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What the new One Direction press shot tells us about the band’s future

A great photograph lets you into a secret. A great photograph reveals everything its subject hopes to hide. A great photograph is a window on the truth. A great photograph is the truth. These are just some of the quotes I was forced to fabricate when a Google search for “Inspirational + quotes + photography” proved futile.

My quest for photography based-wisdom began this week when an all-new image of One Direction was published by their team, Modest Management, on Monday. It’s their first group shot since mysterious fifth member Zayn Malik left the globally worshipped boyband at the end of March, and one that reeks of a robotic kind of louche.

But what can it tell us about the future of Simon Cowell’s carefully cultivated creation? Their previous press shots have been an articulation of the band’s intentions: at the start of their career, their pictures were full of tween-indoctrinating, post-X-Factor poses, full of zeal, boyishness and a parent-pleasing uniform of big hair and bow ties. Once they’d ensnared the entire teen population of Britain, they set their sights on the States – publishing press shots that were a patchwork of denim, bandannas and the odd subliminal Star-Spangled Banner. Before the launch of their more “authentic”, Mumfords-inspired album Midnight Memories, the band’s sixth member – an acoustic guitar – would incongruously pop up on shoots, while the rest of the group were adorned in sombre tones and in some severe cases, tweed.

Back in the day, when hope was new and cars were, um, a bit ramshackle to be honest … One Direction. Photograph: RJ Shaugnessy

If this new shot tells us anything about their future musical exploits, it is that they have never been more earnest. Their stern and distant expressions are a warning to fans that the endless selfie-onslaught is soon to end: could it be an attempt to distance themselves from fans before their ultimate split?

Fearing their disparate outfit choices were an ominous sign, I turned to the Guardian fashion desk for reassurance. As site editor Morwenna Ferrier explained, the band’s sartorial choices don’t necessarily spell out an immediate creative chasm, but they do suggest signs of some potential individual ambitions:

Niall: Where to begin? The chest hair of civil dissent? The open shirt in high-street plaid? Niall isn’t going anywhere. He knows the hand that feeds him, because it’s the same hand that removed his mug of tea seconds before this picture was taken and explains why he hasn’t dare move it since.

Liam: To many of you, Liam’s Topman denim waistcoat indicates a potential move into late 1980s stadium rock. Or, that he’s secretly become a father and isn’t coping with the transition very well. The truth, of course, is that it’s a metaphor for his massive, stonewashed-denim broken heart.

Harry: Continuing with his efforts to move The Brand forward, Harry Styles has relaunched himself as a City banker and is now exclusively wearing Thomas Pink. With the addition of his John Taylor hair, the whole look suggests he’s flagging up grand plans to move into Tory politics. [NB: Duran Duran are considered a super-Tory band.]

Louis: At 23, and as the oldest member, Louis is hurtling towards retirement – so the fact that his Craig Green-esque, fawn, long-line jumper also resembles a straitjacket is more than a coincidence. It’s also worth noting the expression of resignation. Clearly, we’re days away.

All for One Direction? Hm, jury’s out. Photograph: Modest Management

Clothing aside, I can’t help but think there’s something unusual about the composition of the image. Where once the band were seen clambering over one another like puppies in a playground, Harry, Niall, Louis and Liam look detached, maybe even superimposed. It’s a sentiment psychologist and body language expert Peter Collett observed, too. “If we were to take a pair of scissors and physically remove one of the four from this image, then it would not look like they were engaged. It’s what is called “The Cut Out Principle” – something that was often applied to images of Charles and Diana when they were photographed walking together. In this image of One Direction, they’re not interacting, they’re not taking their cues from one another.”

Collett continues: “There are other signs of detachment – Harry has his arms crossed, a classic barrier signal, while Louis has his fist in his hand – something we tend to do when we’re controlling unconscious feelings of frustration. Liam, meanwhile, has his hands in his pockets – which is either super-casual or a way of concealing your hands, ie not exposing what you’re thinking.”

So there you have it – here is a band glued together by contractual obligations, fraught with an aching sense of detachment, secret Tory ambitions and soon-to-surface frustrations. If this photograph spells out the truth – the anguish, the anxiety – I for one hope they don’t split: One Direction have never seemed more fascinating.

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