Sunday, September 27, 2009


It's not a well disguised secret that the art of fashion photography is a collaborative endeavor. The final image is the result of a team of artists each contributing their expertise to what is hopefully a stunning, transformative photograph. The list of participants involved in any single image is long, including models, lighting assistants, set designers, fashion stylists, hair stylists and retouchers. In my estimation one of the most crucial artists of all is the makeup artist.

Each contribution is essential and must reach for perfection but none more so than the "maquillage".
Perhaps it's the human inclination to search the face first, before taking in any other visual information. When encountering a photograph I arrive at a multitude of aesthetic opinions at once but my eyes always lock on to the face, searching for clues to emotional communication. Delight, wonder, joy, sensuality, loneliness, fear are all communicated by the most imperceptible contraction of the eye or mouth and enhanced by the splendor of the makeup artist's work.

While there are a plenitude of talented makeup artists working today, none stand above "the little mouse" Topolino. Arriving in Paris at 19 years old from his native Marseille during the creative explosion of fashion photography in the mid 1990's, he quickly climbed the daunting fashion heights, working for magazines like The Face, Arena, Interview, I-D, and Vogue. His photographer collaborators include Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Jean-Paul Goude, Mario Testino, Pierre et Gilles, Bettina Rheims, Thierry Le Goues, Raymond Meier and on and on.

A genius with accessories, he can manipulate human physiognomy  to create fantastical transformations that go beyond mere beauty and tap into  a mixture of mythology and cartoon pop culture. Butterflies, feathers and beads of glass are just some of the items in his kit to aid his flights of fancy. He practically defined a style of makeup that is copied to this day.

Topolino is still in top demand for his makeup skills. In 1995 he was honored with a show at the Musée de la Mode. His book Make-Up Games was published by Assouline in 2002.



Thursday, September 17, 2009

John Hinde (1916-1998)

Consider the lowly postcard.  So simple, yet able to achieve a complexity of functions all at once. An inexpensive means of correspondence used to communicate a message both written and visual. The postcard also serves to promote a business, vacation spot or perhaps even a piece of art.

In the late 80’s I used to frequent an establishment called Quantity Postcards in North Beach, San Francisco. A large open space with two facing walls covered from floor to ceiling with racks of Postcards. Every type of imaginable image was represented – scenics, portraits, illustrations, sports, paintings; all of human activity condensed to 3 x 5 bits of cardboard. It was a glorious visual overload.

Unable to afford costly hard bound catalogs of the painters whose work I admired so fiercely I instead collected their postcard reproductions. When I travelled to museums across the US or Europe I always made sure to visit the museum store before leaving to collect my souvenir postcards.

Which brings me to a rather obscure photographer (to Americans at least) that single-handedly conquered the Postcard trade in Ireland and the UK. John Hinde was perhaps an unintentional artist. His main objective was to create images for mass consumption. He created his own business, John Hinde Ltd. in 1956 to facilitate the printing and distribution of his photographs through books and postcards.

John Hinde was born in Somerset County, England to an Irish national mother and was raised as a quaker. Pursuing amateur photography at an early age by 1940 Hinde had conquered the difficult tri-color carbo printing process developed by Paul Outerbridge. He fervently believed in craftsmanship and insisted on the  finest color reproduction possible. Throughout the decade he worked on several books including some on horticulture where he struggled to match his meticulous color prints to the means of mechanical reproduction available for mass market books at that time.

During the war he utilized his passion for photography making pictures for the British Civil Defence Organization. This work was later published in a book entitled Citizens at War - and After 1945.


By wars end Hinde was ready for new endeavors. In 1944 he photographed a circus to make pictures for his book British Circus Life. The circus bug had bitten and for the next ten years he participated in his own circus life, first as a manager and then owning his own circus troupe until 1955. It was during this period while traveling with this troupe that he first experienced Ireland. He made several scenic photographs depicting the wild, natural beauty of the Emerald Isle. Opportunity had struck again. He began his postcard business, catering to the tourist trade, illuminating the allure of his adopted new home.

Prior to World War Two color photography was still a difficult process, both costly and labor intensive. It was not easily accessible to the amateur photographer. But by the wars end color photography’s moment had truly arrived. Inexpensive color film stock had finally arrived on the market. The stark, black & white, blitzed and bombed British Isles were primed for a new era of optimism and freedom best represented by vibrant, exciting colors.

Hinde was famously quoted as saying “the lily has to be gilded”. He felt that the scenics must adhere to his rigorous definition of photographic composition. He had no problem rearranging his landscapes by adding plants or tree limbs to the foreground  or perhaps wiring stalks to force their shapes into a pleasant symmetry. He wasn’t so much recording nature but reinterpreting it to match the tourist’s heightened memories.

In the late sixties Hinde began working with Butlin Holiday Camps producing postcards advertising these low-cost working class vacation camps dotted throughout the UK. At this point he relinquished much of the actual shooting to a group of hired photographers and supervised the reproduction of the images still holding to his aesthetics of bold, vivid colors.

In 1972 Hinde sold his business and retired to a life of landscape painting. While he never had much regard for his own photographs as “art” he nonetheless was honored with a retrospective show in Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Art in 1993.

I leave you with one final quote from John Hinde – “I had this sort of vision thing, of the top of the ladder when I was at the bottom, of fantastic colour photographs that I had never seen and that nobody else had ever seen and my whole aim was all the time how to get there, how to achieve it. You ever visualize Heaven?”


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969)

I’ve spent my entire life on the prowl in used book stores. Hungry for all those endless words and magical pictures. I was certain that someday they would all stack up to a transcendent meaning. It was both an act of faith and a decadent pleasure. Every trip up and down the musty aisles provided me with new vistas into my imagination. 

It was during one such journey through the remainder photography section that I came across a stark image on an oversize soft-cover book entitled The Art Of Vogue Photographic Covers: Fifty Years Of Fashion And Design.

The powerful, startlingly simple cover depicted a face erased; with only a beautifully colored eye, a perfect arched eyebrow, pouting ruby lips and a black mole like a punctuation mark. The disembodied elements floated on the cover in perfect balance. I had to know more about the photographer who created this 1950 cover for Vogue magazine.

It turns out that Erwin Blumenfeld, the creator of this iconic image had a legendary career that began in his Amsterdam leather goods shop in 1932 with photo collages depicting the heinous evil of Hitler and Nazism. Born in Berlin to a Jewish family he emigrated to Amsterdam after serving as an ambulance driver in World War One. He participated in the Dada movement as a painter and writer and had befriended George Grosz and John Heartfield, also renown for his photomontages mocking Hitler.

In the late thirties he moved to Paris and circulated with the Surrealist artist’s of the day including Man Ray. He began shooting for many magazines including French Vogue and Votre Beauté. At the start of World War Two he was interned in a French concentration camp. After his release he moved to New York and began to shoot for Harper’s Bazaar.

Experimentation with darkroom techniques was key to Blumenfeld’s oeuvre. He utilized solarization and  superimposed images to remove the subject of his photographs from any object reality. He often utilized mirrors to refract and reflect light which amplified the subject, creating repeating patterns. Deconstructed in the manner of the cubists, shards now stand in for the whole, fragmenting reality. The psychology of the image becomes the photograph's intent.

His masterful use of color was a key ingredient to his success as a fashion and fine art photographer. He often employed a subtle tone on tone choice of color that could focus the viewer on the photograph's geometry.

His constant experimentation with color and form has influenced a generation of contemporary fashion photographers including Paolo Roversi, Javier Valhonrat and Nick Knight.