Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Paper Movies

Paper Movies is an exhibition at the V&A in London that runs until 18th November. The display explores new directions in graphic and magazine design in the 1940s and 1950s. During this time, the design of American fashion magazines was changed forever by the arrival of two russian men, Alexey Brodovitch and Alexander Liberman. Brodovich found his position as art director at Harper's Bazaar and Liberman at Vogue after absorbing radical ideas of European avante-garde in Paris. They aimed to modernise magazine graphics and bring photography to the fore. The main characteristics of their influence were articles that resembled stills from a film rather than the wooden and lifeless poses of models.

The first display cabinet shows this magazine spread designed by Brodovitch. The image is composed from an enlargement of one of Jackson Pollock's action paintings to resemble dancing figures. I find the idea of extracting recognisable forms from an abstract image fascinating. The execution of this page is extremely successful as the abstract figures have a beautiful illustrative feel to them while the proportion of black to white keeps a sense of balance and perspective.

The next cabinet shows work by photographer, William Klein. Klein was one of Liberman's most notable discoveries. He saw one of Klein's exhibitions in Paris and asked him to come back to New York to further explore his growing talent for photography.

Returning to his native New York, Klein was deeply affected by the changes he saw. Liberman asked him to record his observations as a photographic diary. Klein had relatively little experience as a photographer, giving his images an endearing energy, uninhibited by traditional social and moral contraints. It was some of Klein's less experienced work that had the greatest appeal, showing that a touch of naivety can cut through the clutter of contemporary design. It is this quality that I found so fascinating throughout the 'Paper Movies' exhibition.

The next part of the exhibition concentrated on the work of Lillian Bassman for Harper's Bazaar. Harper's bazaar was the first fashion magazine to use action photography rather than lifeless model poses. The black and white images resemble stills from a film, justifying the title of the exhibition, Paper Movies. Her photogrpahy is extremely inspiring, utilising natural lighting conditions to great effect while holding the spontaneity seen in the photography of William Klein.

Bassman's photograhy is mysterious and romantic, making the whole image a symbol of expressionistic glamour. Her elegant and original work is achieved through darkroom manipulation, specifically by blurring and bleaching areas of the photographs. At Harper's Bazaar, Lillian Bassman brought an aire of sophistication and a new look to fashion photography as she did not rely on beautiful models and clothes as the sole essence of her photographs.

This photograph grabbed my attention more than any as the lighting is spectacular and creates the focus of the image. The motionless figures around the three central woman also contribute to adding focus and perspective to the photograph.

The final part of the exhibition that I noted to be particularly interesting was an open magazine spread of Harper's Bazaar from 1950. This page shows two illustrations, however, it is the method by which they were produced that I found intriguing. The painterly lines were produced by printing negatives through tiny holes cut in card, exposing only selected areas and then enhanced with bold strokes of colour.

I found 'Paper Movies' intriguing and inspirational. It is fascinating to be shown periods in time where a major change took place in design, especially when the work produced from this change is impactful and to your taste. It is an educational experience to learn how these images between the 40s and 60s were produced and manipulated, as it makes a refreshing change from the mechanical production of commercial advertising techniques of today. It raises the question whether a more traditional and hand crafted appeal would help cut through today's commercial clutter.

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