“I didn’t bring you to Paris to make art; I brought you here to do the buttons and bows,” Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow famously snapped at photographer Lillian Bassman during a fashion shoot for the magazine in the late-1940s.
Just like fashion, fashion photography is constantly reinventing itself. And things have come a long way since the days when fashion magazine editors thought like this.
There has long been an uneasy alliance between fashion photographers and art. Photographers have felt free to cannibalise and poach from art history but few fashion pictures transcend the printed page to become works of art in themselves, no matter how hard they try.
Cathleen Naundorf’s Polaroids from the last 10 years have been captured in a glorious new book that captures unique haute couture from the houses of Dior, Valentino, Lacroix and Chanel. These elaborate ballgowns and cocktail dresses are the designers’ calling cards – the runway showstoppers; amazing confections of tulle and lace, beadwork and draping.
Naundorf works with large-format Polaroid film whose imperfections become part of her artistic interpretation. These photographic flaws are likened, in the book’s opening essay, to the flaking paint on the walls of an old Italian palazzo. The painterly result gives an added dimension, sometimes complementing, sometimes at odds with the perfect models and their spectacular one-off creations.
And what of the buttons and bows? Naundorf’s work is an object lesson in giving a design/craft object (in this case couture creations) added personality through artful and moody photography.
Review by Kennedy WilsonBuy: Haute Couture: The Polaroids of Cathleen Naundorf is published by Prestel