Face of Fashion
National Portrait Gallery, London WC2, 15 February-28 May 2007, T: 020 7312 2463 www.npg.org.uk
a pubic triangle (Kate Moss trussed up with a silken cord). In contrast Corinne Day prefers the ordinary and everyday: stealing candid moments from her sitters. The originator of heroin chic, after that infamous 1993 Vogue
fly specimens pinned against a white wall, or trapped in space, their body movements restricted. But both Penn and Avedon were masters of psychological revelation. Can fashion portraiture really teach us anything new about ourselves (apart from the fact that we would never fit these size-zero clothes)? Interestingly it is Steve Klein's campy, theatrical tableaux that seem to reveal the skull beneath the skin. All portraits are lies, he insists. Klein never tells subjects what to wear or how to pose. Instead they dream up a 'performance' together. In 'Domestic Bliss', Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie 'impersonate' the perfect 1950s American family. She lolls on the bed in a negligee, he is watering the garden. It's sexy and iconic, and yet something is not right with the image: the couple's relationship is visibly fraying. You could read a great deal into these photos: except the sequence was Pitt's own idea, and shot on the set of the film, Mr & Mrs Smith. What's fascinating about Face of Fashion is how little interest the photographers seem to have in clothes. Yes Klein chooses his beading, drapery and ripped tights with care, and Sorrenti 'props' his models with chic dresses and suits, but there is nothing to make you swoon. Here skin, not cloth, is the truly voluptuous material. Because this is a show all about the face. Day's extraordinarily raw black and white headshots of Kate Moss have already caused a sensation. Shot close-up, sans makeup, they break every style rule. At 33, Moss is too old, seemingly too human with her wonky nose and imperfect teeth. And yet, as this show proves, no one embodies the brilliance - the sheer bloody insouciance - of great fashion better than she does. ••• Liz Hoggard 01 Natalia, Paris 2002, Paolo Riversi, Egoiste No.15 02 Kate’s Flat, 1993, Corinne Day, British Vogue 03 Doll, London 2006, Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott
'But you can't see the clothes!' What fashion virgins we were back in the 1980s, when the Face and I-D pioneered their edgy, new brand of portraiture. We poured over blurry pictures of hems and sleeves, trying to work out who the designer was, and gasped at the dishevelled-looking models (would anyone actually buy clothes that made you look like a heroin addict or a rent boy?). Twenty years on, we're all far more fashion-literate. And what's significant is how edgy portraiture has spilled over from the editorial in magazines to the adverts themselves. Even the major couture houses are happy to rough up their models, to show smeared lipstick and greasy hair, in the name of authenticity – and of course to stoke the twin fires of sex and consumption. Twenty-first century fashion is a game played out by god-like photographers and stylists, with a cast of thousands just like any Hollywood film. And the relationship between snapper and model is the most intriguing of all: celebratory, but exploitative, intimate but utterly commercial which begs the question: who is selling what to whom? Billed as the first exhibition to celebrate the innovation and diversity of current fashion portraiture, Face of Fashion takes five A-list fashion photographers off the magazine pages and puts them in the white-walled art gallery. Experts in digital manipulation, Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott (who shot the Jennifer Lopez Louis Vuitton ads)
shoot with Moss, Day loves her trademark grimy locations, bedsits where sofas, curtains and bedspreads are as important signifiers as the clothes. There's nothing passive about these girls. Gawky and androgynous, they return the viewer's gaze full-on. Paolo Roversi uses traditional studio techniques and stage lighting to create sepia portraits, with a nod to Julia Margaret Cameron. Some images are fragile and unbearably beautiful, others expose the model to ridicule (how could he put a curvy Juliette Binoche in stockings and a shrunken polo neck?). The good news is the show isn't full of supermodels flogging handbags. But just occasionally it feels empty, souless. You long for a portrait photographer like Nan Goldin or a Diane Arbus, who actually has something to say about society. Goldin isn't a complete purist (she has shot for Vogue and W), but she drags real life in kicking and screaming. There is nothing wrong with Hollywood fantasy, per se. Mario Sorrenti subverts Hitchcock's glacial blondes with style – and the show includes a wondrous shot of Catherine Deneuve splayed across the forest in a fur coat just because she felt like it. But one also senses a whiff of hatred for female bodies. Performance artist Shannon Plumb is trussed up for 12 hours, so her skin becomes a map of livid lacerations. And why is Lauren Hutton posed naked and almost deformed, while the male talking heads (Jean-Luc Goddard, Jasper Johns) retain their dignity? Of course the 'sitter as victim' is not a new idea. The show's curator, Susan Bright reminds us that both Irving Penn and Richard Avedon treated their subjects as butter-
specialize in glamorous, constructed images of femininity. And yet there's something cold about their work. They are fascinated by woman as doll. Sometimes the only visceral, living detail is an eyebrow (Jennifer Connelly) or a fringe, or
© Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott
© Paolo Roversi
© Corinne Day
Barnes & Noble
Find out more information on this title from the publisher.
Sign in with your Exact Editions account for full access.
Subscriptions are available for purchase in our shop.
Purchase multi-user, IP-authenticated access for your institution.
Register for digital access using your print subscription details.