Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Gibson’

Photography | Ellen von Unwerth

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Ellen von Unwerth: Do Not Disturb!
Michael Hoppen Gallery, London, UK
Until 21st July, 2012
You go to D+V Management’s website. Ellen von Unwerth being European, you select the London option rather than USA. You go to Artists + Production, then to Photographers. The list is alphabetical. Few of the names mean an awful lot and at the bottom is Ellen’s. Out of idle curiosity, to see if she’s also listed under USA, you give that a go as well. This time, at the top of the list, is Ellen von Unwerth. Funnily enough, the US list is also alphabetical, but here an exception appears to be made to give prominence to one of the most talented and commercially successful fashion photographers, male or female, of the last 20+ years.

Circus performer, turned model – she modelled for 10 years – turned photographer, Von Unwerth (54) learned how to use a camera from her photographer boyfriend and – after an early shoot with a then unknown Claudia Schiffer for the jeans company Guess? that shot her to fame – quickly became sought after by magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, Interview, The Face and i-D. There followed album cover work for Duran Duran, Janet Jackson and later Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, then Rhianna. Among many other celebrities von Unwerth has photographed Kate Moss, Vanessa Paradis, Lindsay Lohan, Dita von Teese, Carla Bruni, Eva Green and Monica Bellucci. Many of these appeared in Fraülein her celebration of our era’s sexiest female icons (Taschen, 2009). Ever popular with the international fashion crowd, she is listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 Fashion Icons. Her major advertising campaigns include Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic, Lacoste, Diesel, and Chanel. Her acclaimed photo-novella Revenge (Twin Palms, 2002) was accompanied by exhibitions in New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Moscow and Beijing. She’s directed film, too, for fashion houses and made commercials for Revlon and Clinique.
Apart from the up-dating of the fashion content – and much the same could be said of the work of German-Austrian photographer Helmut Newton, who died in 2004 and with whom Frankfurt-born von Unwerth draws obvious comparisons and who she herself has cited as an influence – there is little to differentiate her current work from that which she produced at the start of her career as a photographer. In her case, that’s a good thing because in an era where the real world takes Botox and cosmetic sugery for granted and the imagined world of fashion photography is dominated by artifice – digital images are often retouched to such a degree that the models become little more than sexless avatars, posed within hyper-real environments – von Unwerth’s work remains fresh, genuine, unaffected and good fun. Undoubtedly, to a large degree, this is the result of her continuing preference for using 35mm film cameras. Indeed she was recently quoted in an interview for the online photography magazine, Faded + Blurred, as having said that digital cameras produce images with too much information, that are too sharp, and that you have to spend too much time trying to make them look good. Digital shutters, she has said, have a very slight delay, causing her to miss the shot she has in her head.

In my previous post I wrote about American photographer Ralph Gibson’s photography and described how his pictures appear to exude a close understanding of female sexuality. Von Unwerth’s images are the real deal; the playfulness, the larking around, the intimacy, the very feminine take on erotic fantasy are the result of having a woman, rather than a man, behind the camera. And the the new work doesn’t disappoint; Do Not Disturb! exhibited at London’s prestigious Michael Hoppen Gallery, narrative images shot against the décor of some of the unique and fantastical rooms at the famous Madonna Inn – located mid-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco – is executed in the signature sexy, provocative and imaginative style one expects from the female photographer at the top of my list.

Images from top
Room 77, 2012 © Ellen Von Unwerth
A recent portrait of photographer, Ellen von Unwerth
Room 1002012 © Ellen Von Unwerth
All images (except portrait) from the series Do Not Disturb!

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Look out for The Blog’s posts on art, architecture, gardens, books, design and anything else that interests me and I think might interest you

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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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Look out for The Blog’s regular Friday posts on art, architecture, gardens, books, design and anything else that interests me and I think might interest you

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Photography | Big Nudes

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Le Imaginaire du Nu
Hotel Drouot, Paris. Exhibition 27th & 28th June 2011. Sale 28th June

Nudes, especially as a subject for books, exhibitions and auctions, are big right now, especially in France. Not that the nudes themselves are huge in proportions, you understand, with the possible exception of the amazons in high stilettos in Helmut Newton’s classic, Big Nudes (1990) that is among a list of 10 books on this particular génre of photography selected for La Lettre de la Photographie by photographer and collector, Bruno Mouron, prompted, almost certainly, by the huge up coming auction and exhibition L’imaginaire du Nu at Hôtel Drouot in Paris.

Early daguerreotypes and prints will be sold back to back with photographs from the beginning and middle of the 20th century: Bill Brandt, Robert Doisneau, Horst, Krull, Man Ray, Willy Ronis and contemporary works by, among others, Araki, Bourdin, Ralph Gibson, David Hamilton, Sam Haskins, Horvat, Lindbergh, George Platt-Lynes, Jeanloup Sieff, Bert Stern and Joel Peter Witkin. The majority, as might be expected, are images of women but male nudity is also represented in pictures by, for example, Bruce of Los Angeles and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Interesting to note, though, that despite the current vogue, we’re already halfway through the year and Mapplethorpe’s Nudes 2011 calender, which includes graphic black and white images of both males and females of our species is still available from Te Neues.

Pamela Hanson, Carla Bruni, Vogue Hommes, 1994, top
Man Ray, Meret Oppenheim, 1935, below


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