Edward Steichen and Viviane Sassen Pioneering Fashion Photographers: New London Exhibitions

The Photographers’ Gallery presents two major exhibitions of work from artists and pioneering fashion photographers, Edward Steichen (1879 – 1973, USA) and Viviane Sassen (b. 1972, Netherlands). Despite working in different eras and countries, both photographers share similar formal concerns. Each can be said to have significantly affected the aesthetics and expectations around fashion photography, playing a key role in developing it as a significant art form.
The two exhibitions are presented independently and designed to reflect Steichen and Sassen’s individual styles while offering parallels between the two artists’ modern and contemporary treatment of form, texture, light and shade. Fashion photography has been in existence since the beginning of the medium’s history with the earliest recorded publication from influential French photographer Adolphe Braun who showed 288 plates of Viginia Oldoini, Countess di Castiglione, in official court costume. However it only became a serious endeavor from 1909 when publishers Condé Nast took over Vogue magazine for which the production of high quality, art-directed images became an integral part of its success.
Edward Steichen was already an internationally celebrated painter and photographer when in 1923 he was offered the lucrative and high-profile position as chief photographer at Condé Nast.  The appointment allowed Steichen to develop his artistic  interests in shape and form, composition, perspective and chiaroscuro to elevate  portrait and fashion photography to a new level.  He borrowed from a range of aesthetic movements including Impressionism, Art Nouveau and Symbolism to develop the characteristic Art Deco style.
Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, The Condé Nast Years 1923 – 1937 has its UK premiere at The Photographers’ Gallery this Autumn and presents over 200 vintage prints many on public display for the first time since the 1930s.  Bringing together work across fashion and portraiture, this special presentation marks the period when Steichen was working for Condé Nast on their two most prestigious publications: Vogue and Vanity Fair.  The exhibition offers a rare opportunity, not just to witness a key period in history but also to gain insight into the photographers’ distinctive approach.
Presented alongside In High Fashion is Analemma: Fashion Photography 1992  – 2012. This is the first London exhibition from Viviane Sassen, one of the leading figures working between contemporary art and fashion photography today.
This exhibition features approximately 350 images presented in the form of an immersive installation. Known for her experimental approach to image-making, Sassen has conceived a multi-media presentation involving two individual video feeds of scrolling images incorporating mirrors and projections which shift across the space. Through this dynamic display, Sassen aims to disorientate the viewer’s gaze and in turn disrupt their preconceptions about what a fashion photograph is.
Image credits left to right: Edward Steichen, Actress Mary Heberden, 1935 (Vogue, March 15, 1935), courtesy of Condé Nast Archive, Condé Nast Publications, Inc, New York/ Paul Hawryluk, Dawn Lucas and Rachael Smalley. Viviane Sassen, In Bloom, Dazed and Confused, July 2011 © Viviane Sassen, Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery.

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