Apologies, this post is light on words as I am still busy trying to catch up with all the chores and Christmas jobs that were put off due to my horrible cold! I have been a very neglectful blogger and I hope to catch up with all your blogs soon.
I leave you with some wintry scenes from the highly underrated French artist, Henri le Sidaner and I would like to thank Jane Librizzi from The Blue Lantern, for reminding me just why I love his work so much and also providing the source for some of these images.
Every so often I come across a blog that makes me want to rip mine up and start again. I only discovered Jamie Beck and her wonderful blog; from me to you the other day, where have I been? I am enthralled by this talented, stylish and beautiful photographer and have a major blog crush. If you are not already familiar with Jamie, check her blog out, it's charming.
I have just returned home from a ten day stint in my home county of North Yorkshire and had the most wonderful time catching up with close family and friends, so much warmth and love, I always feel like the prodigal daughter when I return. I have to stay with my Mother, Father, Sister and Brother in equal measures, otherwise there is squabbles, once upon a time back in my student days a return visit from me would strike fear into every member of my family, (Just to put you in the picture, I am the youngest member of the family thus was always referred to as 'the baby of the family', isn't that annoying? No wonder I was BAD!) just how much washing was I bringing home? Which unsuitable boyfriend (or creature as my Mother liked to refer to them) would I be inflicting upon them, my untidiness, laziness and habit of not getting out of bed until after Midday never went down too well and there was always the danger of my friends and I deciding to throw an impromptu party. Times have changed and now I am fought over. One of the downsides of living abroad is not being close to your nearest and dearest, however much technology there is to communicate with, nothing beats seeing your loved ones in the flesh.
I am now safely back on French soil and have managed to catch the most horrible cold virus along the way, I am not up to much at the moment, other than lying prostrate on the sofa, surrounded by tissues, watching TV and old movies, reading magazines and books and dosing up with sudafed and paracetamol. I hope it passes soon as I have a house to clean and decorate and a ton of stuff to do, hope to catch up with you all soon.
A typical Yorkshire scene; cobbles, Wellington boots and 'The Girls' accompanied by friends and humans. The girls are sporting their smart waterproof coats and are eagerly waiting for the Humans to stop standing about and talking so the walk can get going!
David Seidner is one of my favourite photographers so choosing works to put in this post has been quite a challenge. David was an artist and his work really draws you in, his love of history is apparent, most of his inspiration comes from the past, and he continues to be an inspiration to many today. Sadly David was taken too soon, claimed by Aids in 1999, had he lived, there is no doubt that he would have been one of the greatest artists/photographers around.
Lisa Fonssagrieves-Penn, born Lisa Birgitta Bernstone, in Sweden 1911 has often been described as the worlds first supermodel, although there is some truth in this she was so much more than just a model, she was also a dancer, artist, photographer and sculptress as well as model and muse. Her name might not trip so easily off the tongue as later more famous models but almost every image she appears in is iconic. This was no accident, with her background as a dancer and artist she knew how to move and how to turn a fashion image into an art form. Rather than just turning up for a shoot, she worked with the photographers helping to create the image and it's no wonder that some of the worlds greatest were queuing up to work with her. For a career that is renowned for having a short shelf life, Lisa's modeling career lasted around twenty five years, she modestly described herself as "a good coat-hanger".
I have found a rather interesting interview by David Seidner from Bomb 1985...
Fernand Fonssagrieves 1930's
David Seidner How did you initially get from Stockholm to Paris?
Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn Originally I went to
Berlin to study dance with Mary Wigman. She had a sort of comprehensive
art school where we not only studied dance but studio art, art history,
and everything pertaining to art in general. My parents were very
supportive of the arts, in fact my childhood vacations were spent
driving through Europe with them, visiting museums. My father painted
and encouraged us a great deal, me and my sisters. My mother too was
very creative. She made all our clothes and created such an atmosphere
of magic and beauty that all throughout this enchanted childhood I
wondered how I could possibly do anything better than what I was living
and make something of myself. I painted and sculpted and danced as a
child so when I heard about Mary Wigman’s school, it sounded so ideal
that I wrote to her and she wrote back asking me to come. So my parents
sent me. Then I returned to Stockholm and opened up a school of dance.
There was a very well known choreographer in Sweden at that time called
Astrid Malmborg. She invited me to participate in an international
competition in Paris and we went and won some kind of honorary mention. I
immediately fell in love with the city and decided to stay and study
other forms of dance besides modern, so I enrolled in ballet classes
with a Russian woman called Princess Egorova…a fantastic teacher. Mia
Slavenska was in the class too; she danced so beautifully! What an
inspiration. About that time I met my first husband, Fernand
Fonssagrives, who was also a dancer, and we went together to people’s
homes to give private lessons. One day we were coming home after a very
long day, and in the elevator (we lived on the 10th floor), a man told
me that he was a photographer and asked if I would like to model hats
for him. I was terribly shy but flattered that he would want me to pose.
I was so young and naive. Anyway, I did these pictures with this man
called Willy Maywald, and my husband took them up to Vogue.
They asked me to do a test with Horst and I arrived terrified. I had
never seen a fashion magazine, I didn’t know what fashion was. I made
all my own clothes and I remember the suit I was wearing, dark brown
wool, and I arrived so frightened with my hair long and wild and
completely unmanageable. No one knew what to do with my hair. But it was
my hands that troubled me most; what to do with one’s own hands while
posing. And even though Horst himself was so young and inexperienced,
and made me feel so confident, I still had no idea of what to do with
Fernand Fonssagrieves 1935
DS How did you learn to move the way you did? Was it natural or were you imitating things you saw in other women?
LFP After that test with Horst I went
straight to the Louvre and studied how differently dressed people did
different things. Especially in evening clothes. The next day, Vogue
asked me to do a sitting and we had the most exquisite gowns by Alix
and Lelong. It must have been about 1936, or 7. I would imagine what
kind of woman would wear the gown I was wearing and assume different
characters. I would look at myself in the dressing room mirror before
going on the set and instinctively try to solve the photographer’s
problems. I would look at the cut of the dress and try different poses
to see how it fell best;, how the light would enhance it, and basically
try to create a line the way one starts a drawing. I would objectify
myself and become more of a director than an actress. I became this girl
and not Lisa Fonssagrives. So that when I saw the contacts I would
think, There that girl stands correctly, there she looks awkward…The
photographer of course would have a lot to do with how one moved. Huene
and Hoot created a kind of reality within a reality. Often they
constructed sets for the type of woman who would wear the clothes to be
photographed. There was time to prepare and time to work, and the sense
of collaboration and camaraderie was marvelous. It was also a kind of
game, that exchange that takes place through the lens. That is why I
hate the word “shooting.” It implies something so one-sided and
impersonal. It was never a “shooting,” but a sitting or a seance. I was
terribly serious about being responsible and even studied photography to
learn what the problems might be. I would stand before the camera on a
set and concentrate my energy until I could sense it radiate into the
lens and feel the photographer had the picture. It was very hard work!
There were no strobe lights in those days, but very hot spots, often
live thousand watts on either side of you and the exposures were long.
You could feel the sweat trickling down your face and the assistant
would come over and hand you a towel. In fact I remember one time in New
York in the ‘50s when I was modeling fur coats in the summer. And there
were no air conditioned studios then. It was so hot that I just
fainted. And they propped me right back up and I went straight back to
work. Can you imagine what would happen today if a model fainted on a
Fernand Fonssagrieves Le Plage de Cabasson 1936
DS The approach was certainly much more
serious then. Did you think of yourselves as making more than just a
fashion photograph? Was the idea of making art ever present?
LFP It was never an issue. But making a
beautiful picture is making art, isn’t it? Especially with Huene, one
really had the impression of creating something. He was very
considerate, George Huene. He would set tile lights up before one
arrived on the set, using a stand-in. So one was led from the dressing
room onto a very dark, dramatic set with a column or stairway or some
other greek-inspired element, and there was silence. It was like some
mystic ritual. He spoke very little and in a very low voice and there
was only one assistant, who moved like a cat. No one was allowed on the
set in those days, not even an editor.
Sailors Hat 1949
DS Wasn’t Fernand Fonssagrives a photographer?
LFP Yes he was. Just when I began modeling,
he had a back accident and had to stop dancing. I gave him a Rolleiflex
and he started to take pictures. Between the collections, there were
endless vacations and we spent a lot of time traveling. Fernand
photographed me constantly and sold the photographs to magazines all
over Europe. In those days, a picture did not have to be assigned to be
published. If it was beautiful the magazines would run it.
DS How did you end up in New York?
LFP We had taken a trip to Sweden and were on
our way to New York when war was declared, so we decided to stay in
America. Eventually my marriage dissolved and I began taking photographs
for Ladies’ Home Journal. I lived in one of those big old
apartments on Central Park West and had a darkroom where I did all my
developing and printing. In fact, when I met Irving [Penn], we were both
doing experiments with ferrous cyanide to whiten the image and dissolve
the outline of form. Eventually, after I remarried, my darkroom became a
nursery, and all my prints had to be ordered. They were constantly late
for the assignments so I finally gave it up.
DS And you continued modeling?
LFP Yes, mostly for American Vogue.
This was in the early ‘50s and by the mid-’50s, I began designing
clothes. At first it was just an occasional dress for one of my
husband’s advertising campaigns, but then people began to special order
evening gowns, and suddenly I found myself designing a line of at-home
clothes for Lord and Taylor. Eventually I did sportswear for them too.
This lasted a good six years. Eventually we had to move from Central
Park West because they were tearing down the building, and since the
dining room was my atelier, and I wasn’t allowed to have a business in
our new apartment, I just stopped…wanted to do something else. I began
spending more and more time in my sculpture studio in our house in Long
Island, where previously, we had only spent weekends. I also enrolled in
the Art Students League to hone my drawing skills. Finally we moved
completely to Long Island, so I could spend more time in the studio
without having to commute.
DS When did you first return to Paris after the war?
LFP In 1950 to do the collections with my
husband. We had the most beautiful daylight studio on the Rue de Sevres.
We’ve been back to Paris almost every year since.
DS Weren’t you petrified when you hung off the Eiffel Tower for Blumenfeld?
LFP No, I was too young and too strong. I was
a dancer and a skier and very athletic. But I was frightened on another
sitting when I had to parachute from a very high exhibition tower.
DS What a contradiction in terms. You
presented to the world such a sophisticated, almost decadent image of
yourself, and you are in reality very wholesome.
LFP I know. Whenever I would come home after a vacation, rested, Vogue used to say to me: “We can’t use you for at least 10 days, you’re much too healthy looking.”
Erwin Blumenfeld 1939
DS And did you work with Blumenfeld in New York too?
LFP Yes, in the ‘50s. He was marvelous. He
made you feel so beautiful. He used to hold my face in his hands like
some fragile flower, so gentle, to pose it in the right light. He lived
and worked at the Gainsborough Studios at 222 Central Park South, where I
had lived when I first arrived in New York. It was easy in those days
to find apartments like that, and would you believe there was never any
problem finding parking? In fact, you could pull your car right up in
front of your door, and just leave it there overnight.
Lisa's hands by Horst
William Klein, Smoke and Veil, 1958
Thank you all so much for your lovely heartfelt comments on my previous post, I was really touched.