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June 7, 2007
Magnum has a tradition of putting out a very thick, glossy "fashion" magazine once a year — each complete issue (including the overall concept, plus every fashion shot, every product shot, and every advertisement) — is created by just one photographer. In previous years, Martin Parr and Bruce Gilden each tackled these mega-projects very successfully. This year, Alec Soth took the honors, and knocked us out with his unique take on how fashion and beauty — and advertising — can be seen with fresh eyes.
The concept, (to put it as simply as possible), compares and contrasts the high-couture world of Paris fashion, with the real-world fashion of Soth's home state of Minnesota. In an interview with Marta Gili, Soth expressed his early doubts and confusion about how to approach the project: "As someone utterly removed from the world of Paris couture, how was I supposed to find my own voice? The more I thought about it, this sense of removal, this contrast between my world and Paris — this became the scaffolding to build the magazine."
He continued,"My favorite example of this involved Chanel. In Paris, I photographed Karl Lagerfeld at the Grand Palais. In Minnesota, I photographed a girl with a Chanel shopping bag in front of Sally's Beauty Shop. With this magazine, I'm trying to explore the distance between those two places."
The 188-page magazine was unveiled on June 5 at a spectacular soirée at the Jeu de Paume photography museum in Paris. Many of the photographs from the magazine were printed large, sumptuously, framed, hung and lit — just for this one night. The place was packed with lots of the fashion set, and the champagne flowed freely all night long.
In addition to the discovery that "Soth does fashion pretty darn well", what took most people by surprise — and delighted them — was Alec's take on the advertising. The "ads" were also presented as beautiful large prints — of luscious landscapes. The game of the evening became "finding" the luxury product that was practically hidden in each of these highly detailed natural expanses. This approach was brilliant, and it is hard to imagine how Ralph Lauren responded to seeing his ad: one solitary bright green man's necktie hung from a bright green mossy branch in the shadows of a wildly overgrown tree in a swamp. The tie takes up less than one percent of the incredibly beautiful image. Soth did similar treatments with watches, jewelry, perfumes, shoes, handbags, etc., at stunning locations around the world.
It was a trip to watch the Parisian socialites, dressed up, drinking champagne, (many with a scooter helmet hooked on one arm), searching diligently to find the hidden treasures. And that exercise suddenly caused many to notice the exquisite tiny details in every photo on display. What a smart and sly guy that Alec Soth is. Hats off.
I'm sure the Fashion Magazine will be available at your favorite photo book store. It's worth a look.
P.S. When W magazine commissioned Alec to do a 26-page fashion spread in their April issue, one reader responded with a venemous attack letter to the editors. You can follow this funny drama on Alec Soth's personal blog. And here's another blog discussion about the photo-shoot for W.