Fashion in the Mirror

It’s taken me ages to write my critique of the Fashion In The Mirror exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery which I saw during my whirlwind day of action last Thursday. Truth be told, I wasn’t that taken with it but for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts.

Fashion In The Mirror is a small photography exhibition curated by the people behind the Hyeres Festival. The blurb promises this exhibition will ‘undress the theatre of fashion and question the creation of perfect beauty. Revealing the fashion industry’s secrets and undermining its glamorous illusions, the photographers in this exhibition create work that exposes this world from within.’ The exhibition charts how over the decades, fashion photography has chosen to document itself more and more. In the 1950s, photographers panned out Wizard-of-Oz-style to reveal some of the paraphernalia of the shoot itself – Lights! Colorama! Crew (how dapper the crew were in those days)! I love this fold-out cover of Harpers Bazaar.

By the ’60s we were seeing the photographer himself in action, adding to the energy and ‘Blow Up’ spirit of the time. The ’60s also saw the ‘model as personality’ come to the fore as witnessed in Twiggy Parade by Melvin Sokolsky – similar to William Klein’s recent Karl Lagerfeld shot for Harpers Bazaar, no? And come the nineties, the designer became the focus of the shoot as well as the clothes on the model while the noughties was the turn of fashion editor as model, as evidenced by ‘Anna Wintour’ in French Vogue.

Much as I enjoyed the visuals, I didn’t feel the exhibition fulfilled its potential – it just didn’t excite me. The Photographers’ Gallery is a small space, perhaps that’s the problem. An exhibition that suggests it will reveal the inner workings of the shoot (because that’s what ‘exposes this world from within’ suggested to me) would really benefit from some added value – Polaroid books, notes, contact sheets (remember those?), retouching equipment – to complement the framed works. Kooky as it was, the umpteen-page Steven Meisel ‘Models In Rehab’ shoot, displayed in a long glass cabinet, didn’t quite cut it for me. Criticism aside, it was a good excuse to take in some beautiful photography and subject-wise it’s interesting to note how fashion photography seems to have become more fascinated with itself.

The good thing about the Photographers’ Gallery is its diary of events. To complement this exhibition, there is an evening discussion with the curators Raphaelle Stopin and Michael Mallard, photographer Jonathan de Villiers and Penny Martin from Showstudio on Tues 2nd September at 7pm. Now that will be worth attending.

Fashion in the Mirror, 18th July -14th Sept 08, Free