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Fashion Photography Part Three

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

By the time the "Swinging Sixties" came along, the fashionable (and pretentious) photographer figure became a familiar stereotype. Even now, when an aspiring amateur reaches for his camera and puts on photographer's airs, the name of "David Bailey" is invoked! Born in 1938, he is one of the few photographers that most people have heard of, and he is still active now.

(Fig. 16) is a casual, almost snapshot-like image, showing a model standing on the side of a New York street at a pedestrian crossing. We see the run-down, and fashionably grimy chic of Manhattan at street level, with lots of signs and lettering. A passer-by has been caught awkwardly on the right hand side of the lamp post. The model, of course, is Jean Shrimpton, in her celebrated "A-line" pose, to match the shape of the outfit. This must be one of the most famous poses a model has ever struck, and came to symbolise a look of the early sixties.

Fig 17-20In this picture by David Bailey Another quintessential face of that decade is portrayed in this shot, taken in January 1965. What it doesn't say about the clothes it makes up for in the tantalising glimpse we get of Swinging London. The camera is at a "swinging" angle, and fashionable Hampstead Hill is seen silhouetted late in the day, with a tiny figure on a bench just visible.

Marianne Faithfull, looks into the camera with a distant expression, the stray wisp of hair and billowing dress, along with the clouds, alluding to a windy day. The diagonals make for a dynamic image, but it's also dark and brooding, a deliberate effect done, I think, at darkroom stage. From the look of the clouds, the sun would appear to be fairly high in the sky.

Perhaps our pre-conceived notions about "The Sixties" influence the way we interpret a photograph such as this - the photographer himself was annoyed at being labelled as the photographer of "Swinging London":  

'I always hated the King's Road, really the whole thing was the creation of "Time" magazine' (quoted in Appearances, page 218)

I can't help feeling though that this photograph is a window into a place and time I was too young to fully experience, and I wish I could climb through into it!

Quite a different vision from David Bailey, much more planned and controlled, is that of the Japanese photographer Hiro, who came to New York in 1954.

In this image (Fig. 18) we can seen an effect of disorientation caused by the raised viewpoint, and the hiding of the arms, especially of the model on the left. The curved background is used so as to eliminate the floor line, causing the shapes of the clothes to become like abstract patterns, or perhaps the flowing drapery of Japanese woodblock print. As in traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e art, the hair is pinned up into elaborate and ornate designs. Only the false eyelashes of the right hand model allow us to date this picture, which is otherwise timeless.
This is another famous image, this time much easier to place in time, due to the colour and make up. The striking thing about it is the oval shaped area of projected light shining down on the model's face from above. With the upturned eyes, the reverent, meditative facial expression and the outfit, covering all but the face, the image has religious resonances.

One of the more controversial photographers of recent times is Helmut Newton, born in Berlin, Germany, in 1920. He received his training in Berlin, but spent time in Australia and Singapore. He held an Australian passport and lived in Monaco and Los Angeles where he was recently killed in a car accident.

'Few photographers have managed to polarise the art scene on such a regular basis as Helmut Newton. It is split into those who are his fans, and admire his photographs, and his embittered opponents, who denigrate him as a fashionable passing craze, or as a woman-hater'

Quoted in "Photographie des 20. Jahrhunderts

His pictures, mostly set in expensive hotels, or on the streets of the chic capitals of Europe, feature tall, long-limbed women, often nude, some androgynous. Each picture features an action or situation, inviting viewers to imagine the before and after for themselves. This picture (Fig. 20) features a woman standing pensively in a man's suit. There is a feeling of sexual ambiguity, with the slicked back hair, reminiscent of Berlin in the 1920's.

Like most of his images, this is in black and white, and the film is quite grainy, giving a slightly harsh, unromanticised effect. The Parisian back street is full of empty atmospheric eeriness. Perhaps the person has stepped out of the rear entrance of a hotel, or some other establishment, to have a cigarette and take a break, from what? What is she thinking about? And why is she dressed like a man?

Fig 21-24The image of the chauffeur kissing his lady employer is tastefully scandalous in nature. The two have them have descended to a lower level, both figuratively and literally, and the photographer as voyeur catches them as if he were just passing.

The text forms a visual and linguistic pun too: The chauffeur is providing a different "service" from the one on his job contract. "Servicios" in Spanish means "toilets" and this shot might have been made in Spain.

The controversial nature of the type of subject matter - sophisticated women, fashionable upper class milieu, raises questions concerning sexual identity, class, wealth, respectability, female beauty, and notions of good taste.

This photograph (Fig. 22) by Jean Loup Sieff (born 1933) is similar to the style of Helmut Newton, but was taken in 1960. The model, Denise Sarrault, looks every bit the rich aristocratic lady or film star - as the photographer remarks, she looks like Greta Garbo.

The image is full of symbols of class and power - the shiny Rolls Royce, the pearls and expensive clothes, and the chauffeur, standing to attention. The composition is simple, but brilliantly captures a moment of European hauteur and elegance.

In another Jean Loup Sieff shot, we return to a subject touched on in an earlier picture.

'It was the beautiful Anka, with her desperately tiny waist, who posed in this 1900 corset. In spite of her slim figure, she found it difficult to breathe'

(Quoted in Jean-Loup Sieff Monograph, page 131)

Evidently so, as we can see in the pose and the position of the hands, the left hand one touching her hip awkwardly. The outline is uneven, and the material squeezes the waist and digs into the skin at the legs. We are left in no doubt of the discomfort involved in wearing it. An uncomfortable image, perhaps, but sexually arousing for some, and symbolic of an ideal of fin-de-siecle femininity which seems to live on as a symbol of Paris and French couture to this day.

The poignancy of the image is enhanced by the simple lighting, coming from a softbox to the left, with a plain grey background. The frame is tightly cropped, cutting out part of the arms, but focusing the attention directly onto the model's hips and waist. The legs are slightly crossed to enhance the "hourglass" shape of the body.

As we near the end of this assignment, we approach closer to more contemporary times. One photographer who has featured prominently in the last ten years or so is the American, Matthew Rolston. In "Aly, Long Neck, Los Angeles" we can see what may be one of the first examples of the use of digital imaging in fashion photography. It's typical of the playful, experimental and eclectic nature of fashion photography in the last decade or so.

A conventional head and upper torso shot of a model is transformed by extreme elongation of the neck, a hat covering the head, with an eye in the middle, which has a keyhole in it. Visually arresting it may be, but I can't help thinking of a one-eyed ostrich! The transformational possibilities of image manipulation (digital or otherwise), are not put to use here in a way I like.     

Despite an unprecedented range of technical possiblities at the disposal of today's photographers, I can't help preferring the more classic images of the earlier part of the century to the "anything goes" style of photography one often sees in magazines today, though certain other examples of Matthew Rolston's extremely varied work I like a lot, but unfortunately not the next one!

Fig 25-26This composite (Fig. 25) of Keanu Reeves demonstrates the arrival to the fashion photography of the eighties of a more sexual and physical approach to the depiction of the male, as seen here. Four closely cropped studies of different parts of the actors body are rendered in a sepia brown. Symbols of street culture - denim, a knife, a leather waistcoat, feature prominently. Just like Baron Demeyer, George Hoyningen-Huene, Richard Avedon and David Bailey, it captures an impression of the age, and personally I don't like it!

I'll conclude with the image by Javier Vallhonrat which appears on the cover of "The Idealising Vision", showing a nude female model in a levitating pose, surrounded by a floating length of material, emanating a ghostly luminescence.

I liked this image initially for its use of light, but it has a puzzling fascination which is somehow a reflection of our times - the model could almost be a sculpture in a neon-based art gallery installation.

The glowing light, and the almost otherworldly, ectoplasmic nature of the material, may be evidence of current paranormal obsessions as exemplified in programmes such as "The X-Files". The visual effects may well have been achieved by use of digital imaging, though they could also have been achieved by traditional techniques.

The italic f shape formed by the material also looks like some strange kind of other-worldly creature, which the model is riding like a horse. A suitably cryptic and futuristic image to conclude this assignment.

Written by Aidan O'Rourke Photographer-Writer
19 January 1997

Photographs have been included at thumbnail size for illustration purposes only.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2005-08-08

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