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Through the Lens: Fashion Photography under the Spotlight at Sotheby's


An exceptional selection of fashion photographs will come under the spotlight at Sotheby’s in London on 19 May 2016. Works by the mid-20th-century modern fashion photographers Irving Penn and Richard Avedon will be offered for sale alongside images by Helmut Newton, Peter Lindbergh and Guy Bourdin, together with examples by contemporary photographers such as Miles Aldridge and David LaChapelle. Timed to take place alongside the second edition of Photo London, Sotheby’s Photographs sale showcases iconic fashion images from the 20th century through to the present day, offering both seasoned and budding collectors the opportunity to acquire works from masters of the medium who each in their own way redefined fashion photography.

An all-embracing visual culture has pushed fashion photography into the spotlight over the last five years. Classic works by famous names such as Avedon, Newton, Penn and Lindbergh have become highly sought after, alongside modern-day photographers including Miles Aldridge. By breaking the rules, Penn and Avedon pushed fashion photography into the realm of fine art, paving the way for today's masters in the field.

In July 1950, Vogue sent Irving Penn to Paris to photograph the Fall couture collections. Clothes by the most coveted fashion houses were brought to Penn’s studio where he photographed the glamour against the backdrop of an old theatre curtain. Known for his pared-down style, Penn often photographed models in ordinary locations with natural lighting. His inclusion of the edge of a backdrop – something that is typically designed to dissolve into the background – gives a sense of the space of the studio. The photographs marked a revival in fashion photography that stemmed away from the staged and unnatural, by throwing the beauty of the fashion and the model into greater relief. This photograph features model Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn wearing a mermaid dress by designer Marcel Rochas. As Penn’s muse, just weeks after this photo was taken the pair were married.

Penn’s breath-taking Mouth (For L’Oréal), from an edition of 28, is rarely seen at auction and Sotheby’s sale represents only the third time this work has come under the hammer. His portrayal of female lips marks a legacy of timelessly elegant photographs which captured an unexpected and surreal beauty. Smeared with numerous shades of lipstick, the lips appear to mimic an artist’s palette. The model’s somewhat ironic pout suggests that Penn aimed to mock the concept of traditional ‘perfect beauty’ as presented by beauty brands.

Miles Aldridge creates images which exert an intoxicating effect, with their glorious technicolour and hyper-real mise-en-scènes inhabited by ultra-glamorous women. Cinematic in scope, with an element of dramatic tension, his photographs construct narratives which tantalise and deliberately intrigue the viewer. Their dramatic film noir style is countered by their intense colour palette, heightening the mood.

Born in London in 1964, Miles Aldridge is an artist of exceptional tenacity, carefully drawing stories and ideas for his commissioned fashion shots and meticulously arranging every detail on set, so that nothing is left to chance. A prestigious solo exhibition of his work, ‘I Only Want You to Love Me’, was held at Somerset House in 2013, featuring the print in the edition of The Rooms #2 on offer in Sotheby’s sale.

Arguably one of the world’s most influential photographers, Helmut Newton revolutionised fashion photography through his inimitable erotic and provocative poses. Newton’s compositions are classically and subtly constructed in black and white, with a playful and voyeuristic style. He surrounded himself with gorgeous, stylish women, and his arresting images of them demonstrate their strength and potency.

At a time when fashion photography meant meeting standards of beauty through retouching, Peter Lindbergh felt it was the responsibility of photographers to “free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection”. Models is an exceptional work which highlights Lindbergh’s ability to show effortless, natural beauty. The photograph features supermodels Estelle Lefébure, Karen Alexander, Rachel Williams, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz and Christy Turlington. The simplicity of the white shirts with the models laughing on the beach encapsulates the essence of why Lindbergh became a pioneer. The photograph was considered so avant-garde Vogue US said they could not use the pictures.

Lindbergh created fashion icons by presenting them in unusual locations. Mathilde, a unique, oversized work, is a tribute to Erwin Blumenfeld who had, half a century earlier, photographed Lisa Fonssagrives in a white dress as she stood on the Eiffel Tower. But unlike Blumenfeld, Lindbergh offers a new modern interpretation of women with his depiction of Mathilde wearing just riding pants as she stands looking out over Paris from a dizzying height.

Whilst photographing Monroe in his studio in May 1957, Richard Avedon recalls: “For hours she danced and sang and flirted and did this thing that’s—she did Marilyn Monroe. And then there was the inevitable drop. And when the night was over and the white wine was over and the dancing was over, she sat in the corner like a child, with everything gone. I saw her sitting quietly without expression on her face, and I walked towards her but I wouldn’t photograph her without her knowledge of it. And as I came with the camera, I saw that she was not saying no.” One of the most photographed stars of our time whose charms, splendour and flirtations with tragedy were so wildly public, Avedon was able to capture the real Marilyn Monroe.

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  • Fashion Photography under the Spotlight at Sotheby's
    Fashion Photography under the Spotlight at Sotheby's
    Sotheby’s Auktionshaus