How stunning to see frozen ice caps and glaciers rising like sculptures against the skyline as nature’s architecture in black and white!
Except that the massive image that Fabien Baron is showing me on the wall at Sotheby’s is in full, dense colour — not the northern lights of Greenland, but the extraordinary effect of a Leica X camera.
Fabien’s lens was trained not on the silhouette of a top model — his more familiar territory — but on the humps and high rises of a glacial world lit in the dead of night.
‘’I’ve been taking photographs of nature for 20 years,’’ said Baron, referring to images of woods and wild places that have served as his escape from the beautiful artificiality of fashion.
Yet these monolithic images of icebergs in Ilulissat, on the west coast of Greenland, were not taken over a long period of shifting ice and changing Arctic scenery. They were achieved in a short burst as an experimental interlude, inspired by Moncler, the makers of mountainwear since the company was founded in Grenoble, France, over 60 years ago.
Remo Ruffini, the Italian CEO who took over Moncler in 2003, has raised mountain-top wear to the heights of fashion. But he has never forgotten the company’s roots.
‘’It was so interesting to see what Fabien did — I would be happy to work with him on other projects, if they were linked to our DNA,’’ Ruffini said, as the Monuments exhibition was shown for one night only at Sotheby’s as a contribution to a week in London focused on the Frieze Art Fair.
Since this was an artwork, which will go on to America for a display in New York, there were no fashion details of how many Moncler jackets you have to pile on to cope with the glacial conditions — even if the images were taken in the month of May.
Nor did we hear much about the potential problems to our planet caused by global warming or melting ice caps. If the art work is ultimately auctioned for charity, as planned, this could be a good cause.
But the point of showing the images during Frieze week, was to emphasise the beauty of nature and the technique of photography through Leica’s new state-of-the-art camera model – produced with red white and blue stripes in collaboration with Moncler’s branding.
If that sounds overtly commercial, it did not feel that way when looking at Baron’s noble images.
My own feelings were expressed in an essay from American architectural critic Paul Goldberger, who wrote in an accompanying text:
“Is the photographer’s job to record what is there, or to make art out of it? Finding that balance is especially challenging when the subject is the natural landscape, since nature seems so clearly to speak for itself. Baron both records what is there and makes of it something else: he shows us nature in all its awesome power and beauty… but at the same time he transforms it and leads us to wonder whether what we are looking at is even real.”
Enhanced reality is the essence of fashion: make-up, hair, clothes, shoes all giving to a persona a sheen of perfection.
I did not expect the Fabien Baron photographs to be like the iconic work of Ansel Adams, framing nature’s space. Although I might have imagined a digitialised version of images showing the minutiae of nature.
What I saw was a photographic investigation that turned a frozen landscape into a thing of beauty.
For Fabien, the concept was to light the glacial surroundings as if it were “a theatre of nature”.
“It is very personal,” the photographer said. ‘’In fashion everything is so public, working with so many people. This was a way to clean myself — to go back to the basic feelings of life.’’