'Fashion. A century of extraordinary fashion photography' opens in Milan

Next Wednesday 16th January, the exhibition “Fashion. Un secolo di straordinarie fotografie di moda dagli archivi Condé Nast” (Fashion. A century of extraordinary fashion photography from the Condé Nast archives) opens at Fondazione Forma per la Fotografia, in Milan. The exhibition is the result of a long research project carried out by curator Nathalie Herschdorfer through the New York, Milan, London and Paris archives.
Photo by Sølve Sundsbø
Through the pictures of the great masters of photography published on the pages of the most influential Condé Nast publications and by illustrating the parallel aesthetic evolution between the photographers’ style and fashion, Nathalie Herschdorfer chronicles the history of society and costume.

As well as being an art, fashion is a type of language whose nuances need to be mastered and that transcends the pure and simple practical use in everyday contexts, as it covers a system of relations and meanings that goes well beyond the designer and the wearer but also encompasses the vision and the interpretation of the photographer, the stylist, the magazine and the model herself (in her continuous shift from the role of subject and object).
On display at Forma, alongside the images of the fathers of fashion photography such as Cecil Beaton, Man Ray, Edward Steichen, Horst P. Horst, are also shots by Helmut Newton, Mario Testino, Paolo Roversi, Peter Lindbergh, Tim Walker, Erwin Blumenfeld, David Bailey, Guy Bourdin, Sølve Sundsbø and many more.

Fashion. Un secolo di straordinarie fotografie di moda dagli archivi Condé Nast is also a wonderful volume, published in Italy by Contrasto, accompanied by in-depth notes that make it an essential tool to whoever wishes to work in fashion. Going through the pages – and with them the decades – what is immediately noticeable is that, despite the massive sequence of clothes, models, photographers and different styles appearing on the pages, what remains a constant feature is that vital tension towards excellence, innovation and supreme quality that has made Vogue an internationally acclaimed brand synonymous with creativity, elegance and exceptional power and visual authority.
The analysis carried out by Nathalie (whom I personally got to know and helped work her way through our archives, which gave me the opportunity to observe and admire her professionalism and deep commitment to her project) opens up with the first photograph published in Vogue in 1913, a portrait of socialite Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney by baron Adolf de Meyer and closes with a still life by Michael Baumgarten that was featured in Teen Vogue in 2006.
In between, the shots of the greatest masters including the likes of Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton, Peter Lindbergh, Bruce Weber, Tim Walker who, alongside the new generations of photographers, chronicle the evolution of the art of fashion photography whose oxymoronic hybrid nature embracing the business and the creative side has – contrary to expectations – encouraged the production of forward-thinking, innovative and artistic images, often concocting new avant-garde techniques subsequently adopted by other photography genres.

Indeed, as I stated on other occasions, it is rather obvious that a photographer that works taking assignments from a publication loses part of his control over his work, and yet, the chemistry that develops within a creative team leads, generally, to exciting scenarios that can bring to superb artistic results. One thing is certain: since the beginning, Vogue has portrayed fashion through life style scenes, atmospheres and ideas; it has created images in which clothes are not simply covetable objects but the core of a process of creation/concealment of the identity (of the photographer, the model, the designer...) and the crossing point of different interpretations of the world that ultimately merge into a unique iconic photograph. They are images that stand the test of time maintaining intact their visual power even when the clothes advertised in them are no longer available in stores (but, perhaps, in some vintage shops), so that when their commercial purpose winds down, what is still left – whole and undiminished – is the concept that brought them to life and the reason why the shots taken by the great masters of fashion photography continue to be sold and bought for whopping amount of money in galleries and at auctions.

Edward Steichen was already an accomplished artist when become a photographer for Vogue in 1923, a choice that was heavily criticized by those who saw his decision as a “selling out” of his art, an accusation which Steichen responded to by stating that, this way, his photographs were to become available to millions of readers and were no longer just wall paper for wealthy collectors. Once again, it was Steichen who told the then Editor of Vogue, Edna Woodman Chase, “We have to make Vogue into a Louvre” which reminds me of another great photographer who worked for Vogue recently, David LaChapelle, whose wish is for people to cut out his images from the magazines and hang them on their home fridge: to him, magazines are like galleries and fridges –museums.

Without magazines, fashion photography would have – most likely – never existed; although, the link is not merely with the publishing sector but with fashion itself, so much so that, without photography, it would be difficult to imagine the existence of fashion. Besides, as noted by Olivier Saillard, there are also strong creative bonds between photographers and designers in which the mutual influence is evident; see Balenciaga and Irving Penn, Cecil Beaton and Elsa Schiaparelli, Helmut Newton and Yves Saint Laurent or Peter Lindbergh and Azzedine Alaïa, to mention a few.

With regard to the complexity of fashion photography, Nathalie offers the comparison with a theatre pièce where, to create the visual dimension, other members play a vital role alongside the photographer, namely: the editors, the models, the make-up artists, the stylists. Creating a good fashion photograph is much more complex than for any other genre due to the above described delicate balance of roles in which the photographer needs to consider all factors, and everything – down to the smallest detail – must be perfect: being technically skilled is not enough; the styling must be impeccable, just like the make-up, the hair, the set design etc. A small mistake is all it takes to completely spoil the image.

When featuring in magazines, the goal of fashion photography is – also – to promote the clothes on trend in a given period when these pieces are available in stores but the artists whose works have appeared on the pages of magazines like Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar have always gone further and created images that also interpreted the social, psychological and cultural implications of our times.

Actually, contrary to what is often the case with pure art, the aesthetic side is more tangible and accessible and not disconnected and detached from reality which – as Steichen wished for – turns fashion magazines into a small museum available to and accessible by all.

The text is written by Alessia Glaviano for Vogue Italia

Photographs are by: James Abbé, Miles Aldridge, Diane Arbus, Antony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon), Art Kane, David Bailey, Serge Balkin, André Barré, Michael Baumgarten, Cecil Beaton, Erwin Blumenfeld, Guy Bourdin, Henry Clarke, Clifford Coffin, Corinne Day, Baron Adolf De Meyer, Patrick Demarchelier, André Durst, Arthur Elgort, Hans Feurer, Toni Frissell, Arnold Genthe, Milton Greene, René Habermacher, Ben Hassett, Horst P. Horst, George Hoyningen-Huené, Mikael Jansson, Constantin Joffé, Bill King, William Klein, Barry Lategan, Peter Lindbergh, George Platt Lynes, Man Ray, Herbert Matter, Craig McDean, Frances McLaughlin-Gill, Raymond Meier, Gjon Mili, Lee Miller, Sarah Moon, Ugo Mulas, Nickolas Muray, Helmut Newton, Norman Parkinson, Irving Penn, Denis Piel, John Rawlings, Terry Richardson, Herb Ritts, Paolo Roversi, Franco Rubartelli, Richard Rutledge, Satoshi Saïkusa, Daniel Sannwald, Jerry Schatzberg, David Seidner, Charles Sheeler, Edward Steichen, Bert Stern, Sølve Sundsbø, Mario Testino, Michael Thompson, Eric Traoré, Deborah Turbeville, Inez Van Lamsweerde/Vinoodh Matadin, Willy Vanderperre, Tony Viramontes, Chris von Wangenheim, Tim Walker, Albert Watson, Ben Watts, Bruce Weber.

The exhibition is at the Fondazione Forma, Piazza Tito Lucrezio Caro 1, in Milan from January 17th until April 7th. Every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed on Monday.

This exhibition has been organized by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, Minneapolis/Paris/Lausanne, in collaboration with FORMA.

'Fashion. A century of extraordinary fashion photography' opens in Milan 'Fashion. A century of extraordinary fashion photography' opens in Milan Reviewed by Patricia Munster on 8:06:00 AM Rating: 5

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