Saturday, January 05, 2013

High Society Influence

Coming into Fashion: A Century of Photography at Condé Nast

By Nathalie Herschdorfer
Prestel, 2012
$65.00 150 illustrations, 296 pages

Reviewed by Jain Lemos

When a colossal conglomerate like Condé Nast gives an author unprecedented access to their century-old archive, prodigious results are bound to happen. That’s what we have in Prestel’s book, Coming into Fashion: A Century of Photography at Condé Nast. Nathalie Herschdorfer had to be pinching herself sapphire during the process. What a dream to have nearly 300 pages to fill from rooms full of images by the world’s most illustrious fashion photographers.

There must have been overwhelming moments, too. But Herschdorfer stays true to the premise of writing a book about fashion photographers as artists and she selects images that are more about the approach than the trend depicted. She concentrates on how the field developed and how careers were launched. We also find out how Nast went about surrounding himself with talent and using his influences on the publishing world. It’s wild to imagine that when he acquired Vogue in 1909, the circulation was a mere 14,000 copies per month!

Coming into Fashion is organized in four major sections. In “The Beginnings: 1911-1939,” Edward Steichen defines High Society by depicting sophisticated a woman from the shoulders up, letting light catch on a simple strand of pearls and the tips of a silver fox wrap. He also cleverly sets a hand model sliding Ma Jong tiles across a board; the emphasis is on her ring and three stunning bracelets perfectly set on her arms.

Composition dominates the next part, “The Golden Age: 1940-1959.” Here we find Erwin Blumenfeld charting new ground. He spends eleven years at Vogue, experimenting with multiple exposures and colored filters. Diane Arbus takes the idea of photography concept into the magazine’s pages by staging scenes of a fashion shoot itself.

Through “The New Wave: 1960-1979” and “Recognition and Renewal: 1980-2011,” the book goes on to discuss and rediscover the work of this genre’s leaders. Helmut Newton’s trademark subversive style, Deborah Turbeville’s method of shooting her models in controversial poses, Paolo Roversi and Mario Testino’s approach to the model as the fashion itself plus a new generation of artists who are making their mark are just a few of the many photographers profiled in this excellent volume.

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