary.) This type of photos appears in press that’s specifically separate from the TV media and directed at smaller segments of Armitage’s audience — often in press that relates to the theater or more specifically to the “arts” or “style” (as opposed to the “entertainment”) audience. It looks like the media of someone who’s trying to keep his image in the sphere of the arts cognoscenti, especially the trendy arts cognoscenti. The last bit of this phase took up the time between the premiere of Strike Back and the premiere and immediate wake of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and it produced some interesting results — a photoshoot and interview (“Richard Armitage like you’ve never seen him before!”) that almost totally disappeared because the magazine it was in folded, as well as the (in my opinion) amazing bearded photos of Project Magazine and ended, more or less, with the Fault shoot. To me, “edgy exclusive,” in addition to its artistic ambitions (or should I say pretensions — as several of these are also clearly fashion shoots, not least because the trendy arts crowd tends to be interested in fashion — and as much as sort of sneer at pretensions), runs more artistic risk.

This “edgy exclusive” vibe feeds a bit in its final phase into the third stage, in that we can’t separate the creation of the photos from the nature of periodical that could be expected to run something about Armitage, which changed significantly at the end of this stage. One might argue that the sort of venue whose readers could be expected to be interested in Richard Armitage was changing. Publications like Project and Fault (and the folded publication, whose name I’ve forgotten) seem more like opportunities for self-presentation, putting oneself in front of an audience that liked different kinds of photography or arts and was interested in fashion and might be willing to read more about Richard Armitage, as opposed to places where the readers might want to learn something about Richard Armitage and read an extensive interview about his latest project with an illustration attached to it. (I feel like I’m not putting this well, so the distinction I’m making might need more exploration and substantiation in future.) The “edgy exclusive” pieces are the sort of thing that Vanity Fair sometimes puts into its “newcomer” sidebars. A little info and a gorgeous, but perhaps not universally appealing, photo. Except they appear in much less industry-central publications.

Stage III: Trendy mainstream

I think this is what we’re seeing now (and it has some bleed-back into the press from last fall, as well — I don’t think the stages are so clearly differentiated at this point, though the caesura may seem stronger from the perspective of another year or so. Or not, if I am wrong about this).

Both of these photo shoots seem to me to be designed in different ways to hit pieces of the mainstream that the “artsy” component of the previous phase did not aim at. The Esquire shoot, with its “classic elegance” vibe that also is supposed to push men’s dinner suits (and, one assumes, will do so successfully — whereas it was always a bit hard to see the Project magazine shoot selling a lot of men’s jackets, as much as I liked some of them). Or this New York Moves piece, which is supposed, I assume, to make Armitage look like a New York mover-upper, someone the person in the know should know about. So he’s dressed on the comfortable side of trendy, clothed awkwardly in the latest men’s fashions, but without the hint of edge or danger or even vulnerability present in the earlier publications. Without even a (failed) attempt at these. With an exception or two, for me, mostly “blah.” But pushing the kind of clothes every man in NYC, at least, could wear — not clothes for the arts crowd, but rather for two tiers away, not even the arts crowd-wannabes, but people who want to look arts-level stylish in their minds and want to be au courant, but are really accountants by day.

If marketing images make an appeal to the self-image of the viewer, I would argue that the segment of viewers being appealed to has been noticeably changed in the course of the last eighteen months. To some extent, this transformation is inevitable. I want Armitage to be marketed effectively so that he can get the kind of work he wants, and I can see that if you wanted a major series on American television — the kind that starts off with the trendy urbanites talking about it to their friends and then gradually creates a situation in which everyone starts to bingewatch the back seasons on NetFlix — I think this is definitely the way to go. I approve the strategy and the kind of broad appeal it seeks to make — one significantly wider and to more influential people than the second phase did. I just can’t bring myself to get visually excited about it. Or maybe I just haven’t yet seen the photos that will do that for me.

~ by Servetus on November 15, 2013.

30 Responses to “Editorial or Op-ed: Gradations of Richard Armitage trendy?”

  1. Quick question before I comment – what does op-ed stand for? *blushes* Opinion-editorial?

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    • it comes from “opposite,” op-eds used to be printed on the page facing the editorial page, and means an opinion piece that does not have the endorsement of a paper’s editorial board. Often they are chosen in particular to question the editorial board’s position.

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  2. It stands for “opposite the editorial” because that’s where it’s located in the paper- on the page opposite. It doesn’t necessarily mean the opinion stated is opposite or contra to the any of the editorials, though it can be.

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  3. Thanks for that – I am ashamed to not know that, working in media myself… Now for my response…
    That is a very convincing description of the marketing strategy in terms of photographic representation and the photographic media response to Armitage over time, Serv. It all makes perfect sense – first the drive for exposure that keeps the personality out of the picture (literally), then a more personal representation that aims for a general appeal, then the move to distinguish the universally-liked personality and to create a specific image, followed by a slight u-turn in order to embrace a bigger, worldwide target group.
    Not sure if this is niggling, but I would have put the caesura *before* the “edgy exclusive”. Edgy exclusive implies to me an attempt at escaping a “harmless mainstream” image – the kind of image that had been created while RA was busy with and well-known for his TV work. He became a British household name in that and that was a goal ticked off the PR list. But once that was checked, the image had to be pushed further in order to widen the scope to maintain a coolness factor that is not just related to celebrity but to the individuality of a celebrity. That’s where the edgy shots come in. Except that they coincide with a major career development as Armitage has bagged a role in one of the big potential blockbusters of the mid-teens. So initially the edgy, cool image is pushed, but then the possibility of a worldwide household-name status becomes attainable. Thus we go back to a slightly more mainstream photographic representation – widening the reach for the masses. (Yeah, definitely niggling – ignore!)
    The broad-appeal strategy is definitely the appropriate one, at this stage, as long as the Hobbit movies are coming out, and when and if new mass market movies/a major US TV-series with Armitage appear. It is career-appropriate, and should help him get what he wants. I hope he does. But I must say (selfishly) that I will miss the quirkier, edgier, more unusual photographic representation – there was more distinguishable Armitage in them, even if all it ever was was an individual RA-marketing plan devised at the drawing board.

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    • I don’t know if it’s niggling. I tried to proceed chronologically. I can’t check my dates exactly at the moment due to the current blackout, but it’s my impression that they coincide — Armitage is making Monet while he’s making RH (or in the breaks, anyway) and so the two efforts seem to me to proceed in parallel. He’s all over the TV media, hanging from trees in a bin-liner *and* getting interviewed as to his opinions about Monet and Impressionist art and ask his opinions about the best tv, theater, and art while photographed against gritty brick walls, at about the same time. Similar coincidence — the interview in “The Stage” that coincides with the SB premiere, in which he more or less seems to be arguing that SB is not who he is. Once he’s off TV (i.e., SB is off of Sky and he’s making CA and then TH) there’s no more TV media but the “edgier” stuff continues. My impression was that he was trying to maintain his foot in the “arts” audience while he was doing the TV.

      (I am uncomfortable with using the word “edgy” for any of this as none of it is very edgy but I was searching for a word I didn’t have. “appearance of edginess” seemed clunky.)

      In any case, these shots seemed to me to be marketing for US tv with a dash of “come to take New York” and “British elegance,” but a lot will depend for my final impression on the interview that’s published with this.

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      • Good point about the “keeping a foot in the arts” – I hadn’t quite thought about that.
        The current photographic output is certainly nothing quirky. Not sure about the British elegance thing in view of lumberjack shirts and grandad cardies *ggg*. Actually, they are probably the latest thing, it’s just me who doesn’t cop on…

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  4. I just want to add that the lumberjack was just two of the images. I am dead certain (I may have egg on my face later) that if there is a discussion of fashion in the article ( I hope not) or in the sidebars, that the focus is plaid as a fashion trend, although there’s no denying the lumberjack reference in that one outfit. He looks like the guy in the Bounty paper towels commercial- some character akin to what you see on the cover of a bodice ripper. I guess my sense of marketing is off because I think the more important issue is what magazines he’s in- and I still am not sure how that works- who came first- the photographer or the subject?

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    • Lumberjack shirt, LL Bean sweater, those grey slacks … it’s all of a piece for me. The black watch plaid tie thing was slightly different. I’m sure you’re right about plaid (it’s an ongoing thing, and he wore a lot of it the last two years, apparently).

      I don’t know who comes first in terms of actor or clothes, but I imagine these mags have editorial mtgs where they discuss possible subjects that will be treated in features and that the photog is a decision subsequent to that decision. If the point is the fashion aspect of the piece (the impression I got from Esquire), then I’d guess the decisionmaking is style –> Armitage –> photog. I wouldn’t guess with this kind of thing that the point would be the photographer — as opposed to something like Fault, where you kind of had the feeling that was an important part of the decision? Guylty probably knows more than I do.

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      • I don’t know either. It came up as an issue with the Esquire shoot. I am so curious to see the final. I suspect there will not be that many photos- but which will they go with? And will it make a difference that it’s in the Women’s Power issue- which is special for the mag? This is the first time I know of where we knew so much ahead of time. Shades of Peter Jackson.

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      • Unless the photographer is a massive big name – we are talking the likes of Leibovitz, von Unwerth, La Chapelle, Teller, Rankin, Testino, Weber, Demarchelier, Meisel, Richardson (although the latter hopefully will be out of business, soon) – they are not the main concern of a commission. Unless they are a preferred, constant choice of a commissioning magazine. In this case it was a self-assignment (which Perry and I already discussed in the comments on her blog), so the photographer organised it herself and was then able to find a buyer even before the shoot (I presume, just from the evidence of NYM’s journalist being there for the interview at the shoot). Nah, clothes and (celebrity) model are the two variables.

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    • Plaid is definitely a trend for this fall’s womenswear. Not surprised it’s for men as well.

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  5. Good to know I wasn’t the only one left somewhat cold with some of his most recent photos. Especially the most recent yet to be used in publication – aka the plaid. Too styled? Too polished? Clothes don’t seem to suit him. I can’t seem to put my finger on it, but I’m not loving them.

    Whatever it is, he’s definitely got his game face on in these.

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  6. *emerges from deep lurk* Enjoying the discussion & really enjoy the thought & effort put into the posts and comments on this blog. It’s a daily stop for me! My own opinion-and that’s all it is-is that RA seems to be a very desirable hangar for clothes. The dude can really wear a suit 🙂 I have my own likes & dislikes as far as fashion, but this guy makes everything lok pretty danged good to me!

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  7. The clothes in the NYM shoot can be seen as an attempt at a more “American” image to me. These are the kinds of clothes everyman New Yorker would wear. The thing that is special to me about this shoot is his attitude. He doesn’t look uncomfortable to me, he looks like he is engaged with the photographer. In almost all of them he is looking directly into the camera. The ones that don’t are sassy/flirty ones anyway. I think he is trying to be marketable to American audiences.

    What the heck is New York Moves magazine anyway? It’s hardly even available in New York! I wish if he wants to be more “mainstream/edgy” he got better places to show it off.

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    • It has a sort of “up and coming” quality in common, though, with the magazines he was appearing in most recently in London — Project, Fault, and the one that folded.

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  8. Yes, I think Marie and I saw this as a more Americanized image making but I agree with Serv that this is an attempt to broaden his image/exposure again in a different way and probably just for the reason listed. Plaid, well here plaid is a number of things mostly gangbanger well truthfully, however it has always been popular for winter wear. The jeans with the cuffs are “in” and we know he seems to like those. He does look good in almost anything but there wasn’t a lot of spirit in these photos. Yes, in a few he was looking into the camera and seemingly flirty but somehow in most it just seemed that it was all poses. I’m more interested as said in what they put with the interview and what the interview says. As noted this magazine isn’t widely seen outside of N.Y. so it is an interesting choice.

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  9. I really didn’t like this latest photoshoot, I’m afraid. I don’t understand why he is being made up as if he is a male model. I want to see him taken seriously as an actor – are photos like this going to enhance his career? I’m confused and a bit sad. 😦

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    • I think if what you need to get onto the stage in NYC is buzz, this is the kind of the article that might contribute to it, yes. That new actor in town people have met kind of thing. I assume the proof in the pudding is in the acting. But these photos and the article read very “headsup NYC” to me.

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  10. If you compare some of the shots, especially in the watch plaid knitted jackets ( yuch)- his expression looks very similar to some of the BAFTA tea shots, where he posed himself. They seemed to be going for a more natural expression.
    FYI- 9 a.m. on the dot I am moseying over to the B & N to see if the mag is in. My scanner is only so so, but if I get it, I’ll post what I can and move on to my hiatus.

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  11. I’m always fascinated by the progression of RA’s career and appreciate how this post shows that development through the PR prism. I thought both sets of pics were great. The Esquire pics remind me of old Hollywood. I saw a picture of Errol Flynn a couple of days ago that was styled almost exactly like those pics. What caught my attention most in the lumberjack pics, were the facial expressions. Burly, sophisticated, trendy, whatever — his image always lifts my spirit and makes me smile.

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  12. Thanks for your chronology insights. Let’s hope that the stylists for the photo shoots have a consistent plan for RA’s look.

    Fort he NY Moves photos, the light colored spaced out weave plaid shirts (similar to the plaid weave in the tie in the portrait above) made me think of John Standring–sweet guy in functional clothing. The more narrowly spaced weave plaids like the Black Watch Tartan (navy blue, green, and black) were more appealing to me visually as being a bit more “upscale”.

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  13. […] non-response (blah / meh) or even discomfort when one sees him in a new setting or new clothing. This or something akin to it happened to me with the two recent photoshoots. But it takes a while to figure out what’s bugging one, I think. It happened back in the day […]

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  14. […] did realize, however, that we’d seen Armitage in Brunello Cucinelli one time before. I was neutral on the photos themselves, although Guylty commented positively on them several times. The suit does look good, I […]

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