Fashion forward

Weekend Glitz | Katie Hung 25 Jan 2019

Fashion photography is about selling products, but for all that, the role of the genre goes beyond disposable commercial imagery - as shown by photo exhibition Beyond Fashion.

It's all about creating beauty, said Nathalie Herschdorfer, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Le Locle, in Switzerland, who is curating the Hong Kong exhibition at ArtisTree in Taikoo Place, Quarry Bay.

"If you think about paintings and sculptures, for centuries, we try to create beauty in an artistic form, and fashion photography is exactly what it does. They belong to the same history," she said.

Fashion images are usually seen in magazines or smart devices, which gives them a temporal quality. But this doesn't mean they're inferior to other forms of art.

"It is what it is," Herschdorfer said. "Magazine images are constantly being replaced - and that is different to the art world, where we don't produce works that are meant to be replaced. We try to create work that would withstand the test of time."

For a long time, fashion photography meant skinny blondes. But Herschdorfer believes it's evolving, and photography is finally ready to bring in other kinds of beauty, citing Kim Kardashian as an example.

Though not as thin as British model Kate Moss, the voluptuous reality TV personality has been on the cover of Vogue.

"Photographs can introduce new ideas, and celebrities and photographers have a role to play in opening up other forms of beauty in the fashion industry," Herschdorfer said.

The art historian stressed that not everything created for fashion photography is art. Yet, some photographs do speak more than the products themselves.

"There are many bad images that you can forget right away. It's fine. But we need to consider all the different works in the field, like commercial photography. Advertisements are also part of what we should look at."

Pointing to a photo by German photographer Peter Lindbergh with models protesting for peace, she said: "It says something political, but it's still an image created for commercial and for the fashion magazine, Harper's Bazaar."

The photographic specialist found fashion photography has left an impact in our lives, in a way that we might not realize.

"We should examine these images carefully because they belong to culture. So in that sense, I was interested in it as a historian, or a photographer," Herschdorfer said of her interest in fashion photography.

She curated another exhibition - Coming into Fashion: A Century of Photography at Conde Nast on the 100-year development of the industry seven years ago.

Herschdorfer points out the idea of fashion photography being overlooked in art circles is changing, with museums like the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, allotting space for fashion design and photography.

"American photographer Irving Penn was working for Vogue, and he was paid to create fashion photography. Now, he has large exhibitions at The Metropolitan Museum of Art," she said, noting that more and more fashion photographers' work are shown in museums.

Young American artist and photographer Erik Madigan Heck is one of the photographers at the Hong Kong exhibition.

He showcases work for fashion label Comme des Garcons - which will be part of the Hong Kong display - and it is published in The New York Times Magazine to accompany the launch of Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo's exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The local show, running until February 24 at ArtisTree in Cambridge House, Taikoo Place, curates more than 100 fashion photographs and videos from a total of 48 photographers.

Familiar faces such as Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham, as well as advertising shots from high-end fashion houses, including British photographer Nick Knight's work for the Alexander McQueen spring/summer 2010 campaign showcasing the claw-like armadillo shoes, can also be found.

The exhibition, with free admission, brings a multi-sensory experience, with an optional dinner inspired by the works available at HK$2,640 per person.

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