Last week, the V&A Museum in London launched a retrospective of the work of the legendary photographer Horst P. Horst. (1906-99) In an extraordinary career spanning 60 years, his photographs appeared on the pages of Vogue and House and Garden under the singular byline; “Horst”. He was such a versatile and multifaceted photographer that there are 10 sections in this exhibit; Haute Couture, Surrealism, Stage & Screen, Travel Patterns From Nature, The Studio, Fashion In Color, Living In Style, Nudes and Platinum Prints. SO prolific was he, that even with 400 images in the exhibition, the curators say they could have easily produced five shows of the same size. Every one of his 94 Vogue covers is on view — but his work wasn’t only about fashion. He shot everything from male nudes (several of which have been lent by Elton John and David Furnish) to interior design and gardens, which he began to specialize in under the editorship of Diana Vreeland.
“Fashion is an expression of the times. Elegance is something else again.” –Horst, 1984
Horst was part of an artistic, collaborative crowd that in turn fueled his work. He was friends with Schiaparelli and Dalí and the Surrealist movement inspired him to put his own creative spin on simplest jobs. Asked to make an image for a Vogue nail-polish story, for example, he arranged models and mannequins’s hands for a picture that transcends mere illustration. His fashion work represented an creative departure from what had come before, and he could be a source of frustration for editors who just wanted him to show the clothes. I’m very familiar with his photographs, having worked for Vogue, House & Garden and Vanity Fair (we hired him at VF when his third act was in full-swing in the mid 80s), but I’ll admit that the true scope of his career somewhat eluded me. Avedon & Penn are often thought of as THE two primary 20th century fashion magazine photographers, but with this exhibit, Horst is nudging them over to secure a permanent place in the pantheon. The exhibition runs through January 4, 2015 at the V&A.