Fashion Forward

Published: January 22, 2009
There are days when it seems as if you’ve been subscribing to all the wrong fashion magazines. A little bit of your world crumbles, or maybe a lot.
Weird Beauty, by Tim Walker, 2008 Vogue Italia

Weird Beauty, by Tim Walker, 2008 Vogue Italia

A visit to the International Center of Photography may cause such a day. The center is inaugurating a year of fashion photography exhibitions called “2009 Year of Fashion” with four synergistic exhibitions. They culminate in an engrossing survey of pictures from Edward Steichen’s years at Condé Nast (1923-37), when that pioneer photographer more or less invented fashion photography and celebrity portraiture.
mc queen 0803, 2008, by Guenter Parth

mc queen 0803, 2008, by Guenter Parth

But the leadoff of the foursome — and the whole year — is a blast from the present: a snapping, crackling survey of fashion photography from the last two years. With a few exceptions (usually from W magazine) the most impressive spreads are from magazines that are European, obscure or both. At least none of them have ever graced my mailbox.
Blue Mask, Paris, 2007, by Paolo Roversi

Blue Mask, Paris, 2007, by Paolo Roversi

“Weird Beauty” provides an instant update on fashion photography as a fast-moving collective expression. It is as esoteric as abstract art, and as startling as a sleek, hissing serpent in the drab garden of everyday reality. The alpha and the omega of the collaboration are the clothing designer and the photographer; in between lies the crucial participation of magazine editors and graphic designers, hair and make-up artists, sets (or setting), models and especially stylists. (The stylists’ names are featured prominently on the exhibition labels, just below the photographers’.)
Pink Eye, 2008 Richard Burbridge's

Pink Eye, 2008 Richard Burbridge

The ceiling-to-floor, push-pull installation alternates between art and commerce in all ways. Tear sheets mounted on board dominate, but selected images repeat as large framed prints for further delectation. There are regular appearances from the field’s leading lights, especially Steven Klein, but also Solve Sundsbo, Miles Aldridge and the team Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, along with one-time visits from some artists, including Cindy Sherman (doing her own styling), Collier Schorr and Sara VanDerBeek; the versatile Terence Koh does a turn as a stylist. Also here are photographers who move easily between art gallery and fashion magazine, like Juergen Teller and Philip-Lorca diCorcia.
Ruffled Neck, New York City, 2007 Michael Thompson

Ruffled Neck, New York City, 2007 Michael Thompson

In these images, mouths are smeared with lipstick; hats are displayed on skull-like busts of burned plastic foam. The narratives veer from frothy fantasy to surprisingly hard-bitten Americana, as in the unstyled backyard images by Lise Sarfati, who began her career as a photojournalist. And the sexual innuendos and stereotypes never stop: Betty Boop, baby doll, man-eater, slut, saint, S&M toy. Nor do the shifting shades of gender. In several spreads women’s garments — and undergarments — are modeled by beautiful young men.
Black and white Op Art stripes and dots, Sundsbo

Black and white Op Art stripes and dots, Sundsbo

Clothes for the average woman or man have little place here. Fashion photography is, as others have noted, a cousin of performance art. The choreography is delicate, and the risk of flameout considerable, as even this show attests. The intent is to mesmerize and intimidate with as much fabulousness as can be wedged onto a small tract of glossy paper. This entails exploiting the latest cultural trends with parasitical finesse.
A year of fashion photography exhibitions can sound like overkill, but the center is varying its menu. These shows will be followed by a retrospective of Richard Avedon in May. And next fall the museum’s triennial will tackle the relationship between fashion photography and contemporary art.

6 comments

  1. Kalla Vieaux

    Wow, stunning images!

    Like

  2. pinv

    Happy Birthday Jacqui!

    Like

  3. Happy Birthday Jacqui!

    Like

  4. Hiya – I stumbled on this oage by mistake. I was looking in Yahoo for PDF software that I had already purchased when I came upon your site, I must say your site is pretty informative, I just love the theme, its amazing!. I don’t have the time this minute to fully read your site but I bookmarked it and also signed up for your RSS feed. I will be back in a day or two. thanks for a awesome site.

    Like

  5. Elly

    This blog write-up gave me an entire load of suggestions, many thanks for sharing

    Like

  6. Lisa

    Well if you show this to people who believe fashion ain’t art..they can’t deny it does look terribly much like art.
    Absolutely gorgeous..

    Like

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