The Westred Art Museum in Harbin presents “The Fabric of Dreams”, an exhibition by Gérard Uféras, under the auspices of the Consulate General of France in Shenyang and the French Institute of China, as part of the Croisements Festival, Harbin, China.
“The Fabric of Dreams” by Sarah Mower Contributing Editor, Vogue USA
“Gerard Uféras snuck up in fashion circles and began, in January 1999, to take photos without worrying about the myriad of rigid conventions that govern fashion shows – these conventions to which we owe thousands of photos just as flat to each other. Above all, Uféras is an outsider in relation to this industry. He is a photojournalist, not a catwalk or even a fashion photographer. He is not one of those who have swapped their eye for a telephoto lens. We will never see him planted in the middle of the herd of his colleagues to take a picture. Not being a specialist in the field, he only trusts his eyes. With a nonchalant step, he cuts through the crowd of feverish media and goes towards the little incident at the back of the room which will allow him to grasp a fascinating event. Gerard Uféras never photographs the stars, and it is rare that he shines his lens on supermodels – not that he deliberately decides not to be interested in them, but because in his eyes, all models are equal: they are only girls, girls who work, girls who laugh, girls who concentrate, girls who wait, girls who submit to the ordeal of pins, makeup, finishes, girls who will make their entrance, girls, only girls.
Then, what makes the photographs of Gerard Uféras particularly attractive, subtle and moving is the absolute respect – a mixture of attention and discretion – that he has for his subject. Many photographers work behind the scenes at the shows – yet another branch of the fashion industry that fuels the “Beauty” sections of international magazines. But, here too, convention prevails over creativity: girls with their heads full of curlers, girls with their mobile phones taped to their ears, girls chewing gum, girls cuddling their stuffed animals, girls half-naked – always in colour. It has become a new “cliché”: the slice of life. Fortunately for us, it is not this reality that interests Gérard Uféras.
Gérard Uféras works exclusively in black and white, and does not try to trap the girls in their moment of vulnerability. What is remarkable is that he seems to have a particular mental filter, out of time. The “great moment” he captures could just as well belong to a bygone era, one where the ideals of elegance and femininity still had meaning. In the eyes of Gérard Uféras, the models of today are not the kids with anorexic physique, the pin-ups or the demons made women who populate the popular imagination of our contemporaries. In his eyes, they participate totally to the existence of fashion; they are actresses in their own right who, thanks to their intuitive talent and their professionalism, raise the parade to the level of a spectacle.
Behind the scenes, this is what characterizes the work of Uféras. His photographs of models as they enter or leave the catwalk are revealing and poignant in that they capture events at their most fleeting. One of them shows girls squatting behind a curtain, and their faces reflect the stage fright they felt just before entering. As a woman, we hold our breath in front of these images, almost believing again, as when we were little, that the enchanted world of beautiful princesses does indeed exist!
Going beyond “glamour”, this cliché associated with the fashion industry, Gérard Uféras’ sensitivity is expressed in a sophisticated aesthetic and reveals a humanity made of respect for his subject. He does not seek to make the sensational photo which will make the headlines the next day. He doesn’t use paparazzi tricks. Perhaps his taste for artisanal detail comes from the fact that he is French. In the Parisian haute couture workshops, little hands create marvels of draping, embroidery and tailoring. In the work of Gérard Uféras, these women with nimble fingers are everywhere, pinning, cutting, sculpting the fabrics, or helping the models to slip into the unique models created by the couturiers. We realize that it really is a team effort, just like that of the mechanics during a Formula 1 race.
Gérard Uféras’ passion for fashion has taken him to places that most catwalk photographers never bother to explore. Unlike them, who are always on the lookout for a hit, he often asks to cover the least popular shows: that of a traditional haute couture house overwhelmed by the ultra-rapid evolution of fashion and which struggles not to not lose its loyal clientele, that of a group of design students or even that of an illustrious stranger. What matters to fashion editors—capturing the latest fashion, sitting front row at the hottest designer’s runway—is absolutely irrelevant to them. Curiously, Uféras does not think that the collections are episodes in the history of contemporary fashion, nor does he consider models to be the stars that agents and magazines want them to be. His vision of this universe allows him to accomplish something absolutely remarkable in the context of this relentlessly fast-paced industry.
Refusing to give in to the tyranny of the moment, Gérard Uféras pulls off a feat: he creates something timeless with the ephemeral. His images are timeless. Through the homage they pay to beauty, they testify to something that without Gérard Uféras would go unnoticed in this universe where commerce is king: happiness.
And this is perhaps the greatest gift he gives us.”
Gerard Uféras : L’Étoffe des rêves
April 15 – May 20, 2023
Westred Art Museum