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Horst, the architecture of light

The history of fashion photography has its beginning in maestros who from the beginning understood photography as an art project, independent of the rigid dictates of advertising. Without doubt, we should start with one of the greatest fashion photographers, Horst. P. Horst. Being born into a German bourgeoisie family, the maternal influence made him interested in art already from a very young age. Many of his photographs have become fundamental references of a world, a moral and a time.

His most iconic photo, Mainbocher Corset, shows “the intellectual world of Horst” in addition to being a statement of intentions. The intimacy in the pose, highlighted by a magical light that illuminates the back in shadow, is part of the staging. Fruit of the artistic influences of the female nude seen from behind, from Ingres to Man Ray, decorated with an atmosphere of subtle eroticism make Corset Mainbocher a style lesson in photographic culture and place it in a timeless place. The photo taken at four o’clock in the morning in 1939, after a long sitting, illuminates the blonde model with the corset undone, manifesting the night and availability.

Horst lived the years of the elegant hedonism and forgetful attitudes; a generation of men and women of talent with aristocratic ways that created and produced some of the most enduring portraits of fashion history. In fact Horst coincides with the change of Vogue when the publisher Conde Nast wanted that the magazine would not only mark trends but also be the guide and brain of its time.

Photography replaces illustration and Vogue publishes an extraordinary issue with texts of the great writers of the time (Hemingway, Aldous Huxley, Colette) mixed with the cutting edge eyes of photography: Man Ray, Steichen, Hoyningen-Huene, and with that mix they managed to filter the spirit of  its time.

Horst is an accomplished illusionist who carefully studied the works of art from the Louvre to recreate, in the few square meters of his photo studio, a work in which the light was a material substance, almost equal to the emotional atmosphere of a painting. The famous portrait of Chanel was reluctantly taken in that small studio instead of at the Ritz but the result was a more elusive and therefore more mythical photo. The curve of a wonderful chaise longue which belonged to Madame de Pompadour, in the background a baroque maze of leaves and bunches of golden wood grapes and the white face of Coco is definitely an inimitable portrait. The photographer recalled the moment saying that they dreamed together.

From his multi-faceted vision Horst documented the changes in fashion and clothing for more than half a century. Some of the key elements came from the inspiration he found in broader creative horizons that prevented him from understanding the picture outside the continuous relation between inputs and knowledge.

As a privileged artist Horst was able to combine the unique intersection of the arts, creativity and experimentation – art, architecture, literature, fashion, theatre, dance, and cinema-. He studied architecture with Le Corbusier, learned fashion photography with the great G. Hoyningen-Huene known as the “Baron of Vogue” and he learnt about to the world of cinema through the eyes of Visconti. He lived on both sides of the Atlantic in the thirties, around the “monde de Paris”, the world par excellence. His friends were part of the pantheon of illustrious names. His portraits are topographic surveys of lives.

These were the years of splendour of the elegance, in the hands of forgetful and aristocratic hedonists, when a generation of talented men and women created the return of total abstraction of reality. In fact, he discovered a new beauty in freedom, coherent and dynamic, reflected in the art of portraiture, fashion, design and advertising. A lifestyle.

“It is the people, not the theories of a period that seduce us” said Horst.

Many of his photos have become an iconographic inventory of his time.


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