BEAUTY IS SOUGHT. It wants for consideration—to be fawned over, talked about breathlessly, uploaded, debated and argued about, memed ad infinitum.
There is, particularly with respect to our modern consumption habits online, an urge to enshrine the flicker, that momentary and unexpected gasp of genuine wonder. We want to hold it and live with it for as long as we can. Once we have it in our sight, we don’t ever want to be without. Most of all, beauty seeks the memory of the collective.
Images are, of course, one way we seize beauty, how we hold on to it for a little longer. In its current form, the image has evolved into something more scattered, frenzied, and entirely unpredictable. A video begets an Instagram post begets a GIF begets a tweet. These images, animated by our own personal desires to be seen, are supplied en masse. But there is one image, one cultural totem, that precedes and set precedent: Jennifer Lopez at the 2000 Grammy Awards draped in a sea-green Versace dress.
Lopez in that infamous green dress is the image that begat all other images. According to legend, she is the reason Google Images—that great, growing archive of visual language—was developed. “At the time, it was the most popular search query we had ever seen,” Google president Eric Schmidt wrote for Project Syndicate in 2015. “But we had no surefire way of getting users exactly what they wanted: J.Lo wearing that dress. Google Image Search was born.” Lopez was the projection of our manic need-everything-in-an-instant cultural instincts. Pre-FOMO. Pre-hashtag. Pre-virality. Lopez was the template. She’s the prologue.
Some 20 years on, on the heels of a starring role in the stripper-revenge flick Hustlers, there is still a shock in seeing her. To culminate Versace’s Ready to Wear runway show during Milan Fashion Week, Jennifer Lopez appeared, to the awe and enchantment of the audience, in an updated look from her original 2000 cut. What is especially endearing about Victor Virgile’s photograph from last Friday’s show is how it details the mechanics of engagement: We look on so that others may too look on. We’re a people greedy in our desire to recapture a moment, any moment, in an age that, propelled by the perverse compulsions of social media, overpraises the immediate, the right now—tweets, Instagram Stories, Facebook updates. We live in the split second.
For me, the aesthetics of the image are less impressive than what the image actually says. The text is saga-like—fat with the drama and pure-cut adrenaline of life. Lopez glows and the crowd watches in anticipation. Faces are set alight. Necks careen. Mouths crack open with tiny thunderclaps of audible admiration. With raised phones, everyone—everyone—ogles intensely, photos click and whir, there’s recording, Instagramming, broadcasting on Snap, and there is Lopez at the center of the feverish, rising adulation, an emerald twister of beauty, waiting to be captured, waiting, once again, to be remembered.