01 December 2014

Horst: Photographer of Style

For an exhibition to be entitled 'Horst: Photographer of Style', I realised that the photographer behind the exhibition must be someone with an astonishingly good eye for what looks good. Consider how many people out there would wish to claim ownership of that prestigious title, 'Photographer of Style'. 
I must admit that I was not familiar with Horst's work before I visited the exhibition at the V&A, and what intrigued me to learn more about Horst's work was not the prestigious accolade, but the stunning image used to advertise the exhibition. An image that made me stop and stare at the Underground poster whilst in a hurry to get home in the rush hour. The image (below right) depicts a woman in white sunglasses applying red lipstick, which may sound simple enough to execute. But it is an image of such, well, what it says on the tin, style. I needed to learn more about the photographer who could create such an iconic shot.

Left: Hat and coat-dress by Bergdorf Goodman, modelled by Estrella Boissevain, 1938
RightMuriel Maxwell, American Vogue, 1939

Entering the exhibition, the mood is set by a low lit corridor lined with what felt like hundreds of black and white prints. Socialites and It girls, Horst had contacts in high places. A picture of the man himself with Coco Chanel at a glamorous masquerade party was a favourite of mine. Each small black and white print is exquisitely executed. I love the way Horst used the fabrics of the dresses worn in the images, like satins and silks, to add a fairytale aspect to each print. A selection of beautiful gowns are displayed on mannequins at the head of the corridor. I can only imagine how wearing such a stunning dress must feel.

Turning left out of the corridor, you enter the rest of the exhibition. Only then can you realise how vast and impressive the collection of Horst's work is; the walls are filled with his prints. Interestingly, Horst worked with Dali for a number of images, and this surreal aspect feeds through the exhibition into all of his pictures. Nothing is quite what it seems, there is a dreamlike quality to Horst's style, encouraging the viewer to look again and again at each image and question what is out of the ordinary.

I particularly enjoyed looking at the collection of the many Vogue covers captured by Horst. They are fun fashion images, undoubtedly stylish. A favourite is a summery shot of a model with a beach ball (below left); who could look at such a playful shot without smiling? Horst certainly knows how to add the fun to fashion, whilst still retaining that Vogue level of chic.

Left: Summer Fashions, American Vogue cover, 15 May, 1941
Right: Mainbocher Corset (pink satin corset by Detolle), Paris, 1939

Whilst Horst is perhaps most celebrated for the immense number of Vogue covers he created, the exhibition still offers plenty for those who care little for fashion. Also displayed are Horst's images of the Persian Empire; incredible shots of the architecture of a lost culture. Just through gazing at the jaw dropping image of a huge Bull's head statue excited an interest to find out more about the people who could create statues of such magnitude.

A selection of Horst's still life work is displayed. Again, the playful and surreal element carries through. A close up image of a red cabbage and a mosaic style print of foliage made me look twice, questioning what it was I was looking at. 

Patterns from Nature Photographic Collage, about 1945.

There is a display and slide show of Horst's images of interior design, many from his own home. These are decadent interiors, mirroring the high society images and the subjects he was evidently mixing with at the time.

Horst not only worked well with the fabric of dresses in shots, but also the human form. There are a number of prints displaying the body in unusual and intriguing contortions. Some are with props that add a mystical edge, like a golden harp that looks like it belongs to a Greek God. 

Thus it came to register with me that by being named 'The Photographer of Style' did not mean simply a photographer of fashion. Horst's work has so much more to offer, skills that feeds into all his work, making him a worthy recipient of the title. The surreal, fun and intriguing undercurrent runs through all his prints, meaning it cannot be questioned that his sense of style transcends both fashion and time.

'Horst: Photographer of Style' is an epic collection, offering a whistle-stop tour through Horst's career. There are so many incredible images on display you could lose days examining his work. The exhibition offered the perfect introduction to Horst's unquestionably stylish work, and I left wanting to know more about the man behind the pictures. Horst evidently has a fascinating life story to accompany, which I learnt more about here.
I strongly urge you to visit this exhibition, whether you have an interest in photography or not. Hopefully you will come away as impressed and inspired as I have.

Words: Nicola Bligh
Images: © Condé Nast/Horst Estate

27 November 2014

Constable: The Making of a Master

What really struck me about this V&A exhibition is the personal aspect of Constable’s work.  The exhibition not only demonstrated his ability to transform the subtleties of the outdoors onto paper in intense & powerful sketches and oil paintings but also recreated the artistic learning processes that shaped Constable into ‘a Master’. A quote by Constable possibly summarises the work of this master most poignantly; ‘I should paint my own places best’. The exhibition starts with a film of various Suffolk and outer-London scenes. I felt that this interaction placed me in the position of the observer and in the mind-set of the painter. Like Constable, this exhibition allows one to observe moving nature and study the work of those who influenced his work. Although Constable’s later pieces produced for the Royal Arts Academy are considered his masterpieces, I favoured his quick studies of the Suffolk Landscape, probably made on a small piece of paper that rested on his lunchbox as he sat on the downs. For instance, Constable beautifully renders the low horizon in the sunset scene, ‘Dedham Vale: Evening’, 1802, as the red/orange lighting settles on the outline of grazing livestock and the rise and fall of the meandering hills.  Constable recorded this scene many times as he enjoyed painting places that he knew best; I felt a real sense of nostalgia and familiarity when looking at his oil sketches.

Dedham Vale: Evening, John Constable, oil on canvas, 1802.© Victoria and Albert Museum
Constable’s 1805 ‘Weymouth Bay and ‘Rainstorm over the Sea’, 1824-1828, were particular favourites of mine because both pieces capture nature’s every action so that the viewer feels a part of the environment itself.  Constable imitates the weathering and movement of light so meticulously that it is clear when Constable was painting this scene he was fighting against the elements, though this did not stop him. Constable does not just record what is in front of him but captures the scene’s transient nature. This skill was possibly taught by one of Constable’s artist peers who advised him to, ‘Always remember that light and shadow never stand still’. 

Rainstorm over the Sea, oil on paper laid on canvas, 1888 © Royal Academy of Arts

Weymouth Bay, oil on canvas, 1816 © Victoria and Albert Museum

Thomas Jones, J.M.W. Turner and Benjamin West are all artists that Constable studied and learnt from. I really enjoyed the fact that this exhibition gives the viewer the opportunity not just to see Constable’s final pieces but to gain a greater understanding of how these were produced. Through Constable’s ‘The Leaping Horse’ 1819-1825 series it was clear that his masterpieces were not just thought up in the spur of the moment but instead part of a lengthy process which attempted to produce the scene with all the dynamic of nature’s changing state. I really admire the work of Constable and feel that it is his revolutionary dedication to the places that he knew best and experimental study of the natural, experiencing all sorts of weather conditions whilst painting outdoors, that drove his mastery and influences the way that we now depict nature, in art. Outside on this sunny autumn afternoon, I saw scenes of silhouetted football players running across the common and clouds playfully moving across the sky, resting shadows on the grass, which were reminiscent of Constable’s work.  I felt I began to see my environment through a Constable-like lens.

Words: Leonie Rousham, 17

24 November 2014

In Conversation: Kerry Taylor and Claire Wilcox

Kerry Taylor Auctions specialise in antique vintage fashion and textiles. Its founder, Kerry Taylor, discussed her career and her passion for vintage fashion, accessories and luxury textiles with Claire Wilcox, the V&As senior curator of textiles and dress. She began by talking of how she started her career at the age of 19 at Sothebys Chester offices as a Junior Receptionist. Today Taylor is highly regarded as an historian, curator and leading auctioneer. Jo Banham, Head of Adult Learning at the V&A, describes how Taylor knows the age and value of items and is responsible for dressing the famous and the stylish and is known enigmatically as the farmers wife of fashion, surrounded by beautiful things.

Taylor described her inspirational career starting off with her progression through Sothebys from Receptionist to Cataloguer to Auctioneer and ultimately to Director. Taylor acknowledged how hard (it was) to make it as a woman in auctions yet despite this Taylor loved it and didnt care - (she) had fun with auctions as she felt she had a more relaxed approach to auctioning than the typical auctioneer.

The Kerry Taylor Auction House has 6 auctions annually, and produces catalogues which are of immense interest to academics for their research and detail.

Taylor spoke of how it was a source of pride  when she would see pieces that had passed through her auction house now being displayed in the V & A exhibitions, recognising the privilege of handling historically important items.  She discussed the qualities of a good auctioneer explaining the significance of knowing the subject, knowing the buyer and the importance of being fast, accurate, intelligent and fun.  Recognising that one of the joys of her career is to be always learning she went on to explain that technology, however, can often slow auctions down, describing that once a sale went on for five hours due to the slow paced nature of phones and internet.

Items with Royal Provenance have a particularly high monetary value and are of particular interest to the public and private collectors. Key items have included Princess Dianas taffeta dress worn in 1981 that sold for £192,000 and the notorious dress worn by Kate Middleton in the St Andrews fashion Show.  Another historical royal piece was the wedding suit of James II at his marriage to Mary Modena in 1673 which at that time of her sale was in perfect condition. 

Left: Princess Diana's Elizabeth and David Emanuel black taffeta dress
Right: Kate Middleton's see through dress at auction

Other significant pieces that have passed through her house have included those owned by Wallace Simpson and clothes that have been supplied for Downtown Abbey, The Royal Opera House and to costume designers for other productions and for the archives of fashion houses. Taylor spoke about her own all time favourite item, a Schiaparelli Zodiac Jacket which was highly embroidered.

The Zodiac Jacket From The Elsa Schiaparelli Zodiac Collection

Taylor suggests that Ungaro, John Bates and Zandra Rhodes are all highly collectible pieces whose monetary value is on trend. Whereas she would not consider items that are in poor condition, that have been associated with the Nazi Party and would be concerned about selling items associated with scandals, citing John Galliano as an example. Items from high street shops were also unlikely to make an appearance in her auctions, yet she recognised the iconic value of certain pieces, such as the 1960s Campbells soup dress and the difference between vintage and jumble commenting that the design aesthetic has to be paramount in her choices, design has to speak through the ages.

Taylor explained the labour intensive aspect of auctioning clothes, expressing the importance of cataloguing and the vigilance needed when sourcing provenance. Taylor acknowledged that economically they are not in the same league as contemporary art.  Her talk ended with her describing the relevance of condition reports and the importance of knowing ones buyers and how she looks at each piece separately, evaluating them for their design and craftsmanship as well as their context.

Words by: Grace Radford
Images courtesy Kerry Taylor Auctions

07 October 2014

Tim Walker: Fashion and Photography

Tim Walker is a British fashion photographer known primarily for his visually engaging work with Vogue, Love and W Magazine. Walker is particularly acclaimed for his extravagant staging and romantic daydream motifs. He has shot a wide cast of visually striking people globally including Lily Cole in Whadwan Gujarat, India (2005), The Huli Tribe, Papua New Guinea (2007), Alexander McQueen London (2009), Tilda Swinton in Edward James Daydream Las Pozas Mexico (2012) and Karen Elson and Atlas the Lion on a Velvet podium at Shotover House (2013). Walker is one of the most influential fashion photographers in the industry today known for creating magical moments of uncontrollable beauty.

Susanna Brown, V&A Curator of Photography introduced Tim Walker at the in Conversation event with fashion muse Amanda Harlech and actress Gwendoline Christie at the Museum on Friday 19 September. Walker discussed the diversity of his profession; emphasizing how every shoot is different and explaining how photographers intentions change and the essential need for them to react to the moment and let go of pre-conceived ideas.

Walker gained success early after graduating from Exeter in 1994 and he was just 25 when he had his first fashion shoot for Vogue. By 1998 he had his work in the V&A permanent collection. Walkers publication Storyteller (2012) acknowledges his unique influence on contemporary fashion photography. Most recently his work has been included in the international display at the V&A in 2014, Selling Dreams: One Hundred Years of Fashion Photography which showcased the work of masters such as Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and contemporary visionaries including Steve Klein, Corinne Day, Rankin and Miles Alridge.

Through Walkers conversation with Harlech and Christie the audience was transported through a time capsule of iconic images, with Walker discussing the relevance of location and the importance of context as he described each shot in turn. Below are details of some of those images discussed.

Kate Moss & Marlon Richards, Haughton Hall Norfolk 2012, Love Magazine, Balmain
The house had originally been the Sassoon family home and there was a portrait of Sybil Sassoon painted by John Singer Sargent. Walker described how details like these engage those involved with the shoot and transform the setting; the house became a box of romance for Kate Moss. Walker explained that before the shoot he had been researching and drawing inspiration from the work of John Cocteau, using the models to create a Beauty and the Beast narrative. (example of an image from the shoot)

Kate Moss reclining in Haughton Hall, Love Magazine, Givenchy
Walker explained the importance of being hypersensitive to the moment. Walker went onto make the comparison, acknowledging that photography is like the weather as light is uncontrollable. Although Walker spends a lot of time planning in advance, he explained that you need to have those plans to defy those plans and sometimes you [just] need to get on with it Walker explained that in order to progress one has to fall in love with the mood and states that emotion can be found in the quality of light.

Lily Cole & spiral staircase, Whadwan, Gujarat, India 2005, Stella McCartney, British Vogue
Stella McCartney based the design of the dress on the blue wallpaper, keeping the fabric in harmony with staircase. (image here)

Lily Cole in earthquake damaged room, Whadwan, Gujarat, India 2005, British Vogue, Prada 
Walker had originally seen the image in a tour book, but despite the earthquake damage he was floored by the beauty of it.

A homage to Cecil Beatons image of debutantes wearing Charles James Couture, London 2012, American Vogue
Walkers homage can best be described as a love letter to Beaton with paper.  Through the use of the stark white it can be thought of as the ghost of Charles James with its magic, mystery and other worldliness.  The naive use of materials also gave it a contemporary feel with contemporary inspired dresses made out of paper.

Kristen McMenamy floating in a tank, Eglingham Hall, UK 2013, W Magazine, Vionnet
Walker explained that often the photographers and collaborators would build their own narrative based on the model or location of the shoot. As Kristen McMenamys boyfriend is a famous art collector, the shoot was based on McMenamy being a piece of art. Her make-up was done in a pre-Raphaelite way and they played with her power in front of the camera.

Karen Elson and Atlas the Lion on a velvet podium, Shotover House, Oxford UK 2013, Love Magazine, D&G
Walker felt this image embodied the power and beauty of the animal.

By way of summation, through the event Walker revealed his perspective that the point of fashion photography is dreaming and transformation rather than selling. His diverse ways of working show that he is a photographer not to be forgotten in the 21st century.

Grace attended the Tim Walker: In Conversation event as a member of CreateVoice. To find out more about the opportunities with the V&A youth collective email create@vam.ac.uk 

Words by: Grace Radford
Image: © Tim Walker 

26 September 2014

CreateVoice Director's Meeting with the T/Shirt Issue

The most enriching and pleasurable way to discover works of art is when they are presented by the artists themselves. For our quarterly Director’s meeting, CreateVoice members had a great opportunity to meet the T/Shirt Issue, one of the V&A’s current Artists in Residence who revealed all about the synthesis of fashion, design, and technology in their new collection, inspired by their time at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Martin Roth, Director of the V&A, added a cherry on top by sharing his ideas on how such a collection contributed to the overall practice of the museum.

CreateVoice members at the V&A Residency Studios

This Berlin-based collective settled down in London temporarily after they were selected to take over the V&A Residency and work with the Museum's collections in order to come up with something inspiring and fresh for the visitors’ eyes, a link between the bygone and the modern times. The Residency Programme was a chance for the artists to escape from their usual working spaces and routine, and to become genuinely and absolutely absorbed by creating and implementing an art project over a sustained period of time.

Murat Kocyigit, Hande Akcayli, and Rozi Rexhepi are the creative minds that lie behind the T/Shirt Issue. All of them have graduated and have been working within the field of design and fashion ever since, building the philosophy and ideas behind the T/Shirt Issue around what they are doing. The main concept underlying their work is “to express a thought, a moment, a value or a fascination by translating technological evolutions into the aesthetics of a garment, turning them into narrative sculptures.”

Rozi Rexhepi from the T/Shirt Issue

We met Hande and Rozi, who introduced us to the residency studio they have been working in for six months, and listened to the story of how their project had happened. For this collection, the first thing to be done was to select Museum objects for scanning from the V&A treasures. Apparently, plentiful of options at the museum did not make the final choice very easy!

Perhaps the most immediate and visible achievement of the process emerged after finishing the 3D scanning with modern digital tool that, from a layman's perspective, looks like an ordinary camera attached to the computer. This camera and specialist software enables the designers to digitize and transform a subject into a three-dimensional prototype consisting of many triangles. It was then they gained the complete freedom to create, play, and shape the subject.

Following the scanning process, the printed and cut patterns were applied onto fabric and then the hand-sewing started. As one of the designers told us (really with the smile on her face), it required a lot of good energy, some volunteers and close-to-bleeding fingers!

Even thought the designers described and demonstrated the process step by step, we were allowed only to have a sneak peek as the final oeuvre is due due to be revealed during the London Design Festival 2014. The title of the final collection is Dream-Land. Which is rather inviting, but also tempting as we will finally get to see what we have heard so much about!

 The T/Shirt Issue are based at the Museum until October 2014. For more information on them and the wider Residency project visit http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/m/museum-residency-programme/
Words: Milda Batakyte
Images: © Victoria and Albert Museum

27 August 2014

CreateVoice hit Regent Street

In collaboration with Summer Streets, the weekly event hosted on Regent Street during July, the CreateVoice team and the Victoria and Albert Museum set up a pop up shop in central London on Sunday 20 July. With a fashion based theme for that week’s Summer Streets, the V&A continued celebrating their successful run of fashion exhibitions this year, namely Wedding Dresses and The Glamour of Italian Fashion, with a fashion themed shop and free Fashion Illustration workshops.   

The pop up shop was abundant with beautiful art books and merchandise commemorating the exhibitions, bringing the V&A shop to the streets notorious for high fashion. Understandably, it was popular with the crowds who were dedicating their day to a fashion extravaganza. As part of the pop up shop, CreateVoice were lucky enough to be joined by fashion illustrator, Stuart McKenzie, who hosted free fashion illustration workshops which were were open to everyone and ran throughout the day.

With the walls covered in posters displaying a range of his illustrations, from bold multi-media beauty illustrations to sketchy designs evoking the movement of catwalk models, there was plenty of inspiration. Stuart, who has worked for designers such as Vivienne Westwood, first encouraged the workshop to develop techniques to create a free and loose style of illustration. Asking us to forget perfectionism, we began by exploring different methods of holding our pens to create a series of sketches. He then progressed our illustrations by giving demonstrations, followed by a short amount of time for us to practise drawing with continuous lines and silhouettes. Stuart also helped us consider light and shade within our work.

With a range of people attending the workshops, from fine art students to engineers, we all soon grew more confident with layering and mixing media and methods. Continuing to look at form, we used fast strokes and lines to build up figures, a style Stuart described as often being used by illustrators who need to speedily sketch down designs as models parade down catwalks. This technique was perfect for using as a basis to then embellish with the large frills and dramatic cuts found in the world of haute couture fashion shows. To finish the workshop, Stuart taught us a couple of ways to illustrate fashion style proportions and add editorial style exaggerated poses.

It seemed that everyone who attended free classes thoroughly enjoyed Stuart’s workshop and found it to be a great insight in to how to develop a unique style using the techniques shown. The event proved to be a triumph, involving the Summer Streets audience creatively and reaffirming the V&A’s success in hosting some of the best fashion exhibitions of the year.

Words: Caroline Brown
Images: © Victoria and Albert Museum

For more information about getting involved with CreateVoice get in touch at create@vam.ac.uk 

20 August 2014

Disobedient Objects

Disobedient Objects, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s latest exhibition, opened in July to an audience eager to see how objects formulated and created for protest and political activism can be interpreted with an artistic stance. This wholly new directional exhibit for the V&A, focusing on social and political movements from the 1970’s to more current issues, explores objects and images which have played major roles in protest.

The objects on display were not all created for art nor would many of the exhibitors consider themselves artists, more often the objects were created in backlash, fury or for need of practicality. Although many these pieces are not produced as fine crafts, they create discussion and invoke emotional responses, as a lot of great artworks do. The objects become important pieces of art and history by the ways in which they raise and fight issues.

The exhibition itself creates a shocking impact, it walks you through a path of quotes from revolutionaries whilst the walls and ceiling are hung with protest signs, banners and large flags blazoned with statements of solidarity. The visitors are invited to take instruction leaflets on how to create a variety of protest objects, from lock-on devices to tear-gas masks made from plastic bottles. A vast range of materials are on display in the exhibition, folk art style embroideries are mixed with modern technology, such as the Flone by Aeracoop or an app game demonstrating against unfair labour. Simplistic and convenient design developed from recycled bottles and paper bags sit alongside high concept art pieces. 

One of the more conceptual objects, growing into a piece of iconic design, is the inflatable cobblestones pictured above created by the Eclectic Electric Collective (now Tools for Action). As curator, Gavin Grindon, noted during the press preview the cobblestones act in protest by undermining authority, creating a ‘surreal scene’ as the stones are thrown around and the riot police become engulfed by the over-sized objects.

With some of the pieces returning to the streets to continue to be used in protest at the end of the show, this exhibition is strung with current themes. As Grindon went on to say, the exhibition challenges the ‘stereotypes of what protest looks like’, of which it certainly does. Creating an eye opening and often harrowing display, Disobedient Objects successfully entwines the worlds of radical activism and art.

Disobedient Objects will be on at the V&A until 1 February 2015. Free Admission.

Caroline attended the Press Preview of Disobedient Objects as a member of CreateVoice. For more information on the CreateVoice programme contact create@vam.ac.uk

For a chance to meet the curators and hear more about the process of staging this fantastic exhibition, come along to our August CreateInsights meeting this Friday 22 August at 18.30 (more info here)

Words: Caroline Brown
Images: © Victoria and Albert Museum