Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Muses in the Museum

"To deal with the crowds following Twiggy during her first shoot in New York, in 1967, the photographer Melvin Sokolsky had hand masks made of her image for the fans to hold up on cue. It was a way both to acknowledge Twiggy’s celebrity and avoid seeing other faces."

In today's New York Times (nope, haven't canceled yet) Cathy Horyn has a thought-provoking review of the Met's new exhibition Model As Muse: Embodying Fashion. The show, which opened Monday night with the Costume Institute's behemoth annual fashion binge known as The Met Ball, explores models' roles in "projecting, and sometimes inspiring, the fashion of their respective eras."

A section of the exhibition. Photography Sara Krulwich/NYT

While the premise of the exhibition is valid and even overdue, and I look forward to checking it out for myself, from the outset it was clear that even the slightest missteps in curation could collapse the show into extreme vapidity (same goes for this blog, I should add).

Met Ball partygoers

Leave it to Cathy Horyn to smash it apart and pick up the pieces. Her review is full of great one-liners and bits of information, but one of the most interesting points comes toward the end, when she notes that "What goes unaddressed is the change from film to digital photography, and how that affected sittings and the dynamics of the photographer-model relationship."

Jean Shrimpton. Photography Richard Avedon.

I am not one of those people who thinks of the film-to-digital evolution as inherently "bad" or "good" – I think it's just "different" – but Horyn's point is a good one, and previously overlooked as far as I can tell (or at least overshadowed by the more common complaint about digital photography: that you can never believe what you see). With film, it was possible for a shoot consisting of only a photographer, a model, a stylist and an art director to produce iconic results; with digital that is also true, but in my experience, digital shoots for magazines or campaigns often come with large teams of technicians, and there tends to be a lot of stopping and starting and reviewing on-set. The process is different and that has fundamentally changed the interaction between photographer and model. Horyn had the presence of mind during the mayhem of the Met Ball to discuss this with veterans such as Marisa Berenson, Lauren Hutton, Twiggy, and Carmen Dell'Orefice, and you can listen in here.

I don't read much about fashion, or at least not much that is very interesting, but I always learn something new from Cathy Horyn. She's extremely sharp and witty in her own way, and as fashion critic for the Old Gray Lady, she is both in the mix and above it all. Read her review of Model as Muse here.

Related, from a recent issue of WWWWD, which New York magazine is calling the fashion version of The Onion:
Authoritative Cathy Horyn Blog Impossible To Disagree With, No Matter How Hard You Try

By Ruth-Ann Horsen

Cambridge, MA. —
“What Cathy says, goes,” said Job Korby Jr. “We’ve always known this, but only now have we begun to understand it.” Over the next three months, Mr. Korby, 33, a senior research analyst at MIT, will lead a team of 30 graduate students in an effort to investigate the phenomenon called “The Horyn Factor.” Cathy Horyn’s infamous New York Times blog, “On the Runway,” a compulsive read for fashion professionals, is known for its ability to make—or, more often, break—decade-long careers. It is rumored that after a recent post dismissing the entire premise of Ralph Lauren as “outdated and out of touch,” a single tear struggled down one of the designer’s cheeks. Research, however, has been slow. “Control groups that haven’t read the blog seem to adopt Cathy’s opinion as soon as a laptop is introduced within a 500-yard radius. We’re finding it difficult to even engage researchers in scientific debate, so absolute is the power of our subject matter, that is, her blog.”
Read WWWWD's May 5th Met Ball Special here.

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