Norman Parkinson’s fashion photographs are imbued with contradictions. His ‘action realist’ images juxtapose narratives of fantasy. He pioneered dynamic depictions of women in motion yet excelled in his arrangements of the female body in quiet moments of poised and pensive stillness. Despite Parkinson’s seven-decade career, his contemporary Cecil Beaton credited his ability to reinvent his photographic style ‘according to the necessities of the day.’ However, Parkinson was a self-proclaimed nostalgic photographer, admitting ‘nostalgia is for me one of the great emotions, I have to edit this tendency a bit’. Nostalgia permeates Parkinson’s fashion photography, hidden within his characteristically colourful and energetic compositions, which distinguished him from his contemporaries.
A flame-haired figure with a lily-white complexion, seemingly floating on an ocean of textiles, stretches her limbs as if in a fairy-tale slumber. Nicky Samuel, a socialite and wife to the owner of Granny Takes a Trip boutique, drapes herself across her richly furnished interior space. Parkinson scatters visual clues throughout the composition to create a sense of unease; a corkscrew and two empty glasses perhaps hint to hedonistic over-indulgence whilst also revealing that she is not alone. A discarded copy of Hollywood Babylon (a controversial exposé of Hollywood’s sordid underbelly of sex scandals and mysterious murders) transforms her dishevelled slumber into something more sinister. The lilies that tower over her, inevitably staining her porcelain face with sickly pollen, symbolise both purity and death.
In the late 60s and early 70s, the misty medievalism and mythology of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the Victorian art movement, wafted into contemporary consciousness. This nostalgic influence was evidently not lost on Parkinson. The impression of submersion, the floral motifs, Samuel’s Pre-Raphaelite characteristics and the morbid undertones of the composition all call to mind John Everett Millais’s Ophelia. However, featured in British Vogue in December 1972, Parkinson’s image indicates how casually Pre-Raphaelite iconography seeped into fashion contexts from the late 1960s onwards. The similarities between Parkinson’s image of Samuel and Millais’ Ophelia are potentially non-coincidental. Although Pre-Raphaelite art had remained largely unpopular up until its revival in the 1960s, a 1967 exhibition of Millais’s work at the Royal Academy would have brought him, and Ophelia, to the forefront of contemporary artistic culture.
Direct comparisons can be drawn between Samuel and Ophelia. Both are seemingly floating atop a surface punctuated by flowers. While Ophelia’s saturated gown drags her into the watery abyss of death, Samuel’s heavily patterned chiffon dress, designed by Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, drowns her body in bold tulips and pulls her deeper into the ripples of patterns. Like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s ‘truth to nature’ philosophy, Parkinson was ‘not interested in anything that nature hasn’t smiled upon’, and he was reluctant to retouch his prints. Parkinson’s ability to capture the wider nostalgic resurgence of Pre-Raphaelite art in the 60s and 70s infuses his composition with a desire to return to a realm far removed from the synthetic modernity of post-war Britain. Yet, despite the arguably sinister undertones of Parkinson’s composition, there is something comforting in Samuel’s doll-like appearance and the ease of her lethargic pose.
Parkinson’s childhood memories of time spent in the countryside, espying ‘girls with loose dresses and a minimum of underclothes…lying around the lawn with languorous ease’ potentially informed his depiction of Nicky Samuel. Parkinson himself attests to this, stating that, throughout his career, ‘I photographed the memory of those well-observed weekend girls that I had seen through the fence’. This indicates that Parkinson’s photography is consciously informed by his nostalgic, and perhaps voyeuristic, tendencies.
Robin Muir argues that Parkinson ‘effortlessly transferred the spirit of neo-romantic pastoralism into a resolutely urban environment’. This is perhaps applicable to his depiction of Samuel, given that she is situated within her Chelsea home. Parkinson’s ability to bring the outdoors into the domestic realm conveys a suspension of reality. Parkinson himself claimed that ‘if you are going to be an artist – even a photographer – I think you have to major in fantasy.’
Furthermore, Parkinson’s portrayal of Samuel also mirrors his image from a 1956 location shoot in India for British Vogue. Like Samuel and Ophelia, model Barbara Mullen lies atop a watery expanse, in this case Dal Lake in Kashmir, laced with tulips, lilies and other exotic flowers. The dappled sunlight on the otherwise pristine surface of the lake reflects the clouded pattern of her dress. Yet, like Millais’ Ophelia, there are morbid undertones to this image. Mullen’s indifferent gaze into the middle distance and her partial submersion render her body totally passive. The boat on which she lies is obscured by, and overflowing with, flowers, which perhaps calls to mind a funeral boat. However, this image epitomises Parkinson’s excessively glamorous overseas fashion shoots in a time when long-haul travel was still fledgling.
Parkinson’s saturated use of colour is also notable. It wasn’t until the mid 1970s that he was working almost exclusively in colour, and this vibrant image from 1956 would have been situated among the largely black and white pages of British Vogue. Parkinson himself stated ‘I’m sure all the best photographers use black and white, but… I dream in colour…for me colour has always held more magic,’ which further hints to the degree of fantasy that underlined much of his work.
In his depiction of Nicky Samuel, Parkinson’s composition not only embodies the nostalgic fascination with the Pre-Raphaelites that resurged during the late 1960s, but also his nostalgic twinge for his idyllic childhood and his own photographic oeuvre.
By Claudia Stanley
Anon., ‘Precious Original: Augustus John’s Chelsea Studio Regenerated by Nicola Weymouth’, British Vogue, No. 15, Vol. 129 (London, December 1972), pp. 128-129
Louise Baring, Norman Parkinson: A Very British Glamour (New York, 2009)
Robin Muir, Norman Parkinson: Portraits in Fashion (London, 2004)
We’ve been busy working on our dissertations, so we’re taking the opportunity to get to know the current MA Documenting Fashion students. Here Victoria discusses Celtic Revival craftsmanship, the humble sundress and her fondest fashion memories.
What is your Dissertation about?
My dissertation centres around a study of the Celtic Revival period in Ireland. Through a close analysis of two defining cultural leaders of the era- The Dun Emer Guild of craftswomen and the Anglo-Irish patroness Lady Aberdeen, I’m looking to place in context the ethnic fashions of an emerging nation which must first come to terms with its troubled past.
I first learned about the Dun Emer Guild during my undergraduate degree in Dublin. As an Irish woman fascinated by fashion and textile history I was shocked to have never been introduced to the story of this revolutionary institution before, and knew that I couldn’t be the only one missing out. From there an obsession took root, which eventually inspired my dissertation topic.
This subject area feeds into my particular interest in artisanship and the handmade. Truly, as much as I adore leafing through old editions of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, it has been an indescribable pleasure to dive head-first into a pseudo-archaeological study of fashion history. I have had the opportunity to physically explore and examine some of the most exquisite creations from this period in history, and have had the chance to understand them as lived creations. One of my favourite encounters I have had on this research journey has been with a watercolour sketch of a Celtic Revival outfit by craftswoman Katherine ‘Kitty’ McCormack of the Dun Emer Guild (figure two). The juxtaposition of an overtly 1920’s drop waist silhouette alongside an attempt to reproduce key garments of the traditional Celtic wardrobe such as the léine (tunic), brat (sash) and ceannbheart (headdress) delighted me no end upon first discovery. This fusion of heritage and Modernity encapsulates the spirit of the Celtic Revival which I am attempting to address in my dissertation, and is epitomized by this sketch.
Which outfit from dress history do you wish you could wear?
As of late, I cannot stop thinking about Marilyn Monroe’s blue polka-dot sundress from 1957. Ever the pragmatist, I couldn’t justify naming a fanciful suit of armour or extravagant ballgown as my answer for this question, as I am inferring (or rather deciding) that I get to keep whichever garment I choose. Yet, I know if I could ever lay my hands on this dress I am certain I would probably never take it off.
This outfit epitomizes exactly how I aspire to dress in the summer. Maybe it’s just the idyllic outdoor scene created in this photograph, but Marilyn in this dress looks the image of peace, comfort and class. I love the timelessness of its design, and the serene subtlety of the baby blue fabric against her wispy blonde hair. As a blonde myself, the discovery of this photograph a number of years ago began a painstaking search for a similar outfit. Resultingly, I fell down a rabbit hole of light blue 50’s style dresses which led me to the discovery of Kate Moss’ “Breakfast at Dior” shoot for Glamour France in 1992.
In this Gianni Versace taffeta ensemble Moss embodies the mid-century American Barbie in an almost Stepford Wife-esque eeriness. Whilst obviously dissimilar to Marilyn’s sundress, both outfits take their inspiration from the classic 1950’s swing dress silhouette. The simple twinning of this design with the baby blue colour activates a ravenous part of my brain which deems it a necessity for me to have one of these outfits. Or preferably both.
What are you wearing today?
Shockingly, the onset of summer has meant that London has gotten very warm all of a sudden. With that in mind, today I am wearing a vintage pink cotton sundress which I picked up from a young woman on eBay who was looking to find loving homes for her grandmothers clothes from the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. The dress is very clearly handmade and was fitted to the exact specifications of the wearer. Luckily enough for me they seem to be my precise measurements too, as this dress feels like a second skin when worn. On my feet I’m wearing a pair of beige espadrilles with rope lace ties to my ankles. I swear they look less odd than they sound. Finally, in my handbag I have a cream cable knit cashmere cardigan which may or may not be donned in this humidity. I have owned this cardigan for as long as I can remember, an thusly cannot recall where I picked it up.
Practically, the summer season is probably my least favourite to dress for. If you have ever met me you will understand the remarkable paleness of my unmistakably Celtic skin. To be frank, I am translucent. Thus, I must always factor in the copious amounts of sun cream I have to wear in order to reveal any skin during these months. Simple sundresses like the one I’m wearing today allow me to navigate this tricky balancing act as easily as possible, and enable me to somewhat mitigate the amount of time I have to spend vampirically skulking indoors. Being permanently alabaster in a climate which regularly has the gall to rise above 22 degrees is far from ideal, yet I find classic pieces such as this dress incredibly effective at minimising the hassle of the season.
Do you have an early fashion memory to share?
Whilst considering this question I have recalled a number of memorable fashion moments from my childhood, yet one common denominator prevails amongst all of them. I think it is only right that I answer this question by way of lauding my greatest fashion inspiration, teacher and supporter – my mother Paula.
Some of my earliest memories of experiencing fashion with my mother involved her teaching me to touch textiles before I even considered their aesthetic appeal. Learning the difference between your cottons and linens, your synthetics and your organics and your tweeds from your tartans formed the basis of my early relationship to clothing, and is responsible for my passion of exploring skilled textile craftsmanship. To this day I cannot sleep on a polycotton bedsheet, and can’t stand the sticky cling of a synthetic sports jersey. I have all of these little textile quirks to thank my mother for.
Probably the most singularly influential moment in my early relationship to fashion are my memories of the creation of my Communion dress. As to be expected with Paula FitzGerald, an off-the-rack white dress would not do for her daughter, so she enlisted the services of the same seamstress who created her wedding dress to construct my special outfit. At just eight years old I vividly remember going to dress fittings with my mother who had a detailed design for the whole ensemble. Day trips were spent going to Dublin haberdasheries, where ribbons and lace were studied and deliberated by my mammy. The finished white cotton dress was her most beautiful brainchild, and was gracefully unique and understated. Through that experience I began to understand clothing as something inherently tied to the human experience, and not simply as an inconsequential consumer item.
As I am answering this question I have come to realise that I probably have another dissertation’s worth of memories that I could recount regarding myself, my mother and fashion. The experiences I have shared with her throughout my life have been the single most influential force on my studies of fashion at the Courtauld, and continue to guide my relationship to clothing every day.
We’ve been busy working on our dissertations, so we’re taking the opportunity to get to know the current MA Documenting Fashion students. Here, Megan discusses David Bowie, Paris is Burning, and her early fashion influences.
What is your dissertation about? What prompted you to choose this subject?
My dissertation is about David Bowie… kind of. I’m looking at the personae of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, focusing on three sources: Brian Duffy’s photoshoot in January 1973, Masayoshi Sukita’s photoshoot in February 1973, and D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (filmed July 1973).
I was initially inspired to research this area after learning about the close connection between Bowie and Japan, which made me wonder about the various influences that collaboratively produced his iconic personae. The incredible glam rock fashion of his Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane period made the choice of which area to focus on pretty easy. I’m really enjoying the research, as it’s allowing me to dig under the surface of visual media and find a whole network beneath. Along with Duffy, Sukita, and Pennebaker, I’ve been researching fashion designers Kansai Yamamoto and Freddie Burretti, make-up artist Pierre La Roche and mime artist Lindsay Kemp. My main realisation has been that there is an infinite list of contributors, collaborators, and influences that came together to produce the Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane imagery that we know so well. Even a rice cooker gets a mention for being relevant! It’s also been really interesting to trace the sources and their uses in various forms – my favourite of which being the Barbie doll dressed and marketed to recreate an image from the Sukita shoot.
What is your favourite thing you’ve written/worked on/researched this year?
My favourite thing would have to be my first essay, which was about the wearing of fur in Jennie Livingstone’s Paris is Burning, a documentary filmed in the late 1980s about the New York ballroom scene. I researched the history of fur as a material in fashion, and the social and cultural reasons fur may be worn in different contexts. Paris is Burning was a particularly interesting lens to view this through, as tensions between fur as a marker of distinction and anti-fur campaigns were dramatically rising. Not only that, but I could bring in a lot on gender and fashion – my favourite topic!
What are you wearing today?
Today I am wearing periwinkle blue trousers, a white t-shirt and a brown check jacket. The trousers are the most recent thing I’ve bought, I found them on Depop and am loving them. The t-shirt was given to me as merchandise when I worked on an event a few years ago, and it’s become a staple of my wardrobe. The jacket is originally from Motel, but I got it from a charity shop in Angel for £7. On my feet are a pair of Flamingos’ Life trainers, bought second-hand on Ebay. I’d really recommend Flamingos’ Life – they are plant-based, comfy, and don’t slip off the backs of my feet as I walk along.
As you probably noticed from that description, most of my clothing these days comes from some kind of second-hand source. I started trying to avoid fast fashion about 5 years ago and am really happy with the eclectic wardrobe I have built since. I’ve dabbled with making my own clothes, and the new series of Sewing Bee is inspiring me to dedicate more time to that this summer! I have been desperate for a brightly coloured co-ord suit that fits my body (Zara seems to think I need an extra 6 inches of torso?), so that’s what I’ll be aiming to perfect first.
This MA has really solidified my belief that clothes aren’t everything, but they’re a heck of a lot more than ‘just’ clothes. They are a way for us to customise this character we have been given, to make our day more comfortable, to support our lifestyle and to surround ourselves with softness and colour (at least, these are my main priorities).
Do you have an early fashion memory to share?
A glowstick exploding all over my favourite lilac crushed-velvet tank top, age 6! I never fully recovered, and today I own a turquoise crushed-velvet strappy crop top… I actually had forgotten all about the glowstick incident until I thought about how to answer this question, and hadn’t made the connection between that top of 17 years ago and the crop top I now own and wear on nights out. Oh dear.
In terms of fashion media, I have strong memories of media which I think must have come from my big sister, because I was almost certainly too young to follow these when I first watched them. Charlie’s Angels (2000) has Drew Barrymore playing Dylan, and her blue-eyeshadowed rock-chic look definitely inspired me for better or worse. Ugly Betty (2006-2010) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) also felt like defining moments where I became aware of fashion. They were also both, in their own ways, trailblazing forms of media. I’m glad I could see their comedy, drama, and representation from an early age. (Special shout-out to Pierre La Roche, mentioned earlier, who also did the make-up for Rocky Horror and has been a feature of many of my interests without my realising for all these years. More people should know about him!)
If I’ve got my timings right, then this is my final post for this blog! I’ve really enjoyed my time writing here and reading the wonderful words of my course mates. If you want to see more of what I’m getting up to then my Instagram is @megangalleria – I mostly post about museum, gallery, fashion and photography related things.
We’ve been busy working on our dissertations, so we’re taking the opportunity to get to know the current MA Documenting Fashion students. Here, Claudia discusses Ossie Clark, military peacocks, and what artists wear.
What is your dissertation about?
My dissertation centres around how temporality and nostalgia manifested in the designs of Ossie Clark and textile designer Celia Birtwell during the retro-mania of the late 1960s and early 1970s. From his seductive, transparent garments (often worn without underwear) to his hyper-feminine bias cut dresses, Clark was able to reflect contemporary notions of progressive female sexuality whilst simultaneously referencing past art movements and designers. Ranging from the Pre-Raphaelites to 1940s fashion, Clark and Birtwell’s past influences also translated into the fashion photography of their collaborative creations.
My virtual exhibition also focused on Ossie Clark, where one section, ‘Modern Retro’, sought to display the influence of history on Clark and Birtwell in an era of self-conscious modernity. I based my exhibition in Chelsea Town Hall, where Clark held some of his theatrical and often shambolic fashion shows. By the end of the project, I could really visualise the space and how the exhibits (and my imaginary visitors) would interact with each other.
I wanted to convey the impression of an immersive, multi-sensory experience, where people could flow freely through the space. My visitors would be given headphones which would react to each display, playing music to coordinate with each exhibit. I hoped to create a solo, silent Ossie rave to help transport visitors to Swinging London. Having scratched the surface in my virtual exhibition, it’s been really interesting delving deeper into themes of history and continuity in my dissertation research.
What is your favourite dress history photograph?
To save this from turning into an Ossie Clark rant, I’ll opt for one of Horst P. Horst’s neoclassical images, featured in Vogue from September 1937. The model, adorned in a silvery gown by Madeleine Vionnet, seems to simultaneously embody a classical goddess and a modern woman. Posed to statuesque perfection, her bejewelled wrists, held above her modestly lowered head, are clasped together like the fastening of a necklace, metamorphosing her iridescent body into a precious pendant. Alternatively, the vertical pleats of her dress could also transform her into a Corinthian column. The outline of her thigh shimmers under the studio lights, hinting at the sensual body beneath. I love how tactile this image is. Just from looking at it, we get a sense of exactly what it would feel like to wear this dress and to have each delicate pleat ripple across the body.
What is your favourite thing that you’ve written/worked on/researched this year?
I really enjoyed my essay on how military uniform was appropriated by The Rolling Stones and The Beatles in 1966 and 1967. The fact that such archaic and hyper-masculine garments were incorporated into progressively androgynous, peacocking menswear reveals an interesting point of tension in regards to modernising masculinity. The Beatles and The Stones arguably brought this counterculture style of dress to the forefront of contemporary consciousness, asserting their flamboyant individuality, which, ironically, created an impression of uniformity within, and between, both bands.
What is your favourite thing you’ve read this year?
Charlie Porter’s What Artists Wear is something that I keep coming back to (mainly just to flick through the pictures). Porter highlights how the physical intimacy of clothing offers a more personal perspective on world famous artists, from Louise Bourgeois wearing her own latex sculptures, to Frida Kahlo’s politically-charged adoption of, and self-documentation in, men’s suits. I enjoyed how Porter centres debates around female artists’ bodies, which have been historically restricted by clothing. Dress has the destructive potential to limit bodily autonomy and, by extension, creative output. Yet, at the same time, dress becomes a canvas on which artists express themselves, a means to connect with viewers of their work, as well as autobiographical evidence of their life. It really makes you question what you choose to wear.
What are you wearing today?
I wish I was wearing my Anna Sui charity shop find (it’s either a short dress or long top, the jury is still out). Sui is an admirer of Ossie Clark’s work, and the clashing purple floral patterns could have been inspired by Celia Birtwell’s prints, and the flowy sleeves and handkerchief hem are quite Ossie-esque. It’s been fun wearing this to get into character to write my dissertation. I would have worn it over mauve flares, also from a charity shop, and my pistachio-green cowboy boots, you guessed it, from Shein. I jest. They’re from Oxfam.
What I’m actually wearing is an old Breton-striped top of my mum’s which is literally falling apart at the seams, old baggy shorts, and a straw cowboy hat. I look like a distressed, marooned gondolier. For context, I’ve been hacking away at my dissertation in the garden, not that that excuses my dishevelled appearance. Oh, and I’m also sporting some men’s clogs that have become communal gardening shoes. My tortoise is affectionately head-butting one clog as the opening act of his mating ritual. Aside from that, he’s been a very devoted research assistant. He’s wearing his custom-made tortoise-shell print shell suit which I’ve never actually seen him take off…
Truthfully, Eurovision has always appealed more to my mother and one of my brothers than it has me. Although, I think this is perhaps partly to do with my mother’s near-obsessive determination to learn (or at least be able to mumble, sorry Mummy) each entry’s chorus before the *big* day, which was an annual occurrence in our household. Or was it the twenty-minute blind panic – yes really! – when the box filled with feather boas and sequin ensembles in red, blue, and white would go ‘missing’…despite being kept in the same spot in the same cupboard for over a decade.
In fact, Eurovision has held more of a significant place in our family than anyone’s birthday or Christmas for as long as I can remember. In reality this meant that for at least two months of every year, the Eurovision CD would be the only music which we’d listen to (forcefully or otherwise), and is undoubtedly the reason as to why we still have our trusty twenty-year-old Sony CD player, which continues to take pride of place in our kitchen at home in Edinburgh. And I suppose it also explains why I still have a soft spot for the United Kingdom’s 2007 entry ‘Flying The Flag’ by Scooch and can still remember at least 90% of the lyrics. No word of a lie.
Eurovision is also how my mother remembers my due date, as it coincided with the date of the Eurovision Song Contest back in 1999. Had I been born that day I’m certain of the fact that I would have at least ended up with the winner’s first name as a middle-name – Charlotte Nilsson who won on behalf of Sweden with ‘Take Me To Your Heaven’.
As such, I think it’s only right that we should be looking my top five favourite Eurovision fashion moments ahead of its 66th competition. Even if Eurovision isn’t for everyone, it’s a wonderful excuse to inject a bit of sparkle into any wardrobe and a time to be grateful for autotune (just kidding, or at least sort of).
FIVE: JACQUELINE BOYER (1960)
This below-the-knee cowl-necked dress worn by Jacqueline Boyer is at once subtle and eye-catching. The billowing skirt, complete with four frontal pleats work to accentuate the waist and the tutu fabric hidden from view helps the skirt retain its shape. Although relatively simple in design, the piping featured at the bottom of the dress and at the neckline help offer a chic touch.
Last to perform on the evening, Boyer’s Tom Pillibi at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1960, marked the first time that the winning song had closed the competition. Quite the feat aged just eighteen! Moreover, her father Jacques Pills had performed at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1959, as Monaco’s first representative, but his performance didn’t fare so well, and he placed last, a rather less enviable position…
FOUR: LAURA VALENZUELA (1969)
This next look was worn by Spanish TV presenter Laura Valenzuela for the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest. The high neck lace suit is chic as it is sophisticated, sexy yet understated. The high neck and long scalloped sleeves help ground the sheer fabric and the suit is tied together with a beige belt which looks to be made out of satin. The script and microphone for the evening form the host’s ‘accessories’ and a page is clearly earmarked for easy access. This lace jumpsuit recalls RTW S/S 20, specifically Look 19 at the Alexander McQueen show, which similarly features long frilled sleeves, a high neck and is tied together with a contrasting belt.
THREE: ABBA (1974)
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Eurovision round-up without featuring the sensation that is ABBA. They graced us with their Eurovision presence in 1974, with their now-classic, karaoke or silent disco must-have song Waterloo, claiming the first-place prize – rightfully – as their own, despite the United Kingdom offering the song a scathing nul points back in 1974.
With icons come iconic looks and these outfits scream seventies. Metallic knee-high platform boots (a win!) are paired with tops which look like they’ve been attacked with a glue gun and are covered in glittery stars and diamanté studs, making it an easy fancy dress outfit to recreate. Just don’t get me started on Agnetha Fältskog’s lapis blue beanie…
TWO: SCOOCH (2007)
Now for anyone who thought I was being harsh on ABBA’s look might think my review of Scooch’s 2007 outfits contradictory or hypocritical… Regardless, I will continue to fight for these airline outfits that look like they’ve come from a vacuum packed Smiffys costume set or a knock-off version of Britney Spear’s air hostess outfit from her ‘‘Toxic’ music video. Either way, my opinion is definitely influenced by nostalgia (and the aforementioned retention of the song’s lyrics), the hilariously noughties frosted tips and the tiny pink headpieces. It also serves as a reminder that at least half of the Eurovision Song Contest entries nowadays are less than serious. With that said, it was a bit of a rough landing for Scooch and they came 22nd out of 24 contestants.
ONE: DANA INTERNATIONAL (1998)
This outfit undoubtedly stole the show back in 1998, merging fashion with costume. It was worn by Dana International, representing Israel, for her winning performance of Diva and historical feat as the first transgender woman to win the competition. This dress is from the 1997 Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture collection, and the multi-coloured parrot feathered jacket featured as Look 70. The simple, refined black V-neck maxi dress clings beautifully to Dana’s body and the feathery jacket forms an extension of her body, exaggerating every movement.
Furthermore, Gaultier is ‘a self-confessed Eurovision obsessive,’ as quoted in an interview for The Cut and has dressed several other high-profile contestants over the years, including Dana during her 2011 performance.
While I appreciate Eurovision mightn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, seeing how much joy it brings my mother can’t help but make me feel warmly towards Eurovision. But perhaps that’s why they say absence makes the heart grow fonder…because I no longer have to put up with listen to the Eurovision CD on repeat for two months each year.
And let’s keep our fingers crossed that the United Kingdom isn’t destined for another – pitiful – nul points this Saturday at the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest.
As the 1920s and 1930s ushered in a new obsession with health, and the healthy body, women across the UK, the US, and beyond, began developing new techniques, regimes, and moves designed to create the elongated limbs and taut torso which was desired at the time. One of the most well-known groups to come out of this was the Women’s League of Health and Beauty, a group who encouraged movement as a way to achieve peace. The league held women-only classes, had uniforms and rules, and focused on synchronised, repetitive movement. This allowed the League to develop into something much more than just a weekly exercise class: it became central to friendships, romances, health, and for many women, life.
Another key player at the time was Margaret Morris Movement (MMM). Morris was born in London in 1891 and from a young age starred in plays and ballets. Through Raymond Duncan (Isadora Duncan’s brother), Morris learnt Classical Greek Dance, which through its focus on lyrical dance, she felt offered more freedom and movement than traditional ballet. In the early 1910s, Morris set up a hugely successful dance school, and her style of unbound movement was growing in popularity. By the mid 1920s, the school was opening branches in French, Scottish, and English cities.
A 1923 newsreel courtesy of the British Film Institute shows a group of MMM students performing their dance moves on Harlech beach, in North Wales. Appearing under the title ‘Miss Margaret Morris’ Merry Mermaids’ the women and girls dance along the waters’ edge with fervent energy. The dancers simultaneously appear to be free, flowing, and natural in their movements whilst also clearly performing a choreographed and synchronised set of movements. The women then form a circle through their joint hands and run around in this formation on the damp sand. This frame feels familiar in the way that it is reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s 1910 painting, ‘The Dance’. Matisse’s painting depicts five figures holding hands and dancing in a circle on the grass, with a blue sky behind them.
1930s fashion has always appealed to me. Whether the beautiful flowing drapery of Madeleine Vionnet or the sharp suits worn by Marlene Dietrich, much of the fashion of the decade developed the freedom in dress that we come to appreciate now – both in terms of gender fluid dress, and comfort.
The art deco movement was a key influence on fashion of the time, encouraging a celebration of technological developments and an optimism for the future in its luxurious style. Here and now, as we emerge from the covid-19 pandemic with a sense of relief, but a variety of sources for future anxieties ever-present, it is time for a reinvigoration of that same hope in human ingenuity, celebration of technological developments and optimism for the future. We need comfort, strength and vibrancy, and I think we should be looking to 1930s fashion for inspiration.
A range of comfortable ensembles are documented in the early 1930s. Anna May Wong wears an elegant, loosely fitted dress and leans against a doorway to convey her relaxed manner. Similarly, the model of Falkenstein in the August 1934 issue of Vogue leans against the wall. A rare appearance of trousers in early 1930s Vogue, the image shows a woman comfortable yet glamourous, wearing a tunic which resembles very stylish and eveningwear appropriate dressing-gown.
Moving from comfortable formalwear to comfortable daywear, the beach pyjamas worn by Geeshie Wiley and L. V. ‘Slack’ Thomas are outfits not only that would still be incredible on any beach, but likely will be reflected by many at the Courtauld’s graduation ceremony this summer. Wide-legged trousers and a fitted waist have been in style already for the past few years, but I’d like to see the style with more bright colours and comfortable cotton fabrics.
And what should we wear when there is work to be done? An oversized cardigan with deep pockets in a stunning sage green, of course. An increase in sportswear and ready-to-wear in the 1930s led to a much higher interest in collegiate fashions, such as the varsity jacket and cardigans. The flip side of increased ready-to-wear was a rise in cheaper, lower quality garments. Today, with fast fashion booming and brands like Shein churning out an endless array of garments, it is more important than ever to find clothing that we love and will wear for many years, rather than single use pieces so cheaply made that they will inevitably end up on landfill. Clothing that can be styled in multiple ways, worn in many contexts and brings us joy is vital to us having a more sustainable relationship with our wardrobe. A deep pocketed cardigan perfectly fits the bill for me.
Uncertainty and anxiety have prevailed in recent years. As we move past what has been a difficult period for many, it seems only right that we do so feeling empowered and true to ourselves. Whether or not this means buying your own power suit – you decide. But Marlene Dietrich provides inspiration not only in her incredible suit-wearing, but also in her certainty that what she wanted to wear, what she felt good in, was for her to decide. For all my advocation of a need to revive 1930s fashion, I would like to conclude by moving away from the styles that dominated that period, and rather draw attention to the underlying themes of self-assurance, comfort, and joy. It is these that we should carry with us and cultivate through our wardrobe.
By Megan Stevenson
Arnold, Rebecca. The American Look: Fashion, Sportswear and the Image of Women in 1930s and 1940s America (2009, London)
Wilson, Elizabeth. Adorned in Dream: Fashion and Modernity (2003, London)
We’ve been busy working on our dissertations, so we’re taking the opportunity to get to know the current MA Documenting Fashion students. Here, Georgina discusses Vogue, her scented virtual exhibition and fairy wings.
What is your dissertation about? What prompted you to choose this subject?
My dissertation is on Audrey Withers OBE, who was the editor of British Vogue between 1940 and 1960, having first joined the magazine as a sub-editor in 1931. I was introduced to Audrey Withers’ work through Julie Summers’ book and online talk on Dressed For War in late 2020. During the talk, hosted by Somerville College, I learnt that Audrey Withers and I had shared the same undergraduate college, and, yet I had never heard of her name despite her many achievements and my pre-existing interest in fashion (with a keen interest in fashion magazines). I immediately became fascinated by her life and work, wanting to learn more about the tensions between her public and private personas – Audrey Withers was as a notoriously private character – and it was this which ultimately inspired me to apply for the Documenting Fashion MA at the Courtauld. Through my dissertation, I’m enjoying playing the part of detective, trying to uncover more information about Audrey Withers through her private correspondence, workplace memos and newspaper cuttings, as well as undo the misconceptions surrounding her, such as she herself became ‘interested in Vogue magazine when an undergraduate at Somerville College, Oxford,’ as written in a Norwood News article of 1951. In fact, Audrey Withers was largely uninterested in fashion and instead ‘achieved her results by sheer intelligence’ in the words of Harry Yoxall, the chairman of Condé Nast. My dissertation will focus on her private and public lives and how they were designed to remain entirely separate, but that Audrey Withers’ role at Vogue required them to overlap at points, with family friends such as Paul Nash writing articles on all manner of things.
Additionally, I was fascinated to learn how Audrey Withers and Cecil Beaton destroyed the entire paper and photographic archive of British Vogue for 1942’s March issue (below) in response to the Paper Salvage effort and in the face of unimaginable hardship. I believe the coupled nobility and arrogance in this action – which reacted to contemporary uncertainty at the expense of future study – serves as an example of the undeniable tension behind justifying perceived ‘frivolities’ in an era of necessity as well as securing Audrey Withers’ status as a largely anonymous and unknown figure.
What is your favourite thing that you’ve written/worked on/researched this year?
I’m loving my dissertation – especially as it is something I’ve been mulling over since last summer – but I really enjoyed working on my virtual exhibition, which explored the power of perfume. Perfume is capable of so much: it has the power to evoke forgotten moments; perfume acts as a designer’s signature – yet invisible – autograph, the list could go on… What I’ve loved about this project was its focus on creating a visual argument. Unlike an academic essay where you might presume certain knowledge and expertise on behalf of the reader, I had to consider how to pitch each element to a wide variety of visitors in order to give them the best experience possible. For instance, I used text panels to introduce each section and broader themes, whereas the sample exhibition catalogue entry allowed for a more in-depth analysis.
I wanted to situate perfume within a retail space, reinforcing perfume’s relationship to commercial practices, and chose to set it in the historic Liberty Department Store in London. In keeping with the idea of it as a fantasy exhibition, I kept on imagining I was in ‘The Sims’ world each time I was working on my floor plan, visualising how a Sim character would walk through the exhibition space. I wanted to create an immersive, multi-sensory experience, and decided on a commissioned and interactive sensory wall, serving baked goods (and cocktails!) to create three ‘miniverses’ to reflect the perfumes and designers on display: Elsa Schiaparelli’s Shocking, Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium and Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather. I found considering perfume’s position as simultaneously immaterial and material particularly fascinating and incorporated that into my layout.
What are you wearing today?
Recently, I’ve found that I’m wearing a ‘uniform’, which normally consists of jeans, a simple top, a fun statement blazer or coat and a bright red lip. Today, I’m wearing a pair of denim blue Levi’s, an M&S black thermal top (not so chic, but I FEEL the cold), my cherished checked old Celine blazer from Vestiaire Collective and a pair of slightly battered Axel Arigato trainers, plus my go-to vintage Mulberry laptop bag, which I nabbed from my mother. And, of course, my signature red lip. I’m also having a bit of a jewellery moment, so have layered it with a couple of Alighieri necklaces (including the ‘Invisible Compass’ as I’m always getting lost!), a gorgeous Katie Mullally Irish Coin Charm featuring an Irish hare (I’m born Year of the Rabbit which I feel is close enough) and an amber necklace bought in Edinburgh by two of my dearest friends for my birthday last year. I’m also wearing a pair of Motley X Alice Cicolini earrings and my usual rings, including one from my mother and a Gracie J prototype tear ring. It’s been a research day, which started with an exciting trip to Vogue House to meet with Julie Summers, where we talked about our love for Audrey Withers, and I was lucky enough to take a quick peek at some of the Vogue archives from the 1940s and 1950s. I then had lunch with a friend and have since been busy in the London College of Fashion Library looking at more Vogue archives where I bumped into fellow MA student, Megan, before heading home for a relaxed evening!
Do you have an early fashion memory to share?
When I was a child, there was a time where all I would wear was a dress with a tutu skirt, fairy wings, and green wellington boots. And jeans underneath if it was cold. Occasionally, if I was feeling very daring, I might try to pinch my mother’s clip on earrings to complete the look… From an early age, my mother had been quite happy for me to choose my own outfits, barring the occasional family event, and so I’d turn up to nursery dressed as a fairy. Complete with a little handbag with everything a fairy might need for the day, namely bubbles and a glitter pen.
As I would wear this outfit day in and day out, I must’ve worn it on the day we had an art lesson as my mother ended up receiving a call from the school. Initially assuming it was about one of my brothers who was constantly misbehaving, it was a surprise to hear that it was about how I had refused to take off my fairy wings when asked. Though the teacher was seemingly only concerned they’d get mucky during the arts and crafts activities, I continued to refuse to take them off and they were unable to put my painting overalls on. While neither my mother or I can remember the precise outcome, or whether I agreed to take my fairy wings off – even momentarily to put the apron on – I’d like to think that a compromise was eventually made, and I succumbed to reason. But knowing how stubborn children can be, there’s certainly a chance that I refused to cooperate.
In the photo below, it’s funny how the core of many of my outfits remains the same, even nearly two decades on. I often wear a white t-shirt and jeans, and the tutu dress and fairy wings have simply been replaced with a statement jacket. It would seem that there’s a part of me that still wants to be a fairy.
When one speaks of Stanley Kubrick, what comes to mind is often the world-renowned director’s timeless oeuvres as A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). And yet, Kubrick’s brilliance was evident even in his often overlooked teen years, when he was just starting out in his career behind the lens, with photographs taken in the streets of New York.
At the mere age of 17, a young teen from the Bronx, Kubrick traded in life as a student after graduating from high school, when he was discovered by Look magazine and hired as staff photographer in 1946. Thus began his brief yet fruitful career as a photojournalist which in many ways paved the way to his stepping into Hollywood and becoming of a filmmaker.
1940s was the time of photo narratives/stories which had surged in popularity with Life magazine. A rival of Life,Look magazine’s aesthetic was focused on the everyday rather than the events of the globe. It aimed to convey the intimacy, eccentricity, and ordinariness of life in New York City. The city’s dynamism, chaos and its multiculturalism made it the perfect location to base the photographs and stories for which it was a source of endless entertainment. Kubrick’s photographs taken for Look between 1945 and 1950 are a reflection of the golden age of post-war America and boom of capitalism. The palpable energy of the city is very clearly translated to the viewer while the style of Kubrick in capturing everyday life reminds one of film noir, a genre he favoured in his films as well.
Kubrick’s career in Look, which ended in 1950 when he decided to leave the magazine behind to focus on making feature films, encompass over a thousand photographs by the famous director. They were often named as being proto-cinematic that signalled to his talent with the camera and unsurprisingly, interest in filmmaking. Although this talent was strongly nurtured during his time in Look that gave Kubrick the opportunity to focus on human interactions and how it could be reflected through the camera it is evident that he was already a naturally gifted storyteller. His genius in conveying the psychological depth and emotion of his subjects through the lens clearly shows through his adeptness at handling the camera, setting and framing scenes to push his narratives, which all formed the strong foundation for his filmmaking career.
‘Everyday’ in New York City that Kubrick captured with his camera encapsulated ordinary people in parks, subways and stores to TV and Hollywood celebrities going about their lives. Kubrick’s ability to turn the ‘everyday’ and ‘ordinary’ into a visual story, and a compelling one at that, was evident early on. Although many of these photographs were spontaneous instances from everyday life, many of them were staged, which also perhaps nodded to Kubrick’s passion for storytelling and interest in film. Kubrick was given assignments, shooting scripts to construct and align his photographs/photo-essays accordingly. He also presented his own themes which were often accepted by the magazine. The given narratives strengthened the filmic quality of Kubrick’s photographs.
One of the main themes of Kubrick’s photographs was genuine human interactions embedded in daily life. His series for the 1946 November issue of Look feature photographic sequences from the street titled Bronx Street Scene: The Camera Catches an Off-guard Episode over a Hairdo. In a series of photos shot consecutively, two women are first seen chatting in front of a shop which is then followed by another shot that show the entrance of a passer-by, another woman into the frame and the two women fixing her hair and having a laugh over the matter. A different strip shows a couple smoking and chatting on the street in front of a store. The naturalness of the gestures and facial expressions coolly emanate from the frame, mesmerising us and insinuating that we have caught glimpses, instances from life with these people and watching from afar in a discreet manner. The consecutive shots and usage of the same vantage point here that reveal the continuation of these two different events very clearly refer to filmic techniques.
Kubrick caught spontaneous scenes from the street. Some he turned into scenes with consecutive shots as seen here. Others instead, were single shots that entailed an overarching theme, such as Park benches: Love is Everywhere series created in 1946 for May 1st issue which was a love series where Kubrick captured young couples on benches, fire escapes and street corners, embracing. Kubrick’s usage of infrared film and flash intensified the candidness of the scenes. The couples were often seemingly caught in unexpected moments, especially at night-time, similar to paparazzi shots which highlighted the voyeuristic tones that Kubrick’s photographs often carried, resembling the technique that was frequently used by famous tabloid photographer Weegee.
A Couple Embracing on a Fire Escape is one of the most unique shots in the series that seems to have a sinister undertone. With not only the oblique angle, the awkward positioning of the couple on the fire escape but also the overpowering flash that has overly whitened the eyes and skin of the couple, transforming them into ghostly figures, reminiscent of deer caught in headlights, which speaks to Kubrick’s genius with the play of light.
The New York subway offered a microcosm of the city. Spending time at the subway for almost two weeks, Kubrick shot discreet photos of people riding the subway with a hidden camera for another assignment titled Life and Love on the New York Subway in 1947 that fit the everyday life of New Yorkers narrative. Placed amongst the candid photographs in the subway spread, some of the photographs such as this one that show a couple, in fact Kubrick’s friends Alexander Singer and Toba Metz, sleeping, were argued to be staged. While the low vantage point, the dramatic contrast between black and white made scenes as the photograph with the couple embracing cinematic, it also put forward the harsh realities of big city, with the homeless man sleeping in the background, somewhat taking the focus away from the romance in the shot.
The shots that focus on individuals and their facial expressions show a study of psychological depth that also belongs to the cinematic verse. Glorifying the normalcy of everyday life of ordinary people in the big city stretched from photographing people waiting in line to do laundry, waiting in the subway and shopping in the city. What all of them shared in common was the focus on large crowds to highlight the act of looking. We see people watching other people and then we realise we are also watching these people through Kubrick’s lens.
This theme was made central in a series that Kubrick had created, capturing in separate ‘reaction shots’, the confused and surprised expressions of people watching a publicity stunt with a model triumphantly posing next to a group of sign painters in front of a billboard for a Peter Pan bra advertisement high up on a building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street (September 3, 1947). In this collaborative work with Frank Bauman and Tom Weber, Kubrick’s interest in film became more poignant, whilst also showing that entertainment and spectacle were always around the corner in an ordinary day in New York City, embedded in the spirit of the city.
In another series for Look, Kubrick started to focus on individual profiles. In this spread he celebrated the balancing act of a young shoeshine boy named Mickey, documenting a day in his life. Son of Irish immigrants, Mickey made a living by shining shoes to support his family. Taking around 250 photos for his first long photo-essay assignment, Kubrick presented the young boy’s life, showing him playing and conversing with friends in one shot, working, doing laundry, or contemplating life in a mature manner on a rooftop of a New York building in the next shot. Showing Mickey’s difficult life stuck between trying to provide for his family whilst simultaneously trying to enjoy his young years, Kubrick poignantly captured the difficulties faced by lower classes in attempting to survive in a thriving, chaotic city. The fact that this series was not published shows that gruesome realities of a big city were mostly glossed over in Look compared to Life. This photo series that contrast shots of Mickey with friends and ones where he is wandering the city alone poignantly intensify the difficult double life he leads, both, juggling adult responsibilities.
Edging closer to his interest and career in film, Kubrick’s photographs after 1948 started to focus on well-known faces from TV and Hollywood. Kubrick offered the most psychologically complex portraits from these people’s lives. One series that showed the disparity between public persona and private, backstage reality, was another ‘unpublished’ photo narrative series from March 1949, where Kubrick captured a day in life of a showgirl named Rosemary Williams. Williams was a young girl that had come to New York City dreaming of becoming an actress.
However, struggling to make ends meet as an ingénue in the big city, Williams became a showgirl by night to attempt to make it as actress by day. It was evidently a far less graceful lifestyle compared to that of an actress, as Williams often performed in revealing clothes for the pleasure of men. Captured walking in the streets of New York, having coffee, reading in the privacy of her home to posing in front of the camera and in the backstage getting ready to go on stage, Williams’ life is documented in around 700 images, amounting to one of Kubrick’s longest narratives.
Her professional life is shown through shots of her either conversing or dancing with men or posing in front of the camera. These photographs that show her with company, emphasize the overpowering male gaze that is directed on Williams that signal to her profession and the tool that allows her to sustain her dreams in the big city. Kubrick captured Williams’ despair resulting from the hardships she faces perfectly in her demure expressions and often contemplative manner, from moments of leisure when she alone appears within the frame, much like the aforementioned Mickey. Perhaps the most intriguing photograph of Williams is the in-between public and private realms, where she is getting ready in the backstage in front of a mirror before her performance. Yet, Kubrick haunts this scene with a menacing stare and manner, with a camera in hand which is strategically lowered as he looms large behind Williams as she carries on preparing for the stage, seemingly unaware. Insinuating the voyeurism of the male spectator and the life of a showgirl – which is one that is under constant scrutiny of the male gaze due to the exhibitionist nature of the profession – is perfectly reflected here not only with Kubrick’s sinister placement at the back, intensely staring at Williams getting ready, but also with the mirror and the camera that appears to be subtly filming her below vantage point. Undeniably eerie, the genius of Kubrick lies in the blurring of the concept of the gaze. Perhaps a reference to Velazquez’s Las Meninas the subject of the photograph also becomes the viewer. The viewer is caught in the act of watching Williams in a private moment. Williams is caught between a crossfire of gazes as the camera directed to the viewer reminds us that we are also active voyeurs. The widened frame and the surrounding sense of mystery contributes to the filmic elements of this scene. It becomes evident that the running theme of the ‘unpublished’ spreads were harsh and forsaken reality of the city that Kubrick attempted to unearth and present to the wider public in the manner of Life magazine yet one that was often hindered by Look. This perhaps became a further push for Kubrick in the direction of cinema where he could tell his stories freely.
Look magazine also differed from Life in the sense that it aimed to show the ‘real’ lives of Hollywood and TV figures to instil the sense of normalcy around famous people, showing them both on and off camera. Yet, Kubrick still offered heavily staged photographs. Williams’ story was most likely swapped for a high-profile celebrity spotlight issue on Faye Emerson titled, Faye Emerson: Young Lady in a Hurry. Emerson was considered as picture of elegance, grace and intelligence. TV was on the rise and was slowly becoming a rival to radio and print. A Hollywood actress recently turned in to TV presenter, Emerson was regarded as ‘First Lady of TV’ and listed under ‘Top Female Discovery of 1949’ list, which, alongside her career switch, made her worthy of a cover story according to Look magazine. Emerson in this photographic series created by Kubrick for the August 1950 issue, is presented as joyful, both behind and in front of the camera: whether she is distributing autographs for eager fans, interviewed near the Plaza hotel, captured having a laugh with the society columnist Eleanor Harris, casually sitting for a portrait with a phone in hand making calls whilst also getting her hair done.
Emerson never ceases to smile in the photos despite her evidently busy schedule, forming part of Kubrick’s constructed story surrounding Emerson, promoting the busy yet elegant and content lady to aspire to, which the title clearly insinuates. In one photograph, Emerson is captured whilst getting ready in her dressing room. Kubrick uses the same style and framing with the mirror he used in the unpublished photograph of Williams backstage, placing himself behind Emerson with a camera, watching her whilst she’s getting ready. Yet the difference here is that Emerson is aware of being photographed by Kubrick and almost poses for him whilst getting ready to be on screen. Usage of a mirror cleverly conveys the duplicity of TV personas, and their elaborate yet fabricated self-creation for TV.
Very similar to Emerson’s profile was one created for Betsy Von Furstenberg. Furstenberg was the daughter of a German aristocrat and was also as an actress in New York. Another, ‘Day in the Life of’ piece, her everyday life was represented in a cinematographic and theatrical way in these photograph series by Kubrick. She is shown engaging in a variety of ‘serious’ and normal activities such as preparing for a role in her home, socialising with friends as well as silly moments from peeling a banana in a fancy restaurant to sleeping on the steps of the Plaza hotel next to John Hamlin. These pictures were featured in Look magazine’s spread from July 18, 1950 with the title The Debutante Who Went to Work. Photographs represent the juggling of day-to-day life with a highly glamorised one with comedic effect, evident from the awkward moments, humorous gestures, and facial expressions of Furstenberg. Whilst a more psychologically in-depth narrative was worked on for the earlier photographs of Williams was ultimately shelved, favouring a feature that was created around a lady that worked despite her aristocratic background. This shows the elegant façade that sought to represent life in New York City, with the gruesome realities of hardship were kept very deliberately hidden. A debutante that balanced life and work was one to be aspired to while a showgirl trying to make ends meet was one that was far too real and far less glamourous. Von Furstenberg’s story was about elegance, and, on the surface a light-hearted, innocent story of how to make it as an actress in the big city, despite being further removed from reality. The theatricality of the mimics and gestures of Von Furstenberg is in high contrast with that of Williams which almost insinuates the fabricated nature of this narrative and lifestyle.
Looking back at his brief time as a photojournalist in 1972, the director himself commented: ‘By the time I was 21 I had four years of seeing how things worked in the world. I think if I had gone to college I would never have been a director.’ Photographs such as these taken in the streets of New York put forward the theatricality of the city which Kubrick presented in his characters, personas and well-known faces that made up the city, delving into private lives of public figures, producing intimate and psychological portraits. Whether watching these figures from afar, standing in the crowd beside them or even in their private quarters, Kubrick always placed the viewer in the intimate world of his subjects. The photographs offered a genuine image of New York City, shining light on different lifestyles of those from a variety of backgrounds, showcasing moments that revealed the everyday routines of people from different classes, with everyone united in their common goal of attaining ‘The American Dream’.
The director’s final film Eyes Wide Shut (1999), set in New York, caused quite a stir in its exploration of the mysterious and dangerous sides of the vibrant city of New York, focusing on an elite cult. This suggests that the famous director was perhaps making a nostalgic tribute to his time as a young photojournalist in the midst of this chaotic city he found himself in, and the vibrant scenes he caught glimpses of with his camera as a teenage boy. Today, Kubrick is better known for his 12 feature films yet his strength in visual storytelling was implanted in his little-known early career as a photojournalist. It is evident that for Kubrick these early photographs, as Sean Corcoran (the Photography Curator at the Museum of the City of New York) stated, allowed him to master the art of framing the composition and opened his eye in different ways of seeing. Kubrick himself said: ‘Generally speaking, you can make almost any action or situation into an interesting shot, if it’s composed well and lit well.’ Kubrick’s genius seeps from his œuvre produced in his short time as a photojournalist, right on the brink of his career as a director.
By Ipek Birgul Kozanoglu
Albrecht, Donald; Corcoran, Sean. Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs, (Köln & New York: Taschen, Museum of the City of New York, 2018)
Mather, Philippe D. Stanley Kubrick at Look Magazine Authorship and Genre in Photojournalism and Film. (Bristol:Intellect, 2013)
As coloured photography started to seep into the pages of Vogue during the 1930s, it shifted the ways in which fashion consumers and spectators appreciated the dressed body. Simultaneous to this technological progress of fashion magazines was the modernisation and arguable liberation of the body itself. The first in-colour Vogue cover by Edward Steichen in July 1932 attests to this. Playfully raising a beach ball above her head, the model is sporting red swimwear with a white belted detail to emphasise her lean frame, and a white cap. Mirroring the colours of her ball, her vibrant body juxtaposes the gradated blue sky that upwardly intensifies behind her. This is an image of colourful contrasts; red stubbornly clashes with blue, white breaks up the composition, and even her shoes are two-toned. The depth of the colours evoke a sense of warmth and humidity. We can only hope to be transported to where she is and to look as chic as she does in a swimming cap. Perhaps buying Vogue will help get us there…
Although shot indoors in the studio using a 108-inch plate camera that Condé Nast insisted his photographers work with, Steichen’s lighting techniques evoke summer evening sun. This convinces the viewer that the model has spent an entire day of leisure and sport at the beach. The connoted low sunlight highlights the contours of the model’s armpits, her toned arms, wrist tendons, sharp elbows, the dents on her knees and the overall sculptural quality of her tanned body. The white segment of the beachball that orbits her athletic frame evokes a waning crescent moon, perhaps signalling that dusk is approaching. Her shadowed face creates a canvas of anonymity onto which the Vogue reader can project themselves. We can see that she is smiling in unapologetic enjoyment. Her averted gaze suggests that she is unaware of being watched, or even being photographed in an inorganic, staged setting.
Aside from a hint of feathery eyelashes, her body is totally hairless, stressed by the cap that protects her hair from seawater and the unrelenting sun. This evokes the smooth, marble-like texture of her skin. The primary colours evoke a sense of childish playfulness; this is a woman unshackled by social convention or responsibility. She embodies care-free leisure as well as women’s progressively and fashionably active lifestyles. Having been exposed to this vibrant image, it is hard to imagine what her body, or the overall composition, would look like in black and white.
Harper’s Bazaar’s swimwear editorial from June 1939 stands in stark contrast to the highly saturated cover of their rival Vogue. Shot in black and white, the models’ skin takes on the luminosity of classical marble statues. Unlike the evocation of the setting sun in Vogue’s cover, here we get a sense of bright moonlight illuminating exposed flesh. In the image on the left, a woman stands with her back to us, reflecting the pose of the statue situated in the centre of a pool within a secluded wood. This mirror-image establishes a direct connection between woman and sculpture, as if the touch of moonbeams has metamorphosised her from antique marble into living, breathing flesh. Her closed-off body language could suggest that she senses she is being watched in this intimate moment of midnight bathing. The article reads ‘five bathers beside the moonlit pool, four of flesh and blood, one of stone’, which heightens the idea of mythical transformations.
The model’s striped swimsuit takes on a silvery quality and the low scooped back exposes the gentle curvature of her spine. The image on the right depicts three more models poised tentatively on the edge of the pool. They resemble mythological nymphs bathing out of view of mortal eyes. Their poses are fairly natural; their bodies have not been manipulated to cater to the male gaze, perhaps explained by the female photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe and the predominantly female readership of Harper’s Bazaar. By presenting the female body at different angles, it offers a three-dimensional, sculptural appreciation of the body as well as a well-rounded impression of the swimwear. Their toned bodies highlight that these are active, modern women. There lingers a sense of seclusion and privacy through the implicit separation from the male gaze. Fashion magazines including Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar promoted exercise regimes linked to classical ideals of athleticism, which were often untaken in separation from men. This image potentially evokes this secure seclusion away from prying eyes. In this instance, even when women are depicted as active and exercising, they still retain a sculptural quality. Perhaps if this image had been captured in colour, it would imbue their statuesque bodies with vitality and thus reflect the cultural shift towards women’s more dynamic and active lives.
By Claudia Stanley
Rebecca Arnold, ‘Movement and Modernity: New York Sportswear, Dance, and Exercise in the 1930s and 1940s’, Fashion Theory, vol. 12, no. 3 (Oxfordshire, 2008), pp. 341–57, https://doi.org/10.2752/175174108X332323
SusannaBrown, ‘Introduction: Inventing Elegance’,Horst: Photographerof Style, exhibition catalogue, Victoria and Albert Museum (London, 2014), pp.11-21
Harper’s Bazaar, June 1939, New York Vol. 72, Iss. 2724