It’s taken most of a century, but outstanding examples of fashion photography are being celebrated as an art form, not just a creative commercial enterprise. Two new extensive Los Angeles exhibitions powerfully prove the point.
In “Capturing the Catwalk: Runway Photography from the Michel Arnaud Archive” at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum, the art of runway photography gets its due.
More than 100 of Arnaud’s prints, slides and magazine layouts illustrate the life cycle of style as seen through the New York-based photographer’s lens. More than 40 garments and accessories from the FIDM Museum Collection are paired next to their runway photos. Together, the clothes and images document the changing global stature of fashion in the late 20th century.
Every season from 1970, when Arnaud began as British Vogue’s runway photographer, to 1997, he followed fashion from Paris, Milan, London and New York.
“Everything has changed,” he said during a tour of the exhibit. “In the ’70s, they would do a little fashion show, and it was very intimate,” but as rebels such as Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler presented bolder styles, the presentations grew larger and more dramatic too.
Most of the clothes “aren’t elaborate costumes that were one-offs that were great for a photo shoot but you would never order as a client,” said FIDM Museum curator Kevin Jones. “That is something that, I think, is lost today as well. So much of what ends up in the magazines is the most extreme, and it actually never makes it into the store.”
The show also documents pre-digital fashion photography. Throughout his nearly 30 years as a catwalk photographer, Arnaud used film, which required complex logistics: Motor-scooter couriers to ferry rolls of film to labs, followed by late-night editing and shipping original frames of slide film to editors. Though digital photography is faster, cheaper and easier to manipulate, it doesn’t capture film’s nuances of tone and color, a difference that’s revealed in a wall of portraits of models such as Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Tyra Banks and Carolyn Murphy.
Inside the gallery, a light table spread with sleeved slides and a large magnifying glass allows visitors to experience editing film, a now-obscure skill.
“We have to explain to our students what film is,” Jones said. The museum staff has been working nearly two decades to digitize the 189,000 slides Arnaud donated in 2000.
“Each slide has to be cleaned and scanned, and it takes about five minutes per slide because we digitize them at the highest level available,” Jones said. The school is making the archive available to students and other scholars.
“Capturing the Catwalk: Runway Photography from the Michel Arnaud Archive,” open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday through July 7, FIDM Museum, 919 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Admission is free.
“Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography, 1911-2011”
At the Getty Museum in Brentwood, the exhibition “Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography, 1911-2011” illustrates how fashion absorbed and reflected social, cultural and historical changes, making it an important artistic barometer.
The art form “is at the intersection of two historically marginalized mediums, fashion and photography,” said Paul Martineau, associate curator of photographs at the Getty Museum, who also curated the exhibition. In 2010, he began actively expanding the museum’s collection, aiming to stage a comprehensive survey.
“I didn’t want the show to be filled with pictures easily recognizable by everyone. I wanted it to contain a few surprises,” Martineau said. Of course, there are iconic images from Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Lillian Bassman, Peter Lindbergh, Man Ray and Herb Ritts.
“I realized that rather than have a show with a full gallery of Penn and a full gallery of Avedon, it would be much more instructive and surprising to our visitors if I included some of these underrepresented people in the show. I ended up with 89 different photographers,” Martineau said, including 15 women (some of whom had to adopt less gender-specific names to earn acceptance during their careers).
In addition to securing loans from galleries, estates and foundations, Martineau scoured the costume collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for complementary fashions, including a Chanel flapper dress and a distinctive Alexander McQueen skirt suit.
Though the images are powerful in their own right, a hefty, 368-page exhibition catalog adds to the scholarship with thoroughly documented and illustrated chapters on the medium’s evolution, which continues at a blistering pace.
Today’s fashion photographers “tend to call themselves image makers. They don’t practice like fashion photographers did in the past,” Martineau said, adding that his hope is that the exhibition inspires and accelerates further scholarly inquiry.
“Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography, 1911-2011” exhibition runs from June 26 to Oct. 21 and is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday through Aug. 31; the museum is closed Mondays. The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. Admission is free.
For fashion news, follow us at @latimesimage on Twitter.