An exhibtion exploring Magnum photographers' varied and distinctive documentation of everything fashion over sixty years
It may come as a surprise that an agency traditionally associated with Photojournalism, features such a wealth of fashion photography in its archive. A two-site exhibition situated at both the Atlas Gallery and Magnum London’s Print Room, between September 13th and November 2nd, 2007, examined the extensive relationship between a range of Magnum photographers and this subject-matter. Photographs displayed dated back to Werner Bischof’s poised studio portraits from the 1940s and Eve Arnold’s early 1950s documentary of a Harlem fashion show (work which formed part of her successful application to the agency), through to Ferdinando Scianna’s long-term engagement with the genre and Magnum’s more recent “Fashion Magazines” by Martin Parr, Bruce Gilden and Alec Soth.
Taken predominantly from commissioned work, ‘Documenting Style’ focused on an area of activity by no means central to the agency’s purpose, but nevertheless part of a surprising number of the photographers’ experiences. This exhibition both demonstrated the flexibility of Magnum’s photographers, many of whom have taken fashion images as part of their documentary practice, and acknowledged that an engagement with the commercial fashion world has proven a fertile partnership for several of the agency’s members. The fashion industry, which has nurtured the careers of many distinctive photographers, has always fed on ideas across different creative genres. The ongoing relationship between Magnum Photos and fashion has, at its best, combined a photographer’s distinctive style with that of an individual designer, model or icon to create truly memorable pictures.
Atlas Gallery exhibited a cross-section of vintage images, including Robert Capa’s surprisingly sparse and graceful colour work for Dior, Eve Arnold’s images of the Harlem fashion show, and Halsman’s gentle irreverence. Classic pictures, such as images of Swinging London by David Hurn and Burt Glinn’s portraits of Twiggy, sat alongside the more contemporary: Gueorgui Pinkhassov‘s rococco flamboyance, Ferdinando Scianna’s compelling narratives, Jim Goldberg’s edgy and provocative juxtapositions of mainstream fashion, and the and biting social commentary and cool, reductive aloofness of Lise Sarfati.
The exhibition at Magnum Print Room concentrated on images from ‘Fashion Magazine’, published by Magnum Paris Bureau Chief Julien Frydman. ‘Fashion Magazine’ provided a platform for individual Magnum photographers to interpret high fashion, it’s practitioners, clothes and accessories, within the model of the glossy magazine. To date it includes Martin Parr (2005), Bruce Gilden (2006) and Alec Soth (2007). Parr has long been fascinated with the products of contemporary consumer society. His instantly recognizable, colour-saturated style records the bling, the brash and the beautiful in the original fashion magazine commission. Gilden is at heart a street photographer, with a passion for characters. Cornered by his unforgiving flash, the resulting images translate into a series of blackly humorous fashion ‘grotesques’ set on New York City’s streets, exploring what he sees as Fashion’s seven sins: Power, Fame, Addictions, Body, Fantasy, Exclusive and Illicit. Soth’s refined large format explorations of place look at the world’s fashion capital, Paris, and test our notions of what are the accepted disciplines of fashion photography. Catwalk and accessories shoots, and a compelling series of before-and-after make-up shoots, are seen against documentary images of his native Minnesota and it’s inhabitants decked out in haute couture.
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