One Cubic Foot

Secret: I don’t think fashion magazines are all that.

That isn’t to say I don’t love them — I do, dearly. But in a magazine cage match, those glamorous glossies have nothing on a National Geographic. This month was no exception.

Instead of coaxing the same bland questions out of already-overexposed Hollywood starlets, this issue of National Geographic tackled a question far more ambitious:  “How much life can you find in one cubic foot?”

The answer is the spectacular, 20-page spread “One Cubic Foot,” a miniature biodiversity survey of various ecosystems, from a French Polynesian coral reef to a clump of dirt in Central Park. Using a 12-inch metal cube, photographer David Liittschwager marked out a space in each setting, and snapped anything that lived or wandered through that one-foot space. Over the span of several months, Liittschwager and his team documented over a thousand organisms, revealing a stunning wealth of creatures in every imaginable shape, color, and size.

And somehow, all those images of  spindly-legged insects and pucker-mouthed fish got me thinking about fashion…

Strange as it sounds, I think this fascination with conducting photographic surveys of life isn’t just a science thing. See, in fashion, we just call these surveys  “street style.”

The Sartorialist, Garance, Face Hunter, Tommy Ton — they’re our Liittschwagers, capturing fashionable subjects as they live and pass through spaces. True, they do pick and choose who to shoot, but they’re still our primary documentarians for the wealth and diversity in fashion out there.

Moreover, like the clawed and webbed creatures above and below, their subjects also bear distinctive marks (tattoos, a signature bob), adapt to changes in climate and weather, and act as evidence of stylistic shifts and trends.

Still, there is one thing that sets street style apart from biological surveys, and it’s a difference I’m glad of. Unlike a Sacoglossan sea slug, we never have to look the same twice. While it’s stuck wearing spots and ruffles for life, we can reinvent ourselves whenever we please. We can slouch around in boyfriend jeans or slip on a slinky sequined dress, grow out our bangs or chop off our hair, tattoo our arms, and emulate others whose fashion we admire. We’re not limited by the slow evolutionary process, and I think that’s absolutely wonderful. It’s freeing to know that if we ever do pass through a cubic frame, we’d look different every time.

For the full article and photos, check out the print issue or National Geographic online.

About Jenn

Jenn's first career aspiration was to be a dinosaur. After her kindergarten teacher informed her that couldn't happen, she decided she would be the next best thing: a writer. Aside from writing, Jenn loves chambray shirts, all cacti, and good typography.

4 Responses to One Cubic Foot

  1. Annie (ModCloth) 02/03/2010 at 6:29 pm #

    Amazing, Jenn! The connection you’ve drawn between this Nat’l Geo article and street style photo blogs is not only apt, but also very insightful! I can’t wait to have a copy of that particular issue for myself!

  2. Sarah (ModCloth) 02/03/2010 at 10:33 pm #

    I love how National Geographic is able to take what could be such a cringe-inducing spread and turns it into something so thoughtful and artful! And you’re right – I’m so glad I’m not stuck wearing the same thing everyday!

  3. nicola 02/04/2010 at 9:32 am #

    what i LOVE about modcloth… yes, i do love the clothes, but i love that the blog branches out to interesting and thoughtful things like this. things that move me but i wasn’t yet exposed to.

  4. Amelia 02/04/2010 at 10:42 am #

    wow! Beautiful entry.

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