It is not particularly original to say that “fashion photography is a social phenomenon.” Multiple repetition of this phrase makes it sometimes empty of content.
The glossy magazine covers and video clips of the late Nineties until now made it an empty cliché. Internet tries to turn fashion photography into a means of information and to take the essence of its art. But in most cases, the cliché is a cliché because it is verifiable truth. We can feel the total impact of fashion photography on society, social ideas and visual culture of the 20th century if we look on indisputable examples of this art. It will not be bad to go back in time a little.
We have a wonderful opportunity to do by means of the Vanity Fair exhibition at the Kunsthalle, Vienna, curated by Synne Genzmer and F.C. Gundlach. Based on Gundlach’s well-known collection, the exhibition portrays a history and transformation of this art, but the history of the collector himself is fascinating as well.
Over many decades F.C. Gundlach, one of the most important fashion photographers, collected photos and compiled one of the most significant private collections of photography. Gundlach, born July, 1926, is one of the most renowned fashion photographers since he starting working in the Fifties. Plus, he is also a highly regarded collector, curator and publisher. For more than four decades, he not only shaped fashion but also influenced the perception of fashion in Germany. In 1967 and 1971 respectively, he founded two photographic labs. Both companies offered services to photographers including black-and-white and color labs, an equipment rental service, studio rentals and a bookstore. He eventually transitioned into a photographic dealer, opening Galerie F.C. Gundlach in 1975, one of the first photo galleries in Germany. The gallery held approximately 100 exhibitions until its closing in 1992. In addition, he founded The House of Photography in Hamburg, which opened in 2003 with the donation of his personal collection.
The main subjects of the Vanity Fair exhibition at the Vienna Kunsthalle are aesthetic, artistic, social and even political aspects of fashion photography. The works of F.C. Gundlach prove his thesis: “A fashion photo has to have a fashion message, otherwise its purpose has been defeated”. It was the clothes themselves that helped him to develop the ideas for his photos. “The cut of the cloth, the arrangement of the folds could be the subject of an image,” he says. He was able to show the cut of the cloth by making the model stride forth, but that is just one aspect among many. “A fashion photo has to reflect the spirit of the times. At the end of the Fifties I felt that the times were changing – society was in flux and, along with it, style as well”, the photographer explains.
The Fifties are regarded as the decade of the lady of elegance, of sophisticated clothes and haute couture. In the Sixties, the desire for political and cultural change, emancipation became dominant. It was the the dawning of the age of the prêt-à-porter collections. Gundlach now had a new key account – Germany’s leading women’s magazine, “Brigitte”. The magazine’s role model was no longer the elegant lady, but the fashionable young woman who had both feet firmly on the ground. In collaboration with the magazine’s editor, Barbara Buffa, F.C. Gundlach succeeded in capturing this spirit like no other.
Between 1963 and 1986, the famous photographer produced more than 5,500 fashion pages as well as 180 covers for “Brigitte”, working in Africa, South America and the USA. Alongside the photo-article approach he became increasingly inspired by the fine arts – op-art and pop-art being two genres that he, as a collector of art, focused on.
The main focus of the collection is on fashion photography in the broadest sense. It includes major omnibus volumes of art photography around 1900 and fashion photography of the Twenties and Thirties, such as important works from Baron de Meyer, George Hoyningen-Huene, Erwin Blumenfeld, Irving Penn, Yva and Imre von Santho.
Fashion photography – as a visualisation of zeitgeist as it becomes manifest in postures, gestures, facial expressions and clothes – always mirrors the attitude towards life of an era. Photographers are part of the collection who reach beyond the limits of the genre fashion photography and document in their work the ever changing lifestyle.
Kunsthalle Wien presents selected works by masters like Richard Avedon, Lillian Bassman, Cecil Beaton, Sibylle Bergemann, Erwin Blumenfeld, Guy Bourdin, Ralph Gibson, George Hoyningen-Huene, F.C. Gundlach, Horst P. Horst, George Hurrell, William Klein, Nick Knight, David LaChapelle, Zoe Leonard, Leon Levinstein, Peter Lindbergh, Sarah Moon, Armin Morbach, Helmut Newton, Irving Penn, Regina Relang, Kristian Schuller, Melvin Sokolsky, Deborah Turbeville, Yva, Imre von Santho, Wols.
Vanity Fair – Fashion/photography from the F.C. Gundlach Collection October 5, 2011 to February 20, 2012 at Kunsthalle Wien