"A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it; it is in one word, effective." - Irving Penn.
Parisians are currently flocking to two major photographic exhibitions and for a reason! The artworks are absolute must-sees for anyone remotely interested in photography, fashion and/or cinema.
Grand Palais is presently hosting an exhibition on the renowned photographer, Irving Penn. Needless to say, I willingly spent 2 hours queueing (literally battling to get in) in the cold weather - the event's that much big of a deal!
Best known for his fashion photography, Penn's career famously included work at Vogue magazine. His repertoire also features ethnographic portraits from around the world, Modernist still lifes of food, bones, bottles, metal, and found objects, and nudes whose physical shapes range from thin to plump.
Penn was among the first photographers to pose subjects against a simple grey or white backdrop. Part of his infamous series of portraits taken against a set of upright angled backdrops, to form a stark, acute corner, with subjects including Martha Graham, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Spencer Tracey and Igor Stravinsky, are also on display. The photographer notably experimented with many printing techniques and his black and white prints remain striking for their deep contrast, giving them a clean, crisp look.
Part of Penn's work can also be seen at the European House of Photography, which is promoting its own temporary exhibition, Obsession Marlene. An obsession - certainly, for Frenchmen remain strangely attracted to the legend that Marlene Dietrich was. Locals continue to associate her with the identity of Paris, as she has remained so strongly embedded in its culture.
Through his lifetime, the collector, Pierre Passebon, has assembled more than 2000 photographs of the German singer and Hollywood star and has generously lended about 200 of them to be exhibited in the city where the legend breathed her last breath.
The portraits, many of which autographed, are presented chronologically and gradually reveal the glamourous image incarnated by the timeless icon of the XXth century. They've further been grouped into themes starting from Marlene's younger years as a rising star, through publicity stills for her movies, shots of her dressed in a tux - positively a shock for the patriarchy of the 1930's, intimate moments with friends such as Louis Armstrong, Noël Coward, Edith Piaf, and the photographers themselves, finishing with rare behind-the-scenes moments from her concerts towards the end of her life.
A section has been dedicated to her war effort years with shots taken in bunkers with the American soldiers she entertained. On that same wall hangs a portrait of Charles de Gaulle with a personal note - a gift from the French president to Dietrich herself. A few shots that I found particularly amusing have captured her "escaping" the photographers' flashes by hiding under a table at a reception or literally hitting the paparazzi and dropping the poor man's camera. So much for intruding one's privacy!
This marvelous collection shows Marlene's life immortalized by the lens of Edward Steichen, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Milton Greene, François Gragnon, George Hurrell, Antony Armstrong-Jones, Cecil Beaton, Willy Rizzo, Horst P. Horst, among others. Both exhibitions are an awe-inspiring tribute to the lives of great people who continue to inspire contemporary ideas generations later.