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Art history question feel free to move this to a more appropriate venue.

There is an artistic style which really seemed to pop up around the 80s nad continued to the 90s which involved shooting photos/depicting characters in the dark, usually with fire or candle light or for a modern take sodium vapor. Heavy browns, yellows, oranges, reds, and blacks are common colors. Below are two different pieces a movie poster of se7en (1995) and an album cover let love rule by Lenny Kravitz (1989) which both carry the style.

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When I was growing up in the 2000s (I was born 1996) I would occasionally see artwork/posters/media with this styling but I feel by around 2010 this aesthetic completely disappeared and I was wondering if anyone bothered naming this brief aesthetic movement?

I can come up with a stupid name like "orange-brown-90s-style-nightcore" or "sepiacore" but I feel like some art historians might be able to better articulate the concept and explain why it felt like it belonged to those specific decades.

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1 Answer 1

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That film look is heavily employed in a film genre called neo-noir. The movie Seven is in fact one exemplar of it. Film of course is a story-telling medium, but it is also a visual medium. One of the common visual aspects of noir is heavy use of darkness and shadow. In the modern color era people don't like black-and-white films, so in neo-noir you'll see a lot of red and yellow hues rather than white.

That album cover is instead just a picture taken during Golden Hour, which is a time just before sunset (or sometimes just after sunrise, but no artist wants to be up then) when the lighting outdoors is much redder than it normally is. Photographers just love golden hour shots. I'm not enough of a photography nerd to know why*, but they do. Drive by your local city park with the most flowers a month or so before school graduation about an hour before dusk and you'll find it full of newly graduating schoolkids and their photographers, taking shots. Can't swing a cat in there without hitting one or two of them (and probably getting reported to the SPCA).


* - Perhaps our friends over at Photography.StackExchange can help.

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  • So the answer is "no" - there is no coherent aesthetic, just a similarity in visual styles?
    – MCW
    Jun 14, 2023 at 15:42
  • @MCW - Well, not between those two examples specifically. However, there certainly was no shortage of neo-noir flicks during the years in question. I count 93 in the 80's and 147 in the 90's in the WP list. It wouldn't be tough to see a few of those and notice the common aesthetic between them.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 14, 2023 at 16:19
  • So neo noir was the general aesthetic I was noticing and I just made a mistake of categorizing the Kravitz album as part of it. I’m quite satisfied with this answer. Jun 14, 2023 at 17:49
  • @SidharthGhoshal - I'd say that's right. Noir in general is mostly A Thing only in literature and in film, and in film there are some common visual elements to it. I'm not sure static visual art would normally qualify, unless its intended to go with another noir work (such as literature or film), or reference it somehow. So a movie poster or book cover could be said to be (neo)-noir, but typically not a portrait.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 14, 2023 at 17:55
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    There are a lot of names of artists/designers you might focus on. The Seven title sequence was particularly striking and influential, by Kyle Cooper at Greenberg Associates. Vaughan Oliver/v23's album designs (mainly for 4AD records) had a somewhat similar aesthetic of oversaturation, over- and under-exposure, chiaroscuro, etc, that's maybe more related to the Kravitz cover. At the time, following the glossiness of 80s design, there was probably more interest in lo-fi effects, formats like 8mm film, deliberate imperfection, etc.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 15, 2023 at 12:31

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