The Age of the Image. Series 1:3 Seductive Dreams. James Fox


The Age of the Image (1) is a four-part BBC documentary series in which art historian Dr James Fox explores how the power of images have transformed the modern world. This blog post is not intended to be a deep dive into any particular part of the programme but simply intends to serve as a personal aide-memoir. Fox says that in these programmes he intends to ask four questions:

  • Why do images give us such pleasure?
  • How do we make sense of them?
  • Where do they get their power?
  • Can we trust them?

In this episode, JF examines the power of images in the creation of desire.

The Anonymous Project, Paris 

Features 1 million Kodak colour slides. Kodak’s advertising Slogan in 1950s ‘Kodak moments’  Encouraged people to photograph moments (birthdays etc) in order to be remembered. Fox says ‘we as a species are immensely susceptible to images. they manipulate our thoughts and feelings in more direct and subconscious ways than words’. 


Austrian psychologist Ernest Dichter moved to the US in 1938. In 1946 he set up the Institute for Motivational Rresearch. Using focus groups he investigated peoples emotions and self image. Data suggested people bought products to satisfy a personal need – a good example being the Marlborough cigarettes campaign which created fantasy of the wild West hero – creating the association between smoking Marlborough and a macho lifestyle. 

Maurice Sendak 

Maurice Sendak

Wrote the picture story book ‘Where the Wild Things Are’.  The book shows paintings of a child, Max, dreaming in his bedroom, which becomes a forest. 


Post-World War II Italy transformed itself by creating style and design classics such as Vespa and Gaggia. Frederico Fellini (filmmaker) produced the film ‘La Dolce Vita’. Fox describes it as signifying the unattainable dream. Particularly the scene in the Trevi Fountain. 


Ron Galella. Jackie Onassis. (1971)

Fox proposes that reporters realised the public wanted to see celebrities in their ordinariness.  Ron Galella – a New York photographer being a famous example.  His favourite target was Jackie Onassis, his most famous shot being of Onassis crossing a new York Street. Fox raises the question about these disturbing images. Are we, the public, the consumers, implicit in what they do.  Of course, we are – we create the market! 

Andy Warhol 

Andy Warhol. ‘Screen Test: Edie Sedgwick’ 1964-66

One of Warhol’s most interesting series of works is known as ‘Screen Test’.  These three-minute silent movies involved visitors to his New York studio known as ‘The Factory’.  They were told to simply stare at the cine camera. Often shot in a Rembrandt style. Warhol is filmed giving the instruction ‘You don’t have to do anything. Just what you’re doing. Yeah, you can move, just not too much’.  The three-minute movies were shown in slow motion thereby taking five minutes. Fox suggests we can watch the veneer of celebrity being peeled away as they, often uncomfortably, stared at the camera. 

David Hockney 

David Hockney. A Bigger Splash. (1967)

Hockney originated in Bradford, UK and emigrated to the US in 1964.  Hockney describes Los Angeles as ‘all of the energy of the United States with the Mediterranean thrown in’.  His obsession was swimming pools.  Fox suggests because they connote freedom, which for a gay man coming from the UK was liberating. 

Helmut Newton 

Helmut Newton

Fox proposes that what sets Newton a part can be summed up in his words ‘the perfect fashion photograph is a photograph that does not look like a fashion photograph’. 

The film quotes Newton ‘for me the women that I photograph are a commodity. Some young model said to me ‘Oh but Helmut that’s not me. I said, my dear, I’m not interested in you. You’re being paid to be made into what I want’. 


Fox says ‘images have a special hold over us. Whether they are picture books or family photographs or the twinkling screens that now surround us on every side. Images possess a beauty and a directness that is very difficult to resist’. He concludes by saying ‘who wants to live in a world without dreams?’ 

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