JL Modern Gallery’s exhibition, “Fashion Forward” is an abbreviated survey of fashion-based photography created over the last 60 years. With the advent of commercially viable fashion and lifestyle magazines, such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Elle, and Le Jardin des Modes, to name a few, the upper middle class and the wealthy had a visual resource that helped broadcast and popularize fashion as an upper-class distinction and privilege. These international magazines starting in the 1930s employed a group of talented photographers who developed artistry by picturing the clothes in the most exciting, flattering, and often creative ways possible. Fashion photography had to serve two needs: that of selling both the publications and the fashion it contained. The ever reinventive world of style and the expanding commercial market for ‘haute culture’ encouraged photographers to produce creative and inventive work, which created a great deal of overlap between the aesthetic merits of their work and its commercial purposes. Technological developments, social undercurrents, cultural shifts, and the booming postwar economies provided constant sources of impetus for the growth in fashion-based photography.
Included in “Fashion Forward” the photography of Horst P. Host, perhaps more than any other photographer set the standards and conventions of memorable fashion photography. Horst had synthesized training and interest in classic art, architecture, and surrealism. His pictures were idealized articulations of beauty and restraint. Frank Horvat’s reportage background and desire to break free of the conventions of traditional studio-based photography, led to his use of exterior locations, handheld cameras, available light, experimentation, and improvisation. Albert Watson’s photography straddles the worlds of fine art, popular culture, and cinema. He has created, from his portraits to his fashion shoots, an inspired range of fresh, memorable images. Cathleen Naundorf’s career started in set design, and Horst P. Horst mentored her. Her work is purposely very painterly, as she uses a large format Polaroid camera complete with Polaroid film known for its dramatic pooling and mixing of dyes. Naundorf’s artistic direction often recreates “Old World” mise-en-scenes’ that capture dreamscapes and exotic sets, in which both the models and clothes take on a fascination with the formal golden age of grand style. Melvin Sokolsky rounds out the exhibition with images of models inside floating bubbles or flying through the air. Created when the artist was in his 20s, these pictures were made without the aid of Photoshop or double exposures, consequently defying gravity. Sokolsky’s models appear as if in a dream, captivating the spectator while the world becomes an enchanting place.
This exhibition presents a range of images on the evolution of fashion photography. It is not meant to be a comprehensive or historical account. It is instead a collection of images that we find both compelling and accomplished. Every photograph is a product of its time and the circumstances of its creation; however, the memorable ones, indelible to modern culture, outlive their original purpose and acquire a life of their own. This indelibility is a requisite for the photographs contained in “Fashion Forward.”