Posts Tagged ‘Harper’s Bazaar’

Photography | Studio Erwin Blumenfeld

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Blumenfeld Studio: New York, 1941-1960
Somerset House
London, UK
23rd May – 1st September, 2013

Day and night I try, in my studio with its six two-thousand watt suns,
balancing between the extremes of the impossible, to shake loose the real from
the unreal, to give visions body, to penetrate into unknown transparencies.

Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969)

With around 100 colour photographs as well as archive material from fashion magazines, this show at Somerset House focuses on the work Erwin Blumenfeld – one of the most influential, innovative and sought-after fashion photographers of the 1940s and 1950s – produced at his studio in New York.

Born into a Jewish family in Berlin, Blumenfeld began taking photographs when he was just ten years old. His first job was as an apprentice dressmaker, but between 1916 and 1933 he produced dadist montages in Germany, where he was closely associated with George Grosz, before moving first to Holland, then to Paris in 1936, where he met Cecil Beaton, who got him an introduction to Vogue. However, as a result of his publishing bitingly mocking collages of Adolf Hitler, Blumenfeld spent the occupation years in a concentration camp, eventually fleeing Europe with his family for the United States in 1941. In New York he worked in the studio of Martin Munkacsi until his own career started to flourish. Taken up by Russian emigré art director Alexey Brodovitch, who was fostering  the development of an expressionistic, almost primal style of picture-making at Harper’s Bazaar, Blumenfeld continued to work for Vogue, gaining him a reputation as the highest paid freelance photographer in New York. He went on to produce advertising campaigns for top cosmetics clients such as Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden and L’Oreal.

Blumenfeld had a passion for the female form, which he expressed through headily erotic images in which mirrors, gauzy fabrics, screens, wet silk and elaborately contrived shadows and angles were used to enhance or discreetly mask the body. He became a master of complex studio photography and developed sophisticated techniques of solarisation and superimposition that, even today, continue to influence photographers. The renowned fashion photographer Sølve Sundsbø recently commented: ‘Blumenfeld was shooting 60 years ago what the rest of us will be shooting in 10 years time’.

Images from top
City Lights

Support for the Red Cross
American Vogue cover, March, 1945

Grace Kelly
Cosmopolitan, 1955

Spring Fashion
American Vogue, 1953

All images ©The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld


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Exhibition | Ralph Gibson’s Selective Eye

Friday, June 15th, 2012
Ralph Gibson
Camera Work, Berlin, Germany
16th June – 4th August, 2012

American photographer, Ralph Gibson’s Leda, 1974, is simply one of the most erotic pictures I’ve ever seen. But is it a game? Is it meant to be humourous? Or is it for real? The ambiguity itself is tantalising. As with many of his pictures, nothing is explained; the viewer is left to draw whatever conclusion he/she chooses. Leda was the very first Gibson image I was shown when I was introduced to his extraordinary work in the late 90s by a female photographer friend, who was already a big fan. And I could see why: glimpses of a mysterious and secret world, many of Gibson’s pictures appear to exude a close understanding of female sensuality and sexuality.

British editorial art director/curator, David King’s maxim has been described as: ‘If you can crop any more off a picture then you haven’t cropped it enough.’ Not refuting the accuracy of the description, King later clarified his doctrine by explaining that, obviously, if it’s a fantastic picture then you leave it alone, but most photographs are enhanced by cropping. As a magazine art director, myself – often praised for the skill of my cropping, reviled on the odd occasion (by sensitive photographers) for its insensitivity – I was immediately struck by the impact of Gibson’s images that are the product of his highly selective eye and absolute economy of crop. Could anyone, other than perhaps fashion and beauty photographer, Hiro, who throughout the 1960s to 1990s produced many closely-cropped, elegant images for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and French Vogue – have come close to the graphically succinct statement of Gibson’s Mary Jane, 1980?

Born in 1939 in Los Angeles, California, Gibson, whose work is in the collections of over 150 international museums and galleries, assisted American documentary photography icons Dorothea Lange – and later – Robert Frank before embarking on his own freelance career as a photographer in the late 1960s. He crops, as they did, as Henri Cartier Bresson, as Eugene Richards does and as most other great photographers do or have done – in camera. Like Cartier-Bresson, Gibson uses only Leica cameras and, among a long list of other, major commendations, won the Leica Medal of Excellence Award in 1988.

Gibson’s early close-ups – Umbrella and Car, 1954 – of sections of cars are reminiscent of Paul Strand’s (1890–1976) early, modernist-inspired photography – Wire Wheel, New York, 1917 – that hover on the edge of the abstract. But, whereas Strand’s images, in line with prevailing modernist preoccupations of the time, remain objective studies, Gibson’s are enigmatic, hinting at a story – something beyond the picture area that the viewer must invent, imagine for himself. In this way they come closer to the surrealist photographs of André Kertész and Man Ray. Often his female nudes – Untitled, 2008 – subjected to strong natural light, are reduced to a series of light, sensual, softly-toned areas crossed by heavy geometrical shadows. At the brink of abstraction – Torso Palms, 1973 – they hold back, and it’s at that point the viewer is forced to stop and think: is it me, or does the shape of the breasts really resemble the underside of a phallus?

Images from top
Leda, 1974 © Ralph Gibson
Christine, 1974 © Ralph Gibson
Umbrella and Car, 1954 © Ralph Gibson
Untitled, 2012 © Ralph Gibson

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