Magazine article Artforum International

"Zeitgeist Becomes Form." (German Fashion Photography)

Magazine article Artforum International

"Zeitgeist Becomes Form." (German Fashion Photography)

Article excerpt

The ritzy aloofness that once pervaded fashion photography is gone. Taking its place are the Springtime-for-Hitler, Toys-'R'n't-Us Guignol of David Levinthal's fantasy images and the purported Rent realism of Nan Goldin's careless mode. As politically correct journalists admonish fashion for its pursuit of flawless beauty, fashion photography has shifted from dream to psychosis.

"Zeitgeist Becomes Form: German Fashion Photography 1945-1995," cu-rated by F. C. Gundlach, a former fashion photographer, observes the baleful transfiguration in German fashion photography in particular. Especially early on, there are genuine highlights in the show, like Willy Maywald's outdoor photographs of Christian Dior in the late '40s. Maywald, the House of Dior's official photographer, offers these as black and white testimonials to the designer's Venus of Willendorf optimism. Other postwar joys are Paris Vogue photographer Regi Relang's chic, Surrealism-inspired photographs of Elsa Schiaparelli and Jacques Griffe dresses. The dissipation, however, grows more decisive in the show's most recent photographs. Relang's Jetsam, 1952, is one of the early signal examples of the tossed-off rag-doll aesthetic. Here Emilio Pucci straw hats seem to be washed up like beach forms at Capri as an ungainly model rises improbably from the terrain of hats and sand with outstretched arms as Venus-meets-the-Scarecrow. Short on both optimism and joy, this aesthetic confuses a staged dishevelment with insouciance. Charlotte Rohrbach's Preparations for a Fashion Shoot, 1950, seems to presage today's off-the-catwalk verite, with an angle of Zoe Leonard oddity. The models are observed from above, applying lipstick and combing their hair, with the clothing of the forthcoming shoot still a motley pile on a ledge and the Volkswagen prop a dressing room more than a vehicle, festooned with miscellaneous soda bottles and two shoes on the roof.

Similar impulses - to make strange, to subvert conventional notions of fashion - lie behind such recent images as Ellen von Unwerth's deliberately vulgar Water Bed, 1996, its postmodern Olympia a splay-legged woman in black pumps set in a sleazy ivory bedroom environment of intense kitsch. Likewise, von Unwerth's fusion of Scrooge McDuck and a Larry Flynt fantasy in Robbery II, 1996, throws a bejeweled model on a bed covered with money. …

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