Analemma: Fashion Photography 1992-2012 by Viviane Sassen at the Photographers’ Gallery

Viviane Sassen Gone with the Wind, Zuiderzee Museum, 2008 © Viviane Sassen Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Viviane Sassen
Gone with the Wind, Zuiderzee Museum, 2008
© Viviane Sassen
Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Viviane Sassen In Bloom, Dazed and Confused, July 2011 © Viviane Sassen Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Viviane Sassen
In Bloom, Dazed and Confused, July 2011
© Viviane Sassen
Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Viviane Sassen girl in sand, Sol & Luna, 2009 © Viviane Sassen Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Viviane Sassen
Girl in Sand, Sol & Luna, 2009
© Viviane Sassen
Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Dutch fashion photographer Viviane Sassen (b. 1972) presents a decade of her editorial fashion campaigns, blown up large in vibrant full-colour and striking monochrome images, in a continuously moving stream of projections looped in 45 minute durations onto the walls and floor of Level 5 of The Photographers Gallery. This sculptural installation disturbs the viewer’s expectations, and toys with notions of reality and fantasy through the use of cleverly-angled mirrors, lighting, unusual viewpoints and repetitive music, all of which unnerve our habituated sense of being in the world. This is fitting for the title, Analemma, an astronomical term that denotes a figure eight-shaped curve used to map the shifting position of the celestial sun in the sky at the same every day from the terrestrial Earth.

Viviane Sassen Biotope, Purple Fashion, Spring/Summer 2004 © Viviane Sassen Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Viviane Sassen
Biotope, Purple Fashion, Spring/Summer 2004
© Viviane Sassen
Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

The 350 playful, inventive and enigmatic images bring fashion photography back down to earth by employing a series of barely-concealed tricks (at odds with the extensive post-production prevalent in much 21st century fashion advertising) – a limb out of place, a short depth of field, a filter over the lens, a splash of unexpected body paint – to render the human form unusual, but unequivocally human. This is an interesting point to remember in light of many of Sassen’s fashion photographs, such as her 2008 series Flamboya, which captured models and subjects from Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. As a white Dutch-born photographer, who spent much of her childhood in Kenya, it might be easy to read into these images a power imbalance that bears the spectre of colonial legacies. Yet a closer look at Sassen’s images easily evades such a simplistic narrative. There are too many visual nuances (in the forms and shapes that conceal, reveal and demand interaction from the viewer) and collaborative elements with the subjects (in the unexpected layering of bodies, gestures, expressions and textures) to qualify any restrictive categorisations of her work. Analemma is a must see show that highlights the liberating ways in which fashion photography constructs fantasies, plays with our expectations and re-thinks physical expression across the globe.

Viviane Sassen Untitled, Carven, Spring/Summer, 2012 © Viviane Sassen Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Viviane Sassen
Untitled, Carven, Spring/Summer, 2012
© Viviane Sassen
Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Viviane Sassen Corpus Electra, Acne Paper, Spring 2012 © Viviane Sassen Courtesy of the artists and The Photographers’ Gallery

Viviane Sassen
Corpus Electra, Acne Paper, Spring 2012
© Viviane Sassen
Courtesy of the artists and The Photographers’ Gallery

Analemma: Fashion Photography 1992-2012 by Viviane Sassen was at The Photographers Gallery from 31 October 2014 to 18 January 2015

Fashion and Commerce: An Overview of Edward Steichen

Edward Steichen (1930)

Edward Steichen, Marion Morehouse and unidentified model wearing dresses by Vionnet, 1930.

Focusing on the aesthetic innovation of Edward Steichen during his tenure at Condé Nast, a conference hosted by the V&A, substantiated Steichen’s progressive image of fashion photography and portraiture that was at all times corresponding to a particularly American brand of identity. The collaborative conference was organised and held in light of recent exhibitions at the Photographers’ Gallery, In High Fashion: The Condé Nast Years 1923-1937 and Inventing Elegance – Fashion and Photography 1910-1945 at the V&A. Speaker and co-curator of the Photographers’ Gallery exhibition William A. Ewing provided the best summation of Steichen’s vision as distinguished from the trajectory of other contemporary photographers such as Cecil Beaton, Martin Munkasci, Gerge Hoyningen-Huene and Horst P. Horst. By establishing the ‘metaphoric bridge between old and new’, Steichen facilitated the pivotal shift that allowed photography to escape the confines of documentation and broach the new frontier of the crossing between art and commerce.

The photographer’s role in becoming both the ‘maker and producer of art’ is particularly evident in the Vogue photographs throughout the ‘High Fashion’ exhibition, at once uniting the medium that casts a modern spotlight on refined simplicity and clarity, with the literal spotlight on the designs themselves, such as those by Poiret, Lanvin, Vionnet and Schiaparelli. The imbued value system that negotiates the space between fashion image as art, and fashion image as function, attests to what Alistaire O’Neill terms a ‘buttonhole complex’, in order that the consumer is clearly able to see each and every detail of the garment that is not corrupted or enhanced by photographic embelishment. In this light, the prominence placed on the reassurance of craftsmanship is symptomatic of the social insecurity intangible with new deal America, whilst at the same time responds to a conscious call for quality and truth, which the photographs stand to demonstrate exist in America. As a result, the total fashion image constructs an outlet that transforms ideals into reality, therefore strengthening, if not re-constructing a modern identity.

As has been explored, a dominant theme throughout both the High Fashion exhibition and Inventing Elegance conference, is the way in which Steichen’s photography functions under the duality of an explicitely ‘American’ and ‘Fashion’ framework. The exhibition presents photographs from Vogue alongside those from Vanity fair, clearly distingushing the image of both publications via their respective preoccupations, thus fashion imagery and portraiture. It could be argued therefore, that the role of the consumer that the fashion image relies upon is perhaps not as instrumental to the role of portraiture, as the commercial value is not intrinsic to it’s existence as art.

The portraits of Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong and Mexican-American actress Armida Vendrell however call into question the commercial value of identity. In a room full of sportswear signalling the ‘American woman’, both subjects are presented in attire emblematic of their heritage, that even though born and raised in America, assume the identity of ‘other’. It is for this reason questionable whether the presentation of exoticism is itself a function of commerce that much like their roles as actresses invariably sells a foreign identity to an American audience, thus replicating the role of fashion imagery, or whether the photographer is relying on such social understanding of foreigners, in order that those who do not immediately fit the confines of an American look are deemed viable subjects of beauty befitting a public portrait.