New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

How do women photographers see their women subjects? That is the concept of a new exhibition through August 31 at Staley-Wise Gallery (100 Crosby Street) in conjunction with Magnum Photos, an exclusive artist’s cooperative owned by its photographer members (of which 12 of these photographers belong), now celebrating its 70th anniversary.

Newsha Tavakolian  — Portrait of Somayyeh, Tehran, Iran, 2014

I attended the show’s opening last night which features varied works from international photographers ranging from the 1930’s to present day in both editorial and advertising photography. Highlighted subjects as diverse as war, childhood, religion, sexuality and of course, fashion/style/celebrity illustrate the “complexity of the female experience.”

Toni Frissell, Woman with Two Dachshunds, circa 1940

Photographers included are Eve Arnold, Olivia Arthur, Lillian Bassman, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Bieke Depoorter, Carolyn Drake, Martine Franck, Toni Frissell, Sheva Fruitman, Isabella Ginanneschi, Pamela Hanson, Ruth Harriet Louise, Diana Markosian, Susan Meiselas, Sheila Metzner, Inge Morath, Genevieve Naylor, Priscilla Rattazzi, Christina Garcia Rodero, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Marilyn Silverstone, Newsha Tavakolian, Deborah Turbeville, and Ellen von Unwerth.


Naturally, I was most interested in the more fashion oriented shots — several of which are well known. Former model Deborah Turbeville’s Bath House series was quite shocking when it was first seen. Composed and photographed in a condemned NYC public bath house “it scandalized readers and critics alike when it was published in Vogue in 1975, due to what they regarded as its indecency and its dark, sexual overtones.” It was also variously interpreted as a paean to “Auschwitz and lesbians and drugs,” as Turbeville recalled. On a less provocative note, From the Valentino Collection, 1977, in Turbeville’s signature fuzzy, unfocused style is here as well. She published books on varied subjects such as Versailles and Guatemala and photographed a Valentino ad campaign one year before her death in 2013.

Rihanna, Berlin 2009 by Ellen von Unwerth

Also of note are several photos from Ellen von Unwerth such as Rihanna, Berlin, 2009 which was used for the cover of her Russian Roulette album; Fallen Party Angel, 2012, Bathing Beauties II, Paris 1992 and Mask: Nadja Audermann, VOGUE UK, Paris, 1991, all of which represent her recognizable photographic style. Von Unwerth got her professional start as the assistant of the knife thrower and the clown in the circus, later becoming a model and finally a photographer. Now known for the sort of sexy pictures of women that you can see here including several celebrities such as Sophia Loren and Penelope Cruz.

(L) Eve Arnold, Marilyn Monroe, Los Angeles, California, 1960, (R) Ellen von Unwerth, Penelope Cruz, Paris, 2003

Eve Arnold studied with Alexey Brodovitch in 1948, pursuing photojournalism around the world and becoming the first woman to join Magnum Photos in 1951. Her photos of iconic personalities of the 20th century include Marilyn Monroe who she photographed for more than 10 years. There are three photos of Monroe here from 1960, two of which feature her in the Nevada desert during the filming of “The Misfits.”

 Lillian Bassman, Black – With One White Glove: Barbara Mullen, Dress by Christian Dior, New York, Harper’s Bazaar, 1950

Lillian Bassman was also a protege of Brodovitch who was known for her career as art director for Junior Bazaar in the 1940’s. She experimented with printing processes, throwing out her negatives and then “re-interpreting” and manipulating them in the 1990’s to resemble charcoal drawings, recalling her early work as a fashion illustrator, as seen here in Black – With One White Glove: Barbara Mullen, Dress by Christian Dior, New York, Harper’s Bazaar, 1950.

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Liz Gibbons as Photographer, 1938

Louise Dahl-Wolfe published her first photo in Vanity Fair in 1933. Early on in her career she documented rural America, opened her own photo studio and became a staff fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. She was at the forefront in color photography in the ’40s and ’50s and was credited by Richard Avedon as one of his most lasting influences. Her works featured here are Liz Gibbons as Photographer, 1938 and Betty McLaughlin, circa 1940.

Toni Frissell, Two Models Drinking Coke, 1940’s

Toni Frissell was encouraged by Carmel Snow to pursue photography and she worked for both VOGUE and Harper’s Bazaar. She volunteered her services to the American Red Cross and became the official photographer of the Women’s Army Reserve and later the first female staff photographer for Sports Illustrated magazine in 1953. Her distinct and effortless photographic style in crisp black and white as well as her love for the sunlit outdoors, can be seen here in Woman with Two Dachshunds, circa 1940 and Two Models Drinking Coke, 1940’s.

Ellen von Unwerth, Carmin, Paris 2003

A theme that I detected while perusing several of the photographs was the focus on a woman’s mouth. From the Von Unwerth portrait of Penelope Cruz with a cigar, her Carmin, Paris, 2003 which shows a woman applying lipstick, to the Eve Arnold Marilyn Monroe in which she’s pursing her lips as if about to form a kiss, the aforementioned Toni Frissell Two Models Drinking a Coke, Sheila Metzner’s The Passion of Rome: Fendi, 1986 featuring a model nuzzling a David-like stone statue; Pamela Hanson photo of Bridget Hall raising a strand of spaghetti to her lips, and the Sheva Fruitman Nice Smile, New York, 2016 which features a woman’s teeth and lips; these are a few examples of what I perceive as a spotlight on the mouth.

Sheva Fruitman, Nice Smile, New York 2016

Perhaps, since these are photos by women of women, it can be construed as a reference to females finding their voices, rather than just the display of sensuality that might be conveyed if a man had photographed them. An amuse bouche or a mouth that roared? It’s all in the mind of the beholder but it originates with the female photographer and her female model.

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.