Fashion and celebrity photographer Horst P. Horst celebrated at SCAD FASH

An icon of glamor, Horst’s Vogue images and celebrity portraits of Coco Chanel, Bette Davis and Iman drew from art, film.

If you are at all susceptible to the pleasures of vintage photography, high fashion or celebrity culture then you’re bound to come away from “Horst P. Horst: The Essence of the Times” gobsmacked by the cumulative wit, sex appeal and imagination of this influential 20th century photographer.

Co-curated by SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion and Film creative director Rafael Gomes, the retrospective of more than 80 images from this singular photographer’s work spanning the ‘40s to the ‘80s is as visually seductive as they come, filled with photographs both familiar and arcane, but all of it emblematic of Horst’s distinctive style.

Credit: Horst P. Horst

Credit: Horst P. Horst

As prone to the moody, bifurcating effect of shadow as any Hollywood film noir director, Horst moved between twin poles of expressionistic Helmut Newton-level decadence and a kind of luscious Americana. The former can be seen in the decidedly kinky image “Electric Beauty” from 1939, a modern day vanitas featuring a woman in a room filled with beauty accoutrements whose face is shrouded in a mask, a hair dryer poised above her head and whose feet soaking in a tub of water threaten electrocution. On the other pole, crisp color images shot for Vogue magazine, featuring models with Snow White complexions (before the arrival of Black super models like Iman and Mounia in the ‘70s) in red nails and lips and sporting red, white and blue sportswear that suggests a collision of Horst’s German past — born Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann — and his American new world. European aristocrats were being replaced in the popular imagination by movie stars and Horst also began to photograph them: Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Jane Fonda, Vivien Leigh and Ingrid Bergman featured here.

Credit: Horst P. Horst

Credit: Horst P. Horst

Horst’s visual databank was legion. He drew from Greek and Roman classicism, Surrealism (he frequently collaborated with Salvador Dali) and Cubism and from film and European painting. His photographic backdrops could reference Ingres, theatrical tableaux and shop windows, his models displayed like jewels or tableaux vivants — trapped within the world Horst created for them. In one room of the exhibition space dedicated to his portraits of the famous, Horst shoots the Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti against a backdrop of sky and clouds in a way that conjures up the artistic imagination rendered as limitless sky.

Credit: Courtesy of SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion and Film

Credit: Courtesy of SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion and Film

In a 1987 ad for Chanel, Horst exhibits his signature blend of architectural female beauty and stylized artifice in a graphic studio shot that captures a model in a bathing suite contorting her body into an angular shape. She sits on a white floor to suggest “sand” with a round orb on the wall behind her evoking “sun.” It’s sexy, economical, sophisticated and classic Horst along with images that have become an integral part of the global visual vocabulary like the exquisitely erotic “Mainbocher Corset” (1939). That black and white image of a blonde woman seen from behind partly laced into a white corset, was later famously referenced in Madonna’s “Vogue” video.

Credit: Horst P. Horst

Credit: Horst P. Horst

Horst began his career in the 1930s and worked until his death in 1999 at age 93. His images distilled the glamour of their age: black and white shots of Coco Chanel or Noel Coward — naturally both smoking. In the Studio 54 ‘70s, he photographed fashion designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld looking as posh and glam as his Vogue fashion models. Beauty and talent were catnip to Horst who had the ability to bring an erotic charge to almost any portrait.

Credit: Horst P. Horst

Credit: Horst P. Horst

Most of Horst’s work is seen in books and magazines so it’s a special treat in “Essence of the Times” to see those downsized images blown up to poster size here, allowing you to bath in their aura of elegance, and occasional decadence: a world of skyscraper office suites, aristocrats in “Eyes Wide Shut” masks to hide their faces, palatial Italian homes ornamented with billboard-sized Renaissance paintings. His images capture a world of money and style that feels as lush and cinematic as a Visconti film.


VISUAL ART REVIEW

“Horst P. Horst: The Essence of the Times”

Through April 16. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. $10; $8 senior citizens and military; $5 college students with ID and alumni; free for under age 14, SCAD students, staff, faculty and members. SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film, 1600 Peachtree St. NW, Atlanta. 404-253-3132, scadfash.org.

Bottom line: A gorgeous, fitting summation of the seductive appeal of a legendary 20th century photographer.