Between March 9 and June 10, 2018, the Cité de la Mode et du Design in Paris showcases the work of the iconic Swiss fashion photographer Peter Knapp. With over 100 photographs, for the most never exhibited before, the graphic, experimental universe of this artist and image-maker tells the story of women’s emancipation over the course of two decades of fashion characterized by audacity and liberation. The Eye of Photography devotes a special edition to this trailblazing artist.
His name sounds like a slight slap, a snap of fingers, Knapp! Depending on your age, you might associate him with the cult TV program Dim Dam Dom airing in France in the 1960s or with the magazine Elle; or yet you might remember him in reference to design or as someone close to the New Realists. But photography is where he truly made his mark.
Before Peter Knapp’s lens, girls would take to the air, futurist-looking figures size you up, and pairs of designer shoes crisscross the streets of Paris. The time was right. For fashion, and more largely for the human spirit, the 1960s and 70s were synonymous with freedom and creativity. The photographer not only witnessed this incredible moment, he also contributed to recording this new world in images.
Peter Knapp embodies the exhilaration of freedom. He handled the contradictions inherent in photography with skill and pleasure. The demands of the still image had to be subverted: Knapp set his models in motion. Leaping, dancing, laughing: the modern woman was independent, and this freedom was reflected in the movements of her body. The spontaneous expression of women’s feelings called for breaking with conventions and overcoming restrictions. Outside the studio, her hair windblown, the model floated in space, finally accepted as she wanted to be and as she wanted to be perceived: modern and autonomous. The photographer asserted himself in the absolute necessity of navigating the paradox: freedom in constraint and exuberance in moderation.
Whether working for haute couture designers like André Corrèges, Emanuel Ungaro, Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin (to name a few) or for magazines, like Elle, Stern, Vogue…, Peter Knapp had total control of the imposed figures. He accepted the constraints and reveled in whatever Paris had to offer, whether innovative or sacrilegious.
The exhibition Dancing in the Street: Peter Knapp and Fashion 1960–1970 is an opportunity to discover one of the most imaginative collections produced in fashion photography of the period through over a hundred photographs, many exhibited for the first time.
Audrey Hoareau is a Châlon-sur-Saône-based exhibition curator and a writer specializing in photography.
Dancing in the Street:
Peter Knapp et la mode 1960–1970
March 9 to June 10, 2018
Cité de la Mode et du Design
34 Quai d’Austerlitz