Written by Jacquetta Clark
Iconic. When something is truly iconic it feels like a moment. It feels memorable, like something worth photographing. At the Atlas Gallery, every image in their summer exhibition Style: Photography of Life and Fashion has that feel.
The Atlas gallery brings together some of the most iconic photographs from the last century in this exhibition. Think big-eyed Twiggy, elegant Jean Shrimpton, and young Kate Moss in all their monochrome glory, shot by some of the most well-known fashion photographers; Irving Pen, Eliot Erwitt and Eve Arnold. With all these icons in one room, hanging side by side, it is hard to pick a favourite. Although Horst P. Horst’s corset image is unforgettable, the hat profile by Bastiaan Woudt is one of the most impactful.
This exhibit has the energy of all the decades; dancing on tables, dramatic shadows, bold hats, and geometric shapes. These elegant and timeless fashion photos are only getting better with age. As the excitement and glamour of the last 100 years of fashion photography hang before your eyes, you wish you could jump straight into one of the prints and dance on the table with Kate Moss or join Faye Dunaway at her post Oscars breakfast.
Why is it that life seems so much better in black and white?
The Atlas gallery is a beautiful little space on Dorset street just by Regents park in London. Walk through their doors to enter a world of glamour and style documented by talented photographers.
As you enter this pristine white gallery, the monochrome flows around you. Black and white photos in black frames hang on white walls. Most of the photographs are colourless except for one or two shots that seem to blend in rather than stand out. The power of these black and white images is both mesmerising and captivating. Varying in scale, there are portraits with visible blemishes, even a little piece of fluff clings to a model’s eyelashes. This raw pre-photoshop beauty is incomparable to today’s photography. It is these little details that remind you of the talent of these photographers. Their unique eye, combined with the effortless beauty of their subject, result in the iconic photographs which hang at Atlas in this exhibition.
The first set of photos is a mosaic of tiny Frank Horvat shots. Their small scale is such a delicate invitation to the exhibition. All of these shots are fantastic, but the most eye-catching is the woman in the white Givenchy hat. In contrast to these miniature black and white shots, a large-scale colour portrait sits next to the Hovarts. Bold and larger than life, this Alec Soth portrait is so direct you feel dwarfed by the girl wearing a decadent headpiece. Alongside this is Arthur Elgort’s photo of Kate Moss standing on a table. She laughs down over us all while the men at the table look up with enchantment. The fun continues with Elgort as a fully clothed Stella dives into a pool for Vogue – hat, boots and all!
Along the wall leading to the floor below, there is a change in mood. The images shift towards a more artistic tone. Downstairs there are more intimate, erotic shots of both female and male bodies. George Hoyningen-Huene romanticises the male torso with his contrast-heavy images.
Lucien Clergue’s shots of vertical line shadow across a nude body are both trippy and tantalising.
Continuing the horizontal line, the William Klein photograph of a woman crossing at a crosswalk in Rome is busy yet defined. She is the shot. She holds a strong gaze on her path, while the woman passing her in a contrasting dress takes a second look. This glance caught on camera gives the subject an air of envy. As all this is happening a hasty moped splits the lines between them.
Also on the lower floor hangs one of my favourite portraits from the exhibition—a Lillian Bassman of the elegant, long-necked Jean Shrimpton in the 50s. Posed like a swan or a gazelle, this portrait is oozing with unmistakable femininity defined by shadow and curve. Beside Jean is the iconic Barry Lategan portrait of Twiggy shot in ‘66. This face-to-face portrait emphasises her short boy-cropped hairstyle and bold under-lashed eyes. This photograph is the face of the 60s.
From the 70s, Terry O’Neill’s portrait of Bridget Bardot is a contrast between masculine and feminine. The blonde woman’s hair blows across her eyes whilst a cigar hangs out of her mouth. Just looking at this makes you feel cool. A similar level of contrasting masculine and feminine is visible in Sam Haskin’s Cowboy Kate Gunbelt photograph. Her slim hips and curved waist weighed down by bullets. Like all good fashion images, I am somehow compelled to believe this is a great accessory for my wardrobe. Maybe without the loaded gun, however. In a more classical female style, Irving Penn’s Mermaid Dress shot of his beautiful wife Lisa Fonssagrives exudes her beauty and his talent. This photograph sums up the power couple. The Atlas Gallery also displays one of the most striking Penn images. The girl in the black hat with the netting over her face, Fashion with Handbag. Her pose and the direct stare make this compelling image so memorable.
On your way out, take a closer look at the Tony McGee car kiss shot. An image that should feel like a teenage dream comes across as more like an uncomfortable pry. Caught in the act by the camera, Kate Moss glares directly at you as her cheek is kissed by a young man, oblivious to us watching. For an awkward moment, as the viewer, you feel like you should look away. But don’t let this put you off, continue looking, and keep looking some more. Every image in this exhibition is so admirable that each view will reveal something even more impressive. I could spend the day walking around this gallery peering delightedly into each iconic scene. But instead, I take all this inspiration with me and hope one day people will look back at the next century and feel that it too was documented in such iconic allure.
Style: Photography of Life and Fashion – The Atlas Gallery London is on until the 20th of August 22.