Beyond Fashion: Erwin Blumenfeld at Somerset House

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Chesterfield cigarettes advertising photograph circa 1956. Model Nancy Berg. Erwen Blumenfeld.

Chesterfield cigarettes ad photo circa 1956. Model Nancy Berg. Erwen Blumenfeld.

In what’s fast becoming London’s outstanding photography space, Ashley Jouhar reports on the latest Somerset House show – the cool, sexy, elegant, avant garde, mainstream, graphic, Fashion image-making of Erwen Blumenfeld

Who?

Photographer Erwin Blumenfeld (1897 – 1969), who with Conde Nast’s Alexander Liberman created some of the most memorable, pioneering, and still unsurpassed fashion imagery.

Variant of photograph published in Look magazine, 15 October 1958. Model, Bani Yelverton. Erwen Blumenfeld.

Variant of photograph published in Look magazine, 15 October 1958. Model, Bani Yelverton. Erwen Blumenfeld.

What?

Blumenfeld Studio: New York, 1941-1960 on until September 1 at Somerset House, London. 

The 'Women Serve' cover for Harpers Bazaar July 1943. Erwen Blumenfeld.

The ‘Women Serve’ cover for Harpers Bazaar July 1943. Erwen Blumenfeld.

Decisive Moment?

I was familiar with much of Blumenfeld’s work but I was struck by how modern many of the colour images felt and how graphically strong they are. The collaboration with Alexander Liberman, the influential Vogue Art Director, was a very productive one and resulted in many beautiful images. But not only were they beautiful, they were underpinned with strong concepts. The ‘colour siblings, family of five’ picture, for instance, is a very innovative way to illustrate gloves and at the same time add glamour and visual wit to a fashion photograph.

Variant of the photograph published in US Vogue, March 1950 Colour siblings family of five

Trend?

He was a master at taking beautiful photographs but then took them to another level in the darkroom. William Ewing, the respected curator and writer says, “His highly original and visionary work was a seamless blend of the negative and positive: taking the picture in the studio and making it in the darkroom.” Many of today’s influential fashion photographers do the same – it’s just done digitally.

Untitled1950, Erwen Blumenfeld.

Untitled1950, Erwen Blumenfeld.

Which Image? Which Room?

The girl with the red dress raised above her head. It immediately makes me think of a poppy with delicate red petals and a slender stem. The pose is elegant and raunchy at the same time, which is a fine line to walk for anyone! Blumenfeld walks it successfully though and achieves a beautiful, graphic, iconic fashion image that goes way beyond fashion. It looks like art to me!

Organdie by Dior 1953. Erwen Blumenfeld.

Organdie by Dior 1953. Erwen Blumenfeld.

One question for the Image Maker?

Iconic covers like the Red Cross war time image are more like graphic design. Do you consider yourself an image-maker rather than a photographer?

Support for the Red Cross for cover of American Vogue March 1945

Support for the Red Cross for cover of American Vogue March 1945

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About Author

Ashley Jouhar is the Creative Director of Image Source. He has worked as a senior creative in the photography industry for over 12 years, previously as Deputy Director of Photography at Getty Images. He is also a photographer in his own right, shooting lifestyle, documentary and portraiture for a wide range of clients. Before turning to photography full time, Ashley worked as a senior Art Director and Group Head at McCann Erickson, London, creating award winning advertising for Bacardi, Shredded Wheat, Black & Decker, Medecins Sans Frontieres and Birds Eye, amongst others.

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