(Germany, United States of America 14 Aug 1906 – 18 Nov 1999)
24.5 x 19.2 cm image; 35.7 x 28.0 cm sheet
‘Chanel used to say, ‘If a woman walks into a room and people say, “Oh what a marvellous dress,” then she is badly dressed. If they say, “what a beautiful woman,” then she is well dressed.’ The girl must look like a person. The dress and makeup and hair are only to help.’ Horst P Horst 1980 1
Horst P Horst studied architecture at Hamburg’s Kunstgewerbeschule, a school of applied arts under the direction of the Bauhaus’s Walter Gropius. After a brief period at Le Corbusier’s atelier in Paris in 1930 he turned to photography. His first exhibition in Paris was favourably reviewed by Janet Flanner, the Paris correspondent for the ‘New Yorker’, which brought him to the attention of Condé Nast. In 1932 he was apprenticed to George Von Hoyningen-Huene at the Paris ‘Vogue’ studios. He became chief photographer in 1934, when Hoyningen-Huene left to work for ‘Harper’s Bazaar’, and divided his time between the Paris and New York studios before settling in New York on the outbreak of the Second World War.
Horst responded to the influence of Hoyningen-Huene’s cool classicism by developing a more ornamental style which often incorporated surrealist effects such as exaggerated shadows, disembodied heads and limbs, and distorted perspectives. The impact of surrealism is evident in ‘Barefoot beauty New York’ 1941 (AGNSW collection), in which the model’s hands and feet appear to grow out of sculpted feet. This image combines Horst’s intensive studies of classical sculpture and poses with the surrealist fascination with mannequins and body doubles. The surrealist interest in the play between reality and representation is also apparent in Horst’s pictures-within-pictures, such as his advertisement for Cartier jewels (‘Helen Bennett Cartier jewels’ 1938, AGNSW collection). Horst describes this as one of his few consciously surrealist compositions,2 yet it seems more Hollywood with the exceptional lustre of the pearls and fabrics highlighted by Horst’s trademark lighting. Like this shot taken for a ‘Vogue’ cover of supermodel Muriel Maxwell reflected nine times in a mirror, 'Helen Bennett Cartier jewels' is an image about images and about the fashion photograph’s creation of illusions of reality. Further heightening the sense of luxury is Horst’s use of platinum palladium printing which provides a great range of subtle tonal variations, especially silvery greys which enhance the sheen of skin, fabrics, jewels and fur.
1. Horst H P 1980, ‘Fashion: theory’, ed C Di Grappa, Lustrum Press, New York p 71
2. Tardiff R J & Schirmer L 1991, ‘Horst: sixty years of photography’, Rizzoli, New York p 12
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
Judy Annear, Discipline and Beauty - women, fashion, photography, Sydney, 1997.
Nicola Teffer, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Fashion and celebrity', pg.169-187, Sydney, 2007, 179 (illus.).
Discipline and Beauty, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 28 Jun 1997–17 Aug 1997