Photo Books

A Trio of Photo Books Focus on Fashion

BY Vince Aletti, May 1, 2023

Books are fine for tracking the history of fashion photography in broad strokes, but magazines are the primary sources – full of material that never makes it into hardcover and essential for anyone interested in the unconventional, the unexpected, or the merely overlooked. Open up any issue of Harper’s Bazaar from the mid 1950s and find an Avedon treasure trove. The collected works of Steven Meisel, who still has not made a book, are available in Vogue Italia from the mid 1990s to just recently. Occasionally, magazines are compiled like books or curated like exhibitions. Think André Breton’s Minotaure, Alexey Brodovitch’s Portfolio, or Joe McKenna’s Joe’s, all ambitious, historic, and short-lived. A Magazine, whose first numbered issue was curated by the ever-eccentric Martin Margiela in 2004, has been so consistently smart and diverting since then that it deserves a place on that list. The issue Grace Wales Bonner put together in 2021, gathering work by David Hammons, Ming Smith, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Samuel Fosso, and others for a brilliantly idiosyncratic take on the historic and contemporary Black avant-garde, is one of their best. The newest one, A#24, curated by Erdem Moralioglu, the Turkish-British designer known as Erdem, is a fascinating immersion in one especially vivid queer sensibility. Erdem hints at what’s to come in a brief introductory note that takes him back to his teen obsessions: Pet Shop Boys, Oscar Wilde, Ossie Clark, Derek Jarman, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. He quotes Neil Tennant: “I never dreamt that I would get to be the creature that I was always meant to be.” He had me hooked right there, and he follows through in grand style. Typically with A Magazine issues, portfolios are devoted to the designer’s work, here photographed by Ethan James Green, Campbell Addy, Annemarieke Van Drimmelen, Erdem himself, and others. Interspersed among these are a selection of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings for The Yellow Book, pages of the screamingly gay magazine After Dark, and work by Anne Collier, Roni Horn, Guy Bourdin, and Bruce La Bruce. It’s a heady mix and the shrewdest sort of curation: revealingly personal, never self-centered.

©Sarah Moon, Drags, Christian Dior Afternoon dress, Spring/Summer 1948. Courtesy Delpire & Co.

Maybe because she rarely showed up in American magazines, I tend to forget what a terrific fashion photographer Sarah Moon is. Dior (Delpire), a superbly designed three-volume boxed set of photographs of clothes made for that label, is an important and indelible reminder. Moon’s style – like Lillian Bassman’s and Deborah Turbeville’s – is artful, impressionistic, and richly textured. Using only Polaroid, she often plays up its imperfections – its gorgeous grain and blur in color and in black and white. In the volume dedicated largely to Christian Dior’s own designs from the late 1940s and ‘50s, she writes, “Revealing the body while dressing it is probably what seduced me,” and her images have a similar effect. Shot in the Villa La Roche, designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret (and now the Paris headquarters of the Fondation Le Corbusier), the series incorporates architectural views, emphasizing the modernist spirit Dior and the architects shared. Garments by Dior’s current designer, Maria Grazia Chiuri, are given their own volume, and she shares a third with other couturiers who worked for the house, including John Galliano, Marc Bohan, and Raf Simons. Through Moon’s lens, their work is remarkably affecting and vital, with no sense of age. Chiuri is effusive on the subject of Sarah Moon, calling her style “imperfect, permeable, and charged with emotion….in a shifting, intimate atmosphere, suspended in time.” I’ll give her the last word.

Spread from Helmut Newton: A Gun for Hire (Taschen)

Following its earlier reissue of Helmut Newton’s essential Pages from the Glossies (a model for a book I wish every editorial photographer would compile), Taschen has also brought out his equally savvy A Gun for Hire. Originally published in 2005, the book collects even more of Newton’s work for catalogues, magazines, and advertising, from Biba, Chanel, and Versace to Absolut Vodka. His wife, June, quotes him: “When I was young…I had made up my mind to earn my living taking photos, any photos, and not to treat my craft as a precious art form.” So be warned, this is not Newton at his best, but his patented, deliberately provocative mix of class and cheese, with no pretense to high art, is hard to resist. The photographer is enjoying himself; why not join him?