The 18th Century German philosopher Immanuel Kant states that beauty should have four qualities;

  1. Disinterest – we find the subject pleasurable because it is beautiful rather than the other way around.  If we described a meal as beautiful, it would probably be influenced by the taste and aroma, rather than purely down to its aesthetics
  2. Universal – all can agree that it is beautiful (though this goes against the notion of the “eye of the beholder”
  3. Necessary – the human mind must pass judgement on this quality of an object
  4. Purposive – there should be no purpose to the beauty.  It is beautiful for its own sake.

At this point philosophy academics are throwing their hands up in horror at my feeble attempt to explain Kant, and to be honest I’m more familiar with his drinking ability as described in Monty Python‘s Philosopher’s Song!

Also in Germany the Universities of Rostock and Regensburg undertook research using computer generated facial composites, and concluded in their work Beauty Check that facial beauty should include amongst other factors;

  • smooth skin without blemish or wrinkle
  • a tendency towards the average
  • high cheekbones
  • symmetry
  • “baby features” in women (small nose and chin, large eyes)
  • prominent jawline in men.

The great fashion photographer Erwin Blumenfeld was American, but of German origin, and photographed more Vogue covers and any other before or since.  One of these was chosen by Rankin for his “Seven Photographs That Changed Fashion” project and it shows that Blumenfeld can distil beauty down to even more basic components.  His 1950 Vogue cover certainly has unblemished skin, but symmetry and cheekbones?

Extreme Beauty In Vogue
Extreme Beauty In Vogue (Photo credit: Human Flash Dancer)

For all this German focus on beauty, I found many more examples in the teams of nations other than the Fatherland when watching the Olympic opening ceremony yesterday. (Entschuldigung!)  Nevertheless it was Blumenfeld’s influence that prompted me to photograph Eve when I saw her in Newcastle.

Her silver locks and pale skin don’t quite match the blown out whiteness of the Vogue cover, but the red lips and eyebrows were the most striking features visible beyond her Ray-Bans.  Not much to go on, but it was enough to convince me that she was photogenic.  The quirky smile is all the better for not being symmetrical in my view, but what about the shades?  Are they the “large eyes” required by  Beauty Check?  I think they probably are so cheated and gave them a blue tint!

Oh and in case you can’t see what I’m talking about, here’s my take on the Blumenfeld:


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