In Pictures | Haute Couture: The Polaroids of Cathleen Naundorf
— July 11, 2012 —
In Pictures is a still and moving image gallery for significant works, events and places
La Fille En Plâtre IV (version 1) © Cathleen NaundorfSurrounded as we are by the instantaneous nature of fashion – from street style shots published online only moments after they have been taken, to the perpetually self-refreshing twitter feed which accompanies fashion week – analogue photography acquires a certain enigmatic beauty. Illustrating this point to its most seductive extreme is Paris-based photographer Cathleen Naundorf, who recently released her publication Haute Couture: The Polaroids of Cathleen Naundorf.
Focusing predominantly on six fashion houses, to whose archives she was granted unlimited access, Naundorf's large format photographs illustrate the stunning couture of Armani, Chanel, Dior, Lacroix, Elie Saab and Valentino in decadently poised settings, sheltered against the easily rectified whims of digital photography. The inherent imperfections of the developmental process, described by Naundorf as "a gesture of homage to the unique nature of the haute-couture fashion", often leave smattering of imperfections across and around the image, making it as singular and inimitable as the fashion it enshrines.
"Timeless and infallible, Naundorf's images are more redolent of the artisanal craftsmanship of photographers such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn than of her contemporaries"
Her love of painting, which she practises alongside photography, is very much evident in her work. In Jeanne d'Arc III, a steel Hubert Barrère corset adorns the lithe body of a sword-bearing woman, in front of a life-size formal portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, immortalising images of two French war heroes in one stunning amalgamation. Similarly, The Last Sitting III juxtaposes the ephemeral beauty of an Elie Saab gown with a black raven perched menacingly on the model's finger, endowing the atmosphere with its heavy connotations of death.
Timeless and infallible, Naundorf's images are more redolent of the artisanal craftsmanship of photographers such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn than of her contemporaries; she uses a large format camera, either a Deardorff or Plaubel, with polaroid film in a format difficult to source, in order to do justice to the otherworldly essence of couture. Her key influence and mentor, German fashion photographer Horst P. Horst, is also prominent throughout the book. In Homage to Horst P. Horst, Naundorf photographs a young, bobbed model in a Chanel gown against the backdrop of Coco's former Ritz apartment, in the very same armchair in which Horst photographed Mademoiselle Chanel herself some seventy years earlier. Even the motif of lace-backed corsets, which Horst first immortalised in Mainbocher Corset, 1939, runs throughout the publication in tribute to the iconic photographer.
Haute Couture: The Polaroids of Cathleen Naundorf, published by Prestel, is available now.
Text by Maisie Skidmore