Herman Landshoff at the Fashion Institute of Technology June 18-July 27, 2002. The first-ever retrospective of German-born photographer Herman Landshoff (1905-1986) includes work from the 1940s and ‘50s, and is full of images of fresh-scrubbed, healthy young women in cashmere sweaters, tartan skirts and smart overcoats. They roller skate, ride bicycles and leap in the air; they grin toothy grins and jauntily carry books across campus while other enthusiastic co-eds look on. By today’s standards, Landshoff’s esthetic seems quaint and almost impossibly down-to-earth for fashion photography. In his time, however, he was trailblazing uncharted territory by using moving (as opposed to posed) models and natural lighting, creating a fresh look that came to be associated with postwar optimism.
|Landshoff worked in Paris for Femina and Paris Vogue prior to World War II, and moved to the United States in 1941, where he continued his career mostly at young women’s magazines, namely Junior Bazaar and Mademoiselle. But it is, and should be, Landshoff’s use of motion for which he’s remembered. This is true even in an architectural photograph of two stark, austere skyscrapers. Ethereal, wispy clouds float in between a pair of severe, linear edifices, caught in a precious, fleeting moment. Another photograph of three ladies wearing hats and sitting in chairs in the cloisters has, as its focal point, one elegantly raised, white-gloved hand.|
|Landshoff often had his models dump baskets of things—confetti or tennis balls , for example—to enliven a composition. He had his muses wave the fabric of their dresses in the breeze, creating billowing backgrounds for their bodies; he photographed swimmers underwater, limbs flailing and hair floating. Two images of brides reveal Landshoff’s subtle understanding and intentional use of gesture to convey meaning. One shows a young woman, by herself, in a bridal gown, looking directly at the camera—standing stalk-still—as if in a daguerreotype taken to memorialize the momentousness of the day. Another shows a couple gleefully leaving a church: the groom happily hops in the air while the bride smiles and whirls around with glee, her dress spiraling around her.|
|Although Landshoff worked in color, his forte was clearly for black-and-white photography. A mellow yet austere, nearly monochrome gray background of street and skyscrapers, for instance, offsets an image of two women dressed in black. Landshoff had supreme awareness of how the stripes of a shirt or the lines of a bridge would visually play off of the angles of a shoulder or haircut. And, such depth of understanding design made Landshoff an ideal photographer of clothes. He had the confidence and talent to give the detail and texture of a well-crafted garment center stage, sometimes refraining from his own artistic flourishes.|
|Landshoff also produced an impressive body of non-fashion photography, making portraits of several of the intellectual and creative establishment of the day. Among those on view are Albert Einstein, with innocent eyes and wrinkled skin; Oppenheimer, next to a chalkboard beautifully loaded with equations; and a much-reproduced image of the artist Louise Nevelson, smoking, with rings of kohl around her eyes. Landshoff also photographed other major photographers of his day, heavy-hitting peers including Irving Penn, Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Weegee and Richard Avedon. Like Annie Lebowitz does nowadays, Landshoff concentrated on minor details physicality, dress and environment. While these are obviously formidable personalities to be reckoned with, a sense of intimacy makes them seem accessible and real.|
|FIT’s archive of Landshoff’s work, with more than 3,500
vintage prints, books, and magazines, is a veritable embarrassment of riches.
That only 65 photographs are on view here is the only disappointment. One
wishes they’d packed the gallery walls floor to ceiling, salon-style, as
the opportunity to see Landshoff’s oeuvre very well may not come around
again anytime soon.
|Sarah Valdez is an associate editor at Artnews Magazine. She lives in
New York City. Read her other recent reviews:
First Assistants Show;
Extreme Beauty: The
Body Transformed exhibition at the Costume Institute and the
Guy Bourdin photo
exhibition at the Pace/MacGill Gallery.
Daily NY Fashion Blog