Fashion, Art and Photography
Nadine Barth is a journalist, author, gallery owner, philosopher and photography expert. While on the runway, next winter’s hot trends were being paraded, Nadine Barth was putting the final touches to the exhibition on the new fashion film and the making of the Autumn/Winter 2013 fashion key visual in the studio of the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week tent in Berlin. Between fashion show, dinner and preparing for the private view, she still found time to talk about the status quo of fashion photography in Germany.
Ms. Barth, how do you go about organizing an exhibition?
For the exhibition on the Mercedes-Benz Autumn/Winter 2013 fashion event, I selected the best 12 images out of a total of 40. I waited until the framed photos were ready in the gallery before deciding how to hang them so I could get a feel for the room first. Of course, that’s not always doable. When I’m organizing an exhibition with 150 photographs, like in the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg last year, I can’t wait that long to work out how to hang the pictures. I often have miniature models made of the exhibition space and the photographs, which I use to decide what to hang where beforehand. As curator, it’s my job to ensure that each image is given the space it needs to take full effect. I am the one who determines how the pictures should be framed, how high up to hang them, whether to give them a white border or use a spacer between the picture and the glass to give the photograph greater depth, or whether to use a passepartout.
The exhibition shows photos from the making-of featuring the photographer Ryan McGinley himself. Do the pictures still bear his signature?
Even if McGinley didn’t take the photos himself, they still reflect his own individual style. Even if his assistant presses the shutter, they are still his pictures. It’s like Michelangelo’s frescos – he let others do the painting for him, but it is still his work.
What makes the pictures so typical of Ryan McGinley’s style?
These pictures are somewhat less hazy than his work usually is. He often uses a slightly soft focus, and these pictures are razor-sharp. But the romantic vein is typical of his work. He uses a white horse as a motif to give the pictures a youthful, faraway, mystical feel. You often see that in McGinley’s photos, especially in his work with young people.
Do you see things in the photos that the untrained eye cannot?
The blue, the dark skies, the golden sand and the grass – the colors he uses are exceptional. To further enhance the mood of the photographs, I chose a special glossy paper. If you look at the pictures from the side, they almost look 3D – and that’s something that most people are not aware of.
How has fashion photography changed in recent years?
We’ve moved on from the era of shock photography, characterized by Benetton’s advertising images, for example, or heroin chic which was fashionable in the early 1990s. Photography nowadays is no longer simply about telling a story, capturing the zeitgeist or portraying personalities, but more than that, it also has to enchant.
Is that what draws you personally to fashion – the sense of magic it creates?
Fashion reflects the spirit of a certain period. It shows us something that really exists in our society, and pictures of fashion allow us to hold on to that. Fashions come and go; the styles that we wear today will no longer be in our closets tomorrow. But fashion photography is here to stay; it allows us to take a little bit of eternity with us. It is something that endures.
Do you value fashion photography more than fashion itself?
To be quite honest, I am much more passionate about fashion photography than I am about fashion. I prefer a classic look – a good cut, beautiful fabrics, I like wearing suits, but they don’t have to be the latest fashion.
Do you collect photography?
Yes, but only in moderation.
What do you mean exactly?
There are two ways of collecting. Sometimes I see a picture that makes my heart beat faster, and I just have to have it. Other photographs I buy specifically because I know they will appreciate in value. I also advise other collectors, so I have a pretty good idea of how things develop.
Fashion photography is not something you often find in galleries and museums in Germany. Does the idea of driving a movement forward as curator motivate you?
Yes, of course. I co-founded Germany’s first gallery for fashion photography. The Berlin gallery Camera Work then took our ideas to a professional level. It not only displays vintage work, but also contemporary fashion photography. Just what we are now doing with the gallery Contributed. And the museums are following suit. In 2012, for example, the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt am Main put on a major exhibition entitled Not in Fashion, explaining the creative force behind fashion photography. CO Berlin recently showed pictures from Condé Nast’s archives in its exhibition Timeless Beauty, showcasing over 100 years of fashion photography. It made it clear just how important the genre has become over the years.
Is fashion photography taken more seriously nowadays?
Definitely. When we opened our first gallery some ten years ago, we mainly met with incomprehension. People asked us, what is fashion photography doing in a gallery? It’s not art! But we argued that fashion photography is art if it creates something enduring and takes the styles and tastes of a particular era to the next level.
And do people believe you today?
There is generally more interest in photography nowadays. Twenty years ago, you rarely found it on the art market. If you go to a major fair today, whether Art Cologne or Art Berlin Contemporary, you can’t miss how important photography has become. The medium is hugely popular – and more photography in general means more fashion photography too.
So it doesn’t mean that Germans are more interested in fashion in general?
Germans still have a problematic relationship with fashion. There is a small scene that loves photography, including fashion photography, and is interested in fashion. But by and large, this interest hasn’t caught on yet.
What is the best fashion image of all time, in your opinion?
That has to be Dovima by Richard Avedon from 1955.
Dovima was a model at the time. In the picture, she is wearing a black-and-white Dior dress designed by Yves Saint Laurent when he was still very young and worked as an assistant for Dior. The image brings everything together: The composition is accomplished, the model is in a perfect pose between the two elephants; what’s more, the whole idea is modern, because in those days, photo shoots were almost never done outside the studio. This photo of Dovima, however, was taken outdoors and is still captivating today. It is timeless, yet it captures the time in which it was created and tells a story.
Susan Sontag once said: “To photograph people is to violate them.” Do you agree?
No, especially not nowadays, when everyone is constantly taking photos of themselves or being photographed. If that was really violating, then people wouldn’t do it. Anyway, that would make Susan Sontag a masochist, because Annie Leibovitz accompanied her up to her death and took lots of photos of her.