Photos: Getty Images | James Franco

James Franco is hardly at a loss for creative outlets. The Renaissance man's ever-expanding resume includes film actor, soap star, author, painter, NYU professor and Yale Ph.D. candidate. But now Franco is trying his hand at fashion photography: The actor, who played James Dean in a 2001 biopic, shot Agyness Deyn, Natalia Bonifacci and Imogen Poots for a series of "Rebel Without a Cause"-themed tableaux featured in the July issue of ELLE. So, is Franco the next Patrick Demarchelier? We talked to three experts and asked for an honest critique.

Photo: James Franco


"I certainly appreciate his energy and his ambition," says Stephen Frailey, the BFA Photography department chair at New York's School of Visual Arts. "But they lack originality. They're very familiar both in terms of style and narrative. I mean we're talking about, at this point, maybe a sixth or seventh generation Beat narrative, and it's not like there is a re-framing of it. I would've advised a much more complex narrative and a stronger sense of the models embodying the character. And, just some variation on a very familiar vocabulary, which consists of biker boots, jeans, leather jacket, sunglasses. I think the color photos probably work better -- the black-and-white become even more stereotypical because they suggest a particular era. The use of flash in the color pictures feels a little more contemporary. But that also, I think unintentionally, references contemporary photographers like Terry Richardson and Juergen Teller. I guess one could compliment him on the fact that he was able to replicate a familiar image fairly well. But if we make an analogy to acting, he's not embodying the part. He hasn't really found his voice. It's like amateurish acting, if you're supposed to play a rebellious character you come out on stage in a leather jacket and sunglasses, as opposed to finding something of substance and authenticity."

Photo: James Franco


"In my opinion, fashion images are produced for one objective: to sell product," says Aimee Walleston, an art critic whose work appears in Art in America online, Flash Art and The Last Magazine. "So an adequate critique of these images would be measured in how quickly these blouses fly off the rack, not if I like them. I do like the idea of using slightly androgynous young women as doppelgängers for James Dean, who had an open, agonizing vulnerability that transcended gender and sexuality. But I think Franco's images essentially fall into the same trap that many fashion photographs stumble toward. Even if a model is very charismatic in her own right, in a fashion photograph a model is always, by definition, the stand-in for the real thing. They are blank screens with the promise of commerce, onto which a viewer's, or a photographer's, own desires are projected. Dressing up women as boys doesn't really transgress this, but I do think Franco's exploration of masculinity and iconography in all these different forms -- soap operas, performance art, the list goes on -- is so interesting. I love that he's using his intellect and creativity to make art: It is such an important gesture and the perfect antidote to reality TV culture's fame for fame's sake. I think the bigger picture of his creative process is, at times, more compelling than what is produced in a one-off project."

Photo: James Franco


"I really didn't see 'Rebel Without a Cause' in this," says Astrid Stawiarz, a photographer who shoots for Getty Images and the New York Post. "When I think of 'Rebel Without a Cause' I think of the scene with the Griffith Observatory or car racing. I don't remember there being an airplane! I do like that he used Agyness Deyn. You can tell that they work really well together -- that came across strongly. I really like his black and white images, especially the first couple and the fifth -- Agyness in the leather jacket is very James Dean. Some of the color images are blurry but I guess it shows movement. It would be nice if they were a little sharper. When the color comes into play, I can't really tell what it's about. The black-and-white is more with the theme, but the color feels like it came from another set. The black-and-white was definitely his strength. I'm just wondering what the purpose of the helicopter was. I wonder if he knew about lighting or had assistants to do lighting for him, and what kind of camera he used. It looks a little art-schooly."