Steven Meisel

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Another great find by EL. From the 1983 film ‘Portfolio.’ Fashion is so gay.

Helmut Newton: Blah

Thursday, November 13th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Helmut Newton

In solidarity I’m reposting the above photograph shot by Helmut Newton and used by Paddy Johnson at AFC to illustrate an upcoming show at Art Basel (his description of this is worth a read, too). In response to this he received a cease-and-desist letter from the lawyers representing June Newton, Helmut Newton’s wife and controller of his estate. This is clearly ridiculous and Paddy Johnson replied in a totally appropriate fashion. Fuck off, ghost of Helmut Newton.

L’Officiel de la Mode

Sunday, October 19th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Cover of ‘L’Officiel de la Mode’ for issue number 95, July, 1929

My girlfriend is a fashion designer (yes, I live in Paris), and as part of each collection she spends a week or two researching images for the ‘mood board.’ Well, fashion week just ended in Paris, so they’ve started work on the new collection and, as part of her research, she stumbled across an archive of every issue of L’Officiel, ever. We’re talking seriously in depth, too: Every page has been scanned, including all of the ads, and you can view everything at full screen. She forwarded the link on to me, and I’m (clearly) giving it to you because it’s an amazing visual resource, whether or not you’re into fashion.

The magazine dates back to 1921 and includes what seems like every style of fashion, photography, and graphic design since then.

The site also has some other titles (including Jalouse), if you click on Accueil, but be warned that the site is entirely in French. It shouldn’t pose too much of a problem, though, as most navigation is done via thumbnails.

Fashion Magazine – Lise Sarfati

Friday, October 10th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Lise Sarfati, ‘Christy,’ from ‘Fashion Magazine’

I was at the opening party at the Maison Rouge for Magnum‘s newest iteration of ‘Fashion Magazine,’ shot by Lise Sarfati (the previous three were shot by Martin Parr, Bruce Gilden, and Alex Soth), where I got my hands on a copy of the volume in question, shot entirely in Austin, Texas, and was able to peruse it at my leisure.

Lise Sarfati, it must be said, is one of the more recent photographers to join the agency, and is one that fits well with the more editorial direction that Magnum seems to be headed in. Her work has included a book on post-Communist Russia, ‘Acta Est,’ and another on American adolescents, ‘The New Life.’

That last book, ‘The New Life,’ heavily informs the pictures shot here (Quentin Bajac, who art-directed this ‘Fashion Magazine,’ points out in the introduction that this series is meant to be read in relation to ‘The New Life’) and the themes of adolescent detachment and dreaming run through both. Sarfati is a really excellent image maker – the pictures here and elsewhere are beautiful, with simple compositions and colors that seem to invoke movies more than anything else. This, coupled with her penchant for shooting teenagers with a passion for dressing up (wigs and makeup feature heavily), really makes her work seem ideally suited for the uses to which they are put in ‘Fashion Magazine.’

The similarity between her normal work and fashion work might be the most profound thing about this project – how easily it slips into from one into the other. But what seems poetic in the context of social documentary seems less so in a field where you expect all style and no substance. Which is not to say that it isn’t done well – there’s a filmy sexiness to young people with bright red lips staring off diffidently into the distance – but ultimately the images seem less exceptional in a context where what they offer is the norm.


Wednesday, September 24th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Nick Knight

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you! I’m back (more or less), and regular posting will resume here pretty much immediately. I have a long cue of sites built up ‘To Blog,’ so I’ll be working through those at a measured pace as well as posting some news that I expect soon. Also, I’ll be in Cologne this weekend for Photokina, which, frankly, I know almost nothing about except that the Schaden 10 year anniversary party coincides with it.

In the meantime, in my absence, Nick Knight published an amazing series of photos in the latest Dazed and Confused (a gallery of which can be seen here). Nick Knight is, of course, well known for his fashion work and for being the driving force behind SHOWstudio. I’ve always had quite the liking for his work, but I hadn’t seen anything recently, so it was great to stumble across this series.

One thing that occurs to me, though, is how rarely I find fashion photographs that really strike me. It seems to be a common perception: Take a look at this NY Times article of a year ago

True, there was a period within the last decade, said Vince Aletti, a photography critic for The New Yorker and adjunct curator at the International Center of Photography, “when every time I went to look at a fashion magazine, I was psyched.” At the moment, he added, “there is not much to jump out of your seat about.”

The article goes on to note that the only people who seem to be doing anything interesting are the photographers who came to promminence in the 80’s, a thought that seems to be borne out here.

Avedon At Jeu de Paume

Monday, July 28th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Richard Avedon, ‘Sunny Harnett, evening dress by Gres, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’, September 1954′

I picked a really stupid day to decide to go to the Richard Avedon show at Jeu de Paume, ‘Richard Avedon; Photographies 1946 – 2004.’ The Tour de France ended yesterday, approximately 100 meters from the entrance to the museum, so the entire area was a mob scene. It was worth it though. After having braved our way through the carnival, the hapless tourists, and the fans equipped with made for TV banners, we found ourselves in a really well put together show.

Like most serious photo people, I’ve seen like a million Avedon shows, and they all seem to follow a kind of set formula. You must, as a curator, include some of the early fashion pictures (especially ‘Dovima with elephants‘), the 60s white background portraits (with the image of the Factory), ‘The Family‘, and ‘In The American West.’ This exhibition hit all of those notes. However, some of the selections within this formula were unexpected and well chosen: The early fashion pictures, for example, contained a series of Avedon’s original prints provided to Harper’s Bazaar for publication replete with crop and gutter directions; ‘The Family’ was presented as a grid of 8 x 10 contact prints; The Factory image was blown up to larger than life size and shown mural like on the wall; and many of the ‘In The American West’ miner pictures had a room to themselves with black walls and rectangles of light framing each print. All in all, a good show.

A few things occur to me though…

For one, much is made of Avedon’s skill as a portrait photographer – you often hear the argument that he is somehow able to bring out a subject’s true self. Avedon, in some measure, rejects this argument. One of the texts in the stairwell of the show, dated 1980, quotes him:

My photographs don’t go below the surface. They don’t go below anything. They’re readings of the surface.

But he still maintains that his photographs are in some way a window into something that goes beyond mere image. His implication, when he said “readings of the surface,” is that the viewer is able to read between the lines, so to speak, and somehow discover something more than just superficial image.

Other later photographers, for their part, reject this idea and adopt the more cynical view that an image is able to display nothing more than that which it precisely shows [see the interview and the quote I pulled from it in my previous post about photographer Pieter Hugo].

Perhaps a middle ground can be found, typified by the classic Diane Arbus quote:

A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.

In other words, there may be more to a photograph than what it shows, but good luck finding out what it is.

Process, Content, and Dissemination

Thursday, July 24th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Words Without Pictures came out with a new essay like a month ago, but it seemed to have passed pretty much unnoticed in the photoblog world. This is perhaps because the essay, ‘Process, Content, and Dissemination: Photography and Music,’ is a doozy. I love this kind of stuff, and it even took me forever to actually read through the damn thing. It’s worth it, though.

The essay, by Charlotte Cotton, LACMA‘s curator of photography, is all about photography in the digital age – economics, distribution, history, fusion with other fields, and also simply how we make work:

In retrospect, I can see that those teams of image-makers were asking an age-old question: “How do we get the money we need to do what we visually want to do?”

The essay is wide ranging and informed. It covers ground as diverse as Madonna and Steven Klein’s advertising model, fashion photography in museums, the expected visual changes with the onset of HDTV, OK Go’s treadmill video, and tons of tons of other seemingly unrelated points where the worlds of photo, art, fashion, and music diverge and intersect. Cotton discusses, as well, why photographers’ fees haven’t risen as much as would be expected considering the explosion of venues to display images on the internet:

While some advertising now covers a modicum of costs for editorially driven online projects, viewers’ surveys about subscriptions confirmed that this would not be its funding structure. Ironically, grant and foundation funding in Europe does reach such forums, perhaps mimicking the support (modest but symbolic) for new media artists and the general eagerness of foundations and cultural institutions to attach their names and resources to those who might meaningfully develop new media, rather than make such investigations a core activity for their own organizations.

You’ll have to read the essay for the full story – it’s too complicated to sum up here. I did, however, want to note that in no part of the essay does cotton cover visual changes in photography brought on by the new technology. Perhaps this has to do with how we define photography – a still image mechanically produced, generally bordered by the four sides of the frame. This formula doesn’t leave alot of room for play – perhaps the only reason photography strictly defined still has a place in contemporary visual culture and the digital world has more to do with its efficiency in delivering visual information than it does anything else.

Photographer Nick Knight‘s project also pops up in the essay – it’s been around for a while, which is why it hasn’t been brought up on this blog before, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s a great example of how artists are attempting to come to terms with digital media.

In Archive News…

Thursday, June 26th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Veruschka in chemise, by Horst P. Horst, from Cond√© Nast’s online store.

Biblioth√®que de Toulouse just joined Flickr’s commons.

And Shoot blogs about Cond√© Nast’s online store.