Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pre-Raphaelites in Vogue

Sorry for the quality of the image, as it's a photo of a blown-up scan of a page of a book. :) Please do click to see what details there are.

I was perusing the thick tome of a coffee table book, In Vogue: The Illustrated History of the World's Most Famous Fashion Magazine, recently, when I was stopped in my tracks by the image of a Burne-Jones. The caption of this set of images said:

"In doing research for the photo shoot, one ofthe art books consulted by set designer Mary Howard and photographer Steven Klein was Christopher Wood's The Pre-Raphaelites (right), in which they found inspiration for the models' poses and hand movements realized in the finished take (left). Sixteen outfits, eight of them designed for Vogue, were selected for the shoot."

I was eager to find out the issue in which this feature ran, so I went on to read the text of the chapter. (some text cut for succinctness)

"Anyone leafing through the eighteen pages of the Chekhovian-Victorian romantic story titled "A Grand Affair" in the September 2005 issue of Vogue, photographed by Steven Klein with Grace Coddington as the fashion editor, could hardly imagine the degree of research and hard work behind the scenes, the level of creativity, the on-the-spot trouble-shooting, and the highly complicated logistics that took place before it reached the reader.

The objective was to take double-spread photographs in three days to fill a total of sixteen pages, at the rate of two setups a day. Smith and Coddington had chosen some sixteen outfits, eight of them designed in part for Vogue: a pink one by Dior, a red one by Alexander McQueen, others in gray by Carolina Herrera and Peter Som, white dresses by Tuleh, prints by Prada, and a white fur by Vera Wang.

Howard's team, which consisted of ten people, had created a charming winter forest with a lake.

A book brought by Howard, Christopher Wood's The Pre-Raphaelites, circulated on the set and was repeatedly consulted. Howard, trained in art history, is renowned among photographers for her high-quality research. "It was a great source of inspiration to see the poses, the body and hand movements of the women in the paintings, so that our models could imitate or reinvent them," says Klein.

Each finished take was printed and hung from a corkboard, so that the entire technical and creative teams could appreciate the results of the day's session and follow the direction of the story. Back at Vogue, however, Anna Wintour found the photographs too static, too formal, and lacking the energy she looks for in a portfolio. Result: Everything was to be done over, using only a part of the approved wardrobe, and only one model, the Russian Natalia Vodianova. This time it was to be done outdoors, with a smaller production team..."

The finished spread featured the below pictures among others:

So apparently the original Pre-Raphaelite inspired shoot, filled with two-page spreads of five models sumptuously larking about in a forest, will never be seen, other than the small grainy teaser photo I found on page 361 and blew up as large as I could.

I don't know about you, but I would have MUCH rather seen more of the "static" Pre-Raphaelite images. These ones are fine, but they aren't the sort of thing that stops me in my tracks like I'm betting the forest images would have.

Having watched The September Issue, I know this isn't the first time Anna Wintour has rejected a photo from a Grace Coddington shoot that I thought was incredibly beautiful. As part of that documentary (which I recommend to anyone who enjoys fashion or photography), Grace Coddington does a fashion spread with a 1920s Jazz-Age theme, which includes a beautiful two page spread image with multiple models. Anna rejects that image as well, Grace is furious, but acquiesces. Here also, the only teaser we'll apparently ever see of this image is a grainy blur on the DVD:

Beautiful, isn't it? Alas for all the beauty in the world that we will never see.


Hermes said...

Fascinating. I'm surprised more paintings aren't used as inspiration for fashion shoots. A fantasy : Burne-Jones or Rossetti with a modern camera.

Anonymous said...

I love this post for so many reasons!
First of all, I just adore those moments when I'm not actively seeking out anything Pre-Raphaelite and then, suddenly, there it is! It's just such a wonderful feeling. So I can relate to how you must have felt perusing that book and happened upon the Burne-Jones.
Also, I have a bit of a crush on Grace Coddington :)
And I love that the book they referenced is a book that sits on my very own shelf, which makes me feel a little bit awesome.
I am disappointed that "Anna Wintour found the photographs too static, too formal, and lacking the energy she looks for in a portfolio." I think the composition of most Pre-Raphaelite art would lend itself well to high-fashion photography.

Anonymous said...

If the rejected photos ever came to light, they would be more of a sensation than the approved ones. Someone ought to whisper that in Vogue's ears. Or wait, maybe they are already thinking about it. Sigh... One can hope, no?

Von said...

If rumours are to be believed Anna Wintour doesn't get it right all the time!Shame.These are beautiful.

ergyerg said...

I agree, i much prefer the original photograph. Lovely blog you have by the way, very beautiful :) xxxx

Grace said...

Hermes, wouldn't that be just wonderful! I talked about that a little bit when I wrote about Norman Rockwell's photographic references. I bet Rossetti would have embraced film.

Stephanie, I love that feeling too! It's like uncovering a treasure. And Grace Coddington is SO amazing. I love her talent for referencing the past while keeping her shoots modern.

Ree, Oh if only!! I wish I could see more than just this one small image. Perhaps someday Grace Coddington will release some retrospective book.

Von, I acknowledge she's a wonderful editor, it's just as the documentary said, she likes to look toward the future and Grace likes to reference the past. (or something like that)

Ergyerg, thank you!!


Anne Wintour definitely seems to be a bit of a daemon. I would still absolutely love to work for her as a photographer at American Vogue an absolute dream!

Sorry to hi-jack the comment a little but I couldn't find a place to message you. I have just put together a little website of my photography for my graduate show
and thought you might be interested. I take a lot of inspiration from pre-raphaelite painting and recently completed a fashion shoot based on Tennyson's The Sleeping Beauty.
Also three portraits based on Rossetti portraits which are my favorite.
Please have a look if you have the time!
Thank you!
Poppy x

Grace said...

Poppy, I'd love to feature your work here on my blog! Would that be ok?

Your Pre-Raphaelite portraits are just wonderful!!


Grace that would be wonderful. Thank you very much! If you have any question i'm on :) Now I am off to university to see what marks I got for the pictures, ah!