August 14, 1906– Horst P. Horst is another photographer and another gay artist. Celebrating the birthdays of Horst and Herb Ritts within 24 hours is an embarrassment of artistic photographic riches.
I would give myself a grade of B- as an artist. I can draw and paint with more skill than most civilians. I can place objects in a space with smart aesthetic judgment and my gardens have been artful enough to have been published several times. Although I take many pictures and receive a bunch of Likes on Instagram, I could never be a real photographer because I would never be able to master the nuances and mechanics required for a 35mm camera and darkroom, and that’s because I am an idiot. Thankfully, because of digital photography and my trusty iPhone 5, I am now able to take photographs that are not out of focus or without some interest. Remember taking your film for processing and paying $12 to discover that only five of your 24 photos had turned out and one of those was of your thumb?
In the history of 20th century fashion and portrait photography, Horst’s contribution is among the most artistically significant and long-lasting. He had an active career from 1931-1991. He would become so legendary that like only a few other Gay Icons: Cher, Madonna, Liberace; he is known by just a single word name. Horst’s work is the epitome of elegance and effortless glamour.
In 1930, Horst met Vogue photographer Baron George Hoyningen-Huene, a Russian, and Horst became his photographic assistant, model and lover. With blond hair and a trim, muscular body, Horst was an ideal male model. He traveled to England with the Baron where they visited photographer Cecil Beaton, who was working for British Vogue. In 1931, Horst began his own association with Vogue. His first photograph in French Vogue was published that year.
Horst had his first show of photographs at La Plume d’Or in Paris in 1932. It was reviewed by gay writer Janet Flanner in The New Yorker and Horst was made instantly famous. Horst shot a portrait of Bette Davis the same year, the first in a long series of celebrities he would photograph during his lifetime. In 1932 alone he shot: Noël Coward, The Lunts, Cole Porter, and Elsa Schiaparelli.
Horst met Coco Chanel in NYC in 1937. Chanel:
“Horst was the queen of the whole thing”.
He would photograph Chanel’s creations for the next 30 years.
After they moved to Hollywood, Hoyningen-Heune became obsessively jealous over Horst’s success which resulted in an ending to their relationship. With the Baron out of the picture, Horst began an affair with Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti. When that relationship fizzled, Horst hooked-up with Valentine Lawford, a British diplomat, in 1938 and they lived openly as a couple until Lawford’s passing in 1991. The couple adopted and raised a son, Richard J. Horst, together. This was in the 1930s!
Horst was born as Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann, in Germany. In 1941, Horst applied for US citizenship and he soon joined the US Army. He became an Army photographer, with much of his work printed in the Armed Forces’ magazine Belvoir Castle. In 1945 he photographed President Harry S. Truman, and they became fast friends. Horst photographed Truman’s wife Bess and then shot every First Lady of the post-war period, always at the invitation of The White House.
In 1947, Horst moved into a house of his own design in Oyster Bay, NY. The white stucco home was inspired by the houses that he had seen in Tunisia during his love affair with Hoyningen-Huene. It was furnished with the help of his pal Chanel.
In the 1960s, encouraged by Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, Horst began a series of photos of beautiful high society types: Consuelo Vanderbilt, Marella Agnelli, Gloria Guinness, Baroness and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Princess Helen of Greece, American princess Lee Radziwill, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Doris Duke, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. They were collected in a book with text written by Lawford.
In the 1970s, Horst spent most of his time traveling and photographing. He began working for House And Garden as well as for Vogue and he did cover shots of noted gay A-Listers and #BornThisDay favorites like Andy Warhol, Yves Saint Laurent, and artist Cy Twombly.
Horst’ career reached Old Master status when the most famous person on the planet, Madonna, created her celebrated hymn to classic fashion photography with her monster single Vogue in 1990. In the video directed by David Fincher, she poses in a recreation of Horst’s most iconic fashion image, a model seen from behind, wearing a partially tied, back-laced corset made by Detolle.
Horst knew and photographed most of the major figures of the 20th century. He left this incarnation at his home in Palm Beach when he was 93 years old, a nice age to make an exit, unlike Herb Ritts, who was taken away when he was way too young. Horst lived a life creating beauty while fiercely, openly gay. That is a life well lived.
“Fashion is an expression of the times. Elegance is something else again.”