Inside Saint Laurent’s Seductive New Photography Exhibition

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Self 07 curated by Anthony Vaccarello
Olivia Arthur, Magnum Photos for Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello

Anthony Vaccarello’s latest project sees a host of photographers from across the globe exhibit their work in Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai

As part of Saint Laurent’s ongoing Self project – where creative director Anthony Vaccarello invites a series of high-profile artists to “capture different aspects of the Saint Laurent personality” – the French house is now hosting a series of exhibitions across six major cities as part of its latest project, Self 07. In the past, Vaccarello has employed filmmakers including Bret Easton Ellis, Gaspar Noé (whose feature-length film for Saint Laurent featured Charlotte Gainsbourg and was selected by Cannes), and Wong Kar-wai to work on cinematic projects for the house.  

Showing across Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai, six image-makers – including Magnum guest photographers Takashi Homma, Daesung Lee and Birdhead – have each created a series of images responding to the slick, dark glamour of Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent, taking to city streets, airports and the Tokyo metropolis to shoot their subjects.

At London’s observation point, British photographer Olivia Arthur has displayed a series of sumptuous black-and-white images of women decked out in Saint Laurent’s signature, razor-sharp suiting. “The strength of women is key to the feeling of Saint Laurent and is the part that attracts me,” she explains. Arthur’s focus as an image-maker lies in the body and “people and their personal cultural identities,” with her understated, tender portraits of people in their homes.

Here, in her own words, Arthur tells the story of taking part in Saint Laurent’s latest project.

“I was born in London and although I have lived in many different places in my life, at heart, I am a Londoner. I am a documentary photographer with a practice focusing on people and their personal and cultural identities. In recent years I have been making a lot of work about the body, about physicality, and the strange influences of technology and nature on how we exist. I wanted to find a way to connect this project to a continuation of that work and use the opportunity of working with models to push the feelings of strangeness, the uncanny and the connections between us, nature and the man-made. The title of my project So not so is a reference to these blurred lines between what we know to be real and things that we cannot quite make out.

“I think that strength and particularly the strength of women is key to the feeling of Saint Laurent and is the part that attracts me. Throughout my work, I have always photographed women from many different backgrounds and cultures and it has always been key to me to show their strengths and that they make the most of whatever limitations society may have put on them. Beauty in physical and emotional strength – rather than fragility – is key to my work and also I believe what makes Saint Laurent important.

“Portraiture is a big part of my work, and this process of making portraits is about bringing out the personality of the subject. I wanted to take this approach to the fashion shoot and work with the models as real people, looking to bring their personalities out. I worked with two locations – one was in an old Victorian hospital.

“In the images we see the models not alone but engaging, interacting with each other and the physical environments around them which are both manmade and natural. I would like people to see this work as physical, playful and just a little bit surreal. There is an expression of touch, of the physicality of connection between the models and the world around them. While the models are beautiful and the images somewhat seductive, there is also a strong sense of self-expression of physical and emotional strength that can draw the viewer in and raise some of the questions around the real and the surreal.”

The Saint Laurent Self 07 exhibition runs from June 9-12 simultaneously in Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai.