Helena Bonham Carter in a Glass Elevator, Karen Elson with a crocodile on her bed and Boris Johnson sat on a girder at the Olympic Park are amongst the eye-catching juxtapositions on show at Manchester Art Gallery in the free exhibition Vogue 100: A Century of Style.
Previously at the London’s National Portrait Gallery, the exhibition is mainly a celebration of the photography which appears in its pages. Some, such as the steely gaze of Margaret Thatcher in 10 Downing Street (David Bailey, October 1985) and Diana, Princess of Wales (Patrick Demarchelier, December 1990) are so much part of the national album that they immediately draw attention to themselves.
It is the images where the photographer had more room to play that I particularly enjoyed. In Gemma 2004 (Nick Knight), the model stands in the middle of an explosion of colour - a bit like a psychedelic Jackson Pollock drip painting. Helena Bonham Carter in a Glass Elevator (December 2008) by Tim Walker, does what it says, except that the actress is also in the middle of a field.
Speaking at the preview event, Dr Maria Balshaw, Director of the Whitworth, University of Manchester and Manchester City Galleries, said that Vogue had always reflected cultural as well as sartorial times. The exhibition includes modern literary stars such as Martin Amis (Lord Snowden, August 1978). Dylan Thomas is photographed in the overgrown graveyard at Laugharne (John Deakin, March 1950).The poet is buried in the over-spill graveyard of St. Martin's Church.
Vogue could not insulate itself from the Second World War. In Lee Miller’s The Daughter of the Burgermeister of Leipzig (September 1945), Regina Lisso, from the German Red Cross, is leant back on a sofa, having committed suicide. The image draws a chilling parallel with posed photographs of models on the gallery walls.
Royal history is represented in Cecil Beaton's photographs of Wallis Simpson before her marriage to the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, in 1937. The marriage necessitated the Duke of Windsor to abdicate because his bride was a divorced woman. A rococo scrollwork jacket and dress, by Elsa Schiaparelli, worn by Wallis Simpson is displayed in a glass case.
Photographs of HRH the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Charles pose the question of whether Vogue's photographers play the role that court painters used to play.
Vogue also delves deeply into its own history. Dolores and the Crystal Ball, May 1919, by Baron Adolph de Meyer, features the famous Ziegfeld showgirl. One room displays magazine covers through the years, including the first issue, of September 1916, which has an illustration on its cover. The talent for illustration was crucial for early Vogue contributors, such as Cecil Beaton. Is modelling itself a talent? It seems, in many ways, to be a confidence trick the model plays on themselves.
The exhibition is divided into decades and Kate Moss appears in three. One of the questions posed by Vogue 100, curated by Robin Muir, is whether the photographer needs the subject more than the subject needs the photographer. In the case of Kate Moss, it’s hard to unravel.
The American version of Vogue could not reach British shores, during the First World War, which led to the creation of British Vogue. Alexandra Shulman editor-in-chief of the British edition said, at the preview, that as the decades move on styles in photography change but through them runs a distillation of style. I would add that the magazine reflects the world around it, in its own highly selective, artistically rendered and expertly edited way.
Exhibition continues until 30 October.
Associated, forthcoming events:
The 1950’s and 60’s in Vogue
With Mat Bancroft, Manchester Art Gallery
Friday 9 September, 12.30–1.15pm
A tour of the 50’s and 60’s works. Hear how a new found optimism and freedom in society was matched by the design, fashion and photography in those decades and how that set the template for modern British Vogue.
Free, drop-in event
‘Dark Victory’ 1939-45: When Vogue Came of Age
With Robin Muir, Curator of Vogue 100 A Century of Style
Thursday 15 September, 6–7.30 pm
The war years were the making of British Vogue. At Britain’s darkest hour the quality of its war coverage, both at home and abroad, set it apart from other publications. Robin Muir will assess the impact of the war on the magazine.
The event is free, but booking is essential. Book your place on EventBrite.
With Mat Bancroft, Manchester Art Gallery
Thursday 6 October, 6.15–7pm
Learn more about the direct, dynamic approach of photographers such as David Bailey and Terence Donovan, whose work encapsulated the vibrancy and style of the 60s.