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Suzy Menkes

Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.

Is fashion photography history?

14 Ноября 2015

Guy Bourdin, French Vogue March 1972
Guy Bourdin, French Vogue March 1972

Marella Agnelli's neck seemed longer than ever in that famous Richard Avedon photo from 1953. And the 25 scarlet nails set against glistening red lips from Guy Bourdin in 1972 have reached such iconic status that I was told that they are being offered only to museums.

I spent a day at Paris Photo in the French capital (until November 15 at the Grand Palais), where the quality of the work is outstanding. Some of the images are so soulful, shocking or compelling that the appropriate word was the much overused “awesome".

Magical Mirror portrait of Olivier Rousteing, creative director of Balmain, by Pierre & Gilles, photographed on toile and hand-painted, 2015. Galerie Daniel Templon, Brussels
Magical Mirror portrait of Olivier Rousteing, creative director of Balmain, by Pierre & Gilles, photographed on toile and hand-painted, 2015. Galerie Daniel Templon, Brussels

But not the fashion images. With the exception of the whimsical and poetic Tim Walker, whose sweetly surreal 2013 picture of red-head model Karen Elson at a piano with a singing lion was put on display by the Michael Hoppen London gallery, the photographs and their originators were oh, so familiar!

Karen Elson by Tim Walker
Karen Elson by Tim Walker

I looked at the Gagosian Gallery's Avedon line up of Marella Agnelli and of Dovima with Elephants (plus a Dior dress), and at Peter Lindbergh's work from the Nineties —and I asked myself why genuinely contemporary fashion photography has so little allure.

Has the fascination with vintage clothing and with current fashion that regurgitates the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, Eighties — and now those deliberately ugly Nineties — ubbed off on photography itself?

Dolores wants a taxi, New York, 1958, Vogue, Gallery Fifty One
Dolores wants a taxi, New York, 1958, Vogue, Gallery Fifty One

All the gallerists I spoke to said the same thing: that post-production, digital enhancement and a general feeling of muddied waters in the age of the computer has divided photography into a strategic “before" and “after".

"Our show is about purity of work," said Ayse Arnal, director of the Louise Alexander Gallery in Porto Cervo in Italy, referring to the Guy Bourdin work intended for museum acquisitions. On offer, too, were more accessible Polaroids.

An unseen image for Charles Jourdan by Guy Bourdin, spring 1978
An unseen image for Charles Jourdan by Guy Bourdin, spring 1978

Michael Hoppen was scathing about the comparison between the reality of sensuality as photographed by Guy Bourdin and the demand of current editors and publishers to create a disconcerting perfection to human face and figure.

Guy Bourdin, French Vogue, early Seventies, Louise Alexander Gallery in Porto Cervo
Guy Bourdin, French Vogue, early Seventies, Louise Alexander Gallery in Porto Cervo

The gallerist showed, as well as the enchanting Tim Walker photographs, a series from Rex/Shutterstock reportage images from the 1977 London punk scene. That was long before the smart devices of the digital age put a stop to such innocently captured images.

There were rare moments of discovery. I found compelling the pixilated effect on a supermodel image created this year by Valérie Belin and shown by Galerie Nathalie Obadia in Brussels and Edwynn Houk Gallery from New York and now Zurich. 

Valérie Belin, Ishtar 2015, by Galerie Nathalie Obadia from Brussels and Edwynn Houk Gallery from New York and now Zurich
Valérie Belin, Ishtar 2015, by Galerie Nathalie Obadia from Brussels and Edwynn Houk Gallery from New York and now Zurich

Then there were the Pierre & Gilles decorative images, such as a portrait of Spanish actress Rossy de Palma and an exceptional 2015 Magical Mirror image of Olivier Rousteing, creative director of Balmain. This hand-painted portrait photographed on toile stood out at the Galerie Daniel Templon from Brussels. 

London's HackelBury Gallery produced two graphic, unseen fashion photographs by William Klein, among other abstract images. While another more conventional, but moving, Klein photograph of actress Anouk Aimée (1961), with cigarette holder as accessory, was on offer at the Gallery Fifty One for €18,452 (£13,065) - just one of many reprinted works of past or present masters.

Dorothy McGowan juggling white light balls, by William Klein, Paris 1962, at the HackleBury Gallery, London
Dorothy McGowan juggling white light balls, by William Klein, Paris 1962, at the HackleBury Gallery, London

The price of quality, in the age of the smartphone selfie, is ever upward. Unless I misread the price tag, a 1990 Patrick Demarchelier photograph of Christy Turlington was offered by Camera Work in Berlin for €95,600.

Christy Turlington, 1990, by Patrick Demarchelier, New York, Camera Work Gallery, Berlin
Christy Turlington, 1990, by Patrick Demarchelier, New York, Camera Work Gallery, Berlin

Putting to one side the varied valuation of fashion work, the images were almost entirely from the past, often emphasising the quality of early printing. (The extraordinary carbon colour printing of Sarah Moon’s work from 2014 at the Camera Obscura gallery was an exception.)

Sarah Moon, Camera Obscura Gallery
Sarah Moon, Camera Obscura Gallery

Nick Knight, the British photographer and early creator of fashion film, visited Paris Photo and will receive the Isabella Blow award as fashion creator at the British Fashion Awards at the end of this month. He credits Irving Penn for turning photography into an art form.

But you can't help wondering whether the power of the moving image and the involvement in film of so many current photographers, has moved the goal posts.

Anouk Aimée with cigarette holder, by William Klein, 1961, at Gallery Fifty One
Anouk Aimée with cigarette holder, by William Klein, 1961, at Gallery Fifty One

Those photographers who shaped their art in a pre-digital age are — just like fashion designers themselves — taking to shows in museums. Sarah Moon will have a retrospective in the House of Photography in Hamburg from November 27. And Vogue 100: A Century of Style will open at London's National Portrait Gallery on February 11.

из
November 1926 - Charlie Chaplin in New York

November 1926 - Charlie Chaplin in New York

November 1926 - Charlie Chaplin in New York

November 1926 - Charlie Chaplin in New York

September 1941 - Fashion is Indestructible

September 1941 - Fashion is Indestructible

February 1946 - The Second Age of Beauty is Glamour

February 1946 - The Second Age of Beauty is Glamour

November 1956 - Anne Gunning in Jaipur

November 1956 - Anne Gunning in Jaipur

December 1968 - David Hockney, Peter Schlesinger and Maudie James

December 1968 - David Hockney, Peter Schlesinger and Maudie James

October 1st, 1973 - Limenight Nights

October 1st, 1973 - Limenight Nights

October 1989 - Claudia Schiffer in Paris

October 1989 - Claudia Schiffer in Paris

October 1991 - Linda Evangelista at the International Collections

October 1991 - Linda Evangelista at the International Collections

October 2008 - Kate Moss at the Master Shipwright’s House, Deptford

October 2008 - Kate Moss at the Master Shipwright’s House, Deptford

December 2009 - Lara Stone in Carlton House Terrace

December 2009 - Lara Stone in Carlton House Terrace

December 2011 - Kirsi Pyrhönen in Mongolia

December 2011 - Kirsi Pyrhönen in Mongolia


September 2016 will see the Kunsthal in Rotterdam present a retrospective of Peter Lindbergh, A Different History of Fashion,curated by Thierry-Maxime Loriot.

I still feel intuitively that fashion images, as we have known them, are in decline — whether from a lack of originality, the lure of post-production or even the competition - ridiculous as this sounds - between the glossy professional style and the dynamic smartphone camera grabs.

Coming off Eurostar in London, I went to Paul Smith in Albemarle Street to see a David Bailey exhibition celebrating the launch of his 41st book. You had to see the torn off test tear-strips of unexposed paper to understand the title and the images of anyone from Michael Caine or Jack Nicholson to Mick Jagger, Jean Shrimpton, Zandra Rhodes and varied African warriors.

Tears and Tears, a new book by David Bailey, was launched last night at Paul Smith’s Albemarle Street store, along with an exhibition of Bailey’s test tear-sheets, which include a portrait of Mick Jagger
Tears and Tears, a new book by David Bailey, was launched last night at Paul Smith’s Albemarle Street store, along with an exhibition of Bailey’s test tear-sheets, which include a portrait of Mick Jagger

Paul Smith, who learned to use a camera as a child from his father, was fascinated by the Bailey test sheets and the fact that the photographer had printed everything himself.

I asked Bailey, whose work charted the changing world of England in the Sixties, how he defined good fashion photography. "My pictures were all about the girl," he said, looking up at the image of Jean Shrimpton, the first model to express the newly liberated Sixties woman. "My fashion pictures were more like portraits."

Suzy Menkes and David Bailey
Suzy Menkes and David Bailey

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