This is a short review of a photography exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum, featuring images by prolific fashion photographer Horst P. Horst. The review was written for a competition run by the arts charity Ideas Tap.
The name Horst, may be unfamiliar to many, but while his name may not be familiar, the images by this prolific 20th century photographer will be recognisable to most. Having adorned the pages of Vogue magazine for much of the 20th century, Horst has had a significant influence on the west’s idea of contemporary beauty. One of his most iconic images, “The Mainbocher Corset”, was famously referenced in Madonna’s music video for the song “Vogue”.
The V&A’s extensive and varied exhibition gives a comprehensive overview of Horst’s work, as well as an insight into the man behind the camera. High fashion images intermingle with personal holiday photos. Some of Horst’s earliest professional photographs seem worlds apart from modern fashion photography; the simplistic set dressing and masterfully bold use of light and shadow creating images that have more in common with those of Caravaggio than Mario Testino.
After viewing these classically styled images, visitors are then treated to an insight into the process of getting these images from the photographer’s studio, to the cover of Vogue magazine. It seems that the obsessive pursuit of the perfect fashion image is not one that is exclusive to the modern era of ‘Photoshop’ and ‘airbrushing’.
Visitors could view examples of how Horst’s images had been re-touched by hand before being published. There were before and after versions of images with hand-written instructions on models’ faces, or retouching marks showing where waistlines were to be slimmed or eyelashes accentuated. It seems that rather than being a modern phenomenon, the editing of fashion images has been going on almost as long as there has been photography in fashion magazines.