This is the nineteenth installment of the online series by Peter Fetterman Gallery called the Power of Photography highlighting hope, peace and love in the world. We invite you to enjoy and reflect on these works during this time.
Sabine Weiss (Switzerland, b. 1924)
Yves Saint Laurent, Premiere Dior Collection, Paris, 1958
© Sabine Weiss/Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery
Sabine is one of my favorite photographers. At 96 years old, she is still feisty and working on new projects and books. She is the last one left from that great generation of photographers that inspired my passion for the medium.
Here is a rare gem from her archive. Yves St Laurent was the boy wonder of French fashion and was handpicked by Christian Dior to be his successor at his own illustrious House of Fashion. Life Magazine asked Sabine to shoot his first fashion collection for Spring/Summer 1958. It seems from another era but still evokes all the elegance and beauty we associate with Haute Couture. Sabine already knew Dior well because early on in her career she was an assistant of Willy Maywald between 1946-1949 and was there in 1947 when Dior presented his first fashion collection in Paris.
I can only imagine that this was not an easy shoot to position and coordinate 13 house models.
YSL looks so young. He was only 21 years old at the time, he carried on the Dior tradition but made it his own. His big breakthrough that year was his version of the waistless dress, the trapeze line based on the flaring shape of a trapezoid and standing jauntily away from the body. As he wisely said, “Over the years I have learned that what is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it.”
Nikki Kahn (b. 1967)
Barack Obama, Final Campaign Rally, Des Moines, Iowa, 2012
© Nikki Kahn/Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery
Today is Thanksgiving Day in America. We certainly have a lot to be thankful for, especially those of us who still have our health. It has been an unprecedented time in World History where the essence of democracy has been tried and tested to its limits. It still continues to be so, not just in America, but in so many places across the globe.
Barack Obama’s presidential memoir “A Promised Land” was recently released. It brings back the sense of a time in history that we all lived through when there was an excitement for new possibilities and change. We felt that we were moving in a positive direction and then like “Puff the Magic Dragon” the moment Obama stepped onto the helicopter to leave the White House for the last time it seemed to evaporate in a moment. Many of us have lived through a constant state of despair and anxiety since that day.
Nikki Kahn belongs to a new generation of great photojournalists whose many years of dedication to discover the truth through her exceptional work for the Washington Post and other publications was finally recognized and she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for her work in Haiti. Here she captures Barack Obama as he wins re-election for his second term. This is my favorite image of a much recorded President. It’s an emotional moment which still resonates with me and I am sure many others.
What comes through in this image and from his writings in “A Promised Land” is somebody who despite the setbacks and roadblocks and frustrations and forces out to destroy him he still manages to maintain a belief in the basics of humanity. As President Obama says,
“If I remain hopeful, it’s because I’ve learned to place my faith in my fellow citizens, especially those of the next generation.”
Colin Jones (b. 1936)
The Wall of The Tobacco and Alcohol Dock off Wapping High Street, London, 1962
© Colin jones/Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery
I share something with one of my favorite English photographers, Colin Jones. We were both born in the East End of London. I understand his roots and his aspirations for another kind of life from which he was born into. Here is one of his great images rich in the tradition of classic black and white social documentary photography.
It is so much more than another shot of children. It was not posed. It was by accident that Colin discovered them running against this huge wall in the dock lands area. They were all kids from a tough working class neighborhood who lived nearby in tenement housing. The wall was built to prevent any kind of smuggling, loss of product, etc from the ships that were unloading bottles of whiskey and cigarettes. They couldn’t be thrown over such a huge wall to be retrieved later. One could think of it as a darker metaphor that the kids are running from the light into the darkness but like myself, I’d like to hope that they will one day have a ‘new life’ somewhere else with a hopeful and brighter future.
Neil Leifer (United States, b. 1942)
Muhammad Ali knocks out Cleveland Williams at the Astrodome, Houston, 1966
© Neil Leifer/Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery
There are some genres in photography that have had to struggle a bit more to gain the critical and curatorial acceptance to be classified as “art”. Such has been the case with fashion and sports photography two of the hardest arenas to create truly stand out imagery. But this image must surely be elevated to the art status. It has the quality of a great abstract painting.
It was taken in a brand new state of the art auditorium in 1966, the Houston Astrodome. It is not an image that could have been shot off the cuff. It required intense prep time on Neil’s behalf. Captured from a camera hung 80’ above the ring he correctly estimated the increased likelihood of capturing a shot of the ring from that height with his remote controlled motorized Hasselblad and thanks to the illumination of the powerful overhead strobe lights the image is of such high quality.
Neil was known throughout his long career for taking risks and for his ground breaking techniques.
He certainly won the prize that night. Not bad for a kid who started out his life in the projects and was encouraged by free classes in photography from the Henry Street Settlement House for poor children in that neighborhood and he became one of the “stars” of Sports Illustrated. As Neil has always said to me, “What the good sports photographer does is when it happens and you’re in the right place, you don’t miss. Whether that’s instinct or whether it’s just luck, I don’t know.”
I think it is talent.
Ansel Adams (1902-1984)
Church at Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, 1930
© Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust/Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery
It seems that these words could have been written only yesterday and that they have more relevance than ever for today’s times. No one who has had the opportunity to visit this Church can ever forget it. Its power and spirituality transcends all religions. It just emanates humanity. It is one of the most beautiful buildings left in America built by the early Spaniards circa 1800. It has attracted and seduced many great artists from Paul Strand to Georgia O’Keefe but no one has captured it’s magnificence better than Ansel in this image. He gave it the appearance of a massive Mesa, an American Pyramid or alter to the sky. His genius was to focus on the rear elevation that defines the building…it seems immense when in reality it isn’t but its power is undeniable.
As Ansel Adams wrote on choosing a subject to photograph,
“Ask yourself: Does this subject move me to feel, think and dream?”
Well he certainly made the right decision that day. It does all of these things and much more.
Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexico, b. 1902-2002)
“Portrait of the Eternal” / Retrato de lo eterno, 1935
© Estate of Manuel Alvarez Bravo/Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery
Don Manuel was not only Mexico’s greatest photographer but certainly was one of the medium’s greatest artists of all time. At Tina Modotti’s suggestion he sent Edward Weston a box of his photos to review. Weston replied on April 30th, 1929, “It is not often I am stimulated to enthusiasm over a group of photographs.”
This for sure bolstered Manuel’s self confidence and he embarked on his new career full-time with earnest. He was at the center of Mexico’s cultural life and was close with the great Russian director Sergei Eisenstein who was in Mexico shooting his film “Que Viva Mexica”. It was on the set of this film which was never completed that he met the celebrated poet, sculptor, printmaker Isabel Villasenor and photographed her. The composition and mood of this image is sublime. She is sitting in half shadow. Intruding through an unseen window is a prism of light whose shape forms an expanding echo of her profile. She stares into a pocket mirror. It is really up to the viewer to form the meaning of this magical photograph for themselves.
Is it about the fragility of beauty that does not last forever or is it about memory which is eternal as Manuel implies? Whatever one’s interpretation its power and beauty can not be denied.
Pentti Sammallahti (b. 1950)
Cilento, Italy, 1999
© Pentti Sammallahti/Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery
Pentti is part of an endangered species, a traditional analogue darkroom specialist steeped in the tradition of individual, hand crafted printing.
He is in a league of his own and was declared a National Artist by the Finnish Government, the equivalent of being given a “Genius Award.” The 20 year unprecedented stipend he was awarded gave him his freedom and independence to allow him to create a large part of his extraordinary body of work, a rare honor.
This is no more evident than in his “Cilento” image, one of his major masterpieces. It is hard to find in the history of photography a more elegantly balanced arrangement of lines and surfaces centered by the shape of the dog who stands as a metaphor for the power of nature to transform and humble us in its beauty.
Nikki Kahn (b. 1967)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court, 2013
© Nikki Kahn/ Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery
The year 2020 will go down in history as one of the most challenging years most of us have had to navigate which is still ongoing. It was also the year that we lost one of the most inspirational figures of modern times, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
To say her life would make an amazing movie is of course redundant as there has now been not one but two movies made about her. The fantastic documentary “RBG”, and who will ever be able to forget the scenes where she is working out with her trainer and “On The Basis of Sex” starring Felicity Jones as Ruth. She changed forever the way the world is for women and she did this even before she became a Supreme Court Justice.
I briefly met her three years ago at The Lotos Club in New York where I was staying and to my surprise one morning as I was leaving my room she came out of the room next door. As we shared the elevator with her assistant on the way down to breakfast I thanked her for all she has done for humanity. She graciously smiled and allowed me to shake her hand. I could not believe how small she was, an almost impish 5’ but for sure she will always be remembered as a legal giant and a fighter for what is right in this world.
Willy Ronis (1910-2009)
Pluie, Place Vendôme, Paris, 1947
© Estate of Willy Ronis/Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery
No less an arbiter of great photographic taste and possessor of a great eye and knowledge of art history, Edward Steichen blessed Willy Ronis by including him not only in his important exhibition “Five French Photographers” in 1951 along with Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Izis and Brassaï at the Museum of Modern Art in New York but also included him in his seminal exhibition “The Family of Man” four years later also at the same venue which later travelled all over the world for years.
I asked Willy once how this image came about. Place Vendome is in one of the truly chic areas of Paris near all the major fashion houses. Willy would often find himself there as it was not too far from the Rapho Agency of which he was an important member. At lunch time the house models would often come out and eat their sandwiches between sessions. He saw one woman stepping over the puddle and noticed that the Vendome Column was reflected in it. Additional lunchers would do the same thing and he snapped away, his contact sheets showing him later that this one was the most successful frame. It became one of his most requested images during our long collaboration. Easy to see why. A combination of geometry and his skill at pre-visualization and his sharp eye equals an image of true elegance.
Elliott Erwitt (b. 1928)
California Kiss, 1956
© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos/Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery
This is one of the most tender and romantic and real photos ever taken. It is real because that is Elliott in the photograph with his wife. He is taking the photograph with his arm out the car window in 1955 so you could almost say that this is the first celebrated selfie in the history of photography.
Elliott, in his typical self-deprecating way, would say it is just a “snap” but we all know it is much more than that in the emotion and memories it evokes for all of us.
Peter Fetterman Gallery
2525 Michigan Ave, #A1
Santa Monica, CA 90404