Iridescent Beauty: Fashion and Identity
Cathleen Naundorf and Kimiko Yoshida
“I don’t do fashion. I am fashion.” – Coco Chanel
The concept of fashion is that of being a great communicator of ideas, enabling creative expression for anyone who chooses to display their personas through clothing, as well as elucidating a simple way to represent identity and social class. In recent times, the expressive power and historical importance of fashion has been highlighted by an escalating number of significant museums acquiring works of fashion into their permanent collections, legitimizing the value of those that design “haute couture” as fine art. To document this, photographers who worked in the design and marketing industries captured and helped broadcast the energy of fashion as it evolved through time. They have produced a record of the way clothing was used to communicate visually and established a genre in photography that became a meaningful way to disseminate the creative and artistic spirit of fashion itself.
Photographers Cathleen Naundorf and Kimiko Yoshida have created highly original bodies of work using clothes as a means of expression. Naundorf strives for elegance, creating dreamy atmospheres that reference the passage of time, the patina of age, alluding to the rich history of the hand-made haute couture archives, including Dior, Chanel, and Valentino. Yoshida’s methodology for portraiture; frontal, square, and always using herself as a subject, allows the artist to experiment with clothing as objective signifiers that take on new and original meaning. The use of color, subject matter, garments, and objects to create vivid, layered conceptual self-portraits explore cultural identity and the function of fashion and art in Yoshida’s work. Rich, artisanal, and alluring, both photographers choose divergent ways of using fashion in their aesthetic, building unique visual languages that address the world of fine art and high fashion.
Cathleen Naundorf, born in Germany in 1968, moved to Munich to study painting and photography, and later apprenticed in New York, Singapore, and Paris. Naundorf shared the same hometown of Weißenfels with one of fashion photography’s most significant participants, Horst P. Horst, who she would later meet and who would become a mentor for her and her creative vision. Naundorf’s ability to create seductive and powerful images would lead her to be sought after by Vogue and Glamour magazines, quickly becoming a leading photographer in the world of fashion. With an analog large format camera, Naundorf uses the tactile quality of polaroid film material to create texture and reference the vibrant colors and time-worn effects of paintings. Her black & white polaroid negatives are turned into silver gelatin handmade photographs that further accentuate the unique, artisanal images. Naundorf meticulously selects often mysterious locations for her shoots that compliment the exclusive haute couture she uses, as well as diligently researching all of the different aspects of a session before a shoot. Naundorf’s photographs combine imposing architectural facades, serving as backdrops for brilliantly presenting the work of some of the most celebrated designers in fashion of the 20th century.
Kimiko Yoshida was born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1963. Feeling oppressed as a woman, she left Japan in 1995 and moved to France to pursue her artistic ambitions, exploring one of the dominant and most discussed paradigms in contemporary art; the search for identity or the notion of “self.” Kimiko Yoshida’s examination of self-portraiture, which denies ego and fixed identity, explores this genre from a unique perspective. Yoshida’s conceptually driven self-portraits create boundless reincarnations of the photographer. In photograph after photograph, Yoshida transforms herself through a variety of cultural objects, fashionable garments, and bold use of color while concealing her core persona through countless visual iterations. The photographer creates multidimensional images that are symbolic, visually striking, and culturally motivated, challenging the prevailing notions of identity and the self-portrait in innovative and resonant ways.
Both transcending the traditional commercial interests of fashion photography, Yoshida and Naundorf use their work to further the discourse of fashion photography. Their poetic and conceptual iterations challenge the accepted functions of fashion and show new and remarkable ways to construct and present images that are creative, elegant, and elusive, challenging the formulaic spreads of magazines and expanding the expressive potential for fashion photography as fine art.
The clothes in finality neither make nor define the person – just as the person cannot be defined by their clothes. Instead, clothing is used as a tool giving a further expressive component in building a complex picture that can sustain multiple interpretations. Clothing covers and obscures a person but also projects connotations that wearers use to comment on who they are and how they wish to be seen. In Yoshida and Naundorf’s quest for meaning and relationships, fashion provides a context to help establish identity.