Fruits of uber-designer Karl Lagerfeld’s obsession with photography on display in Paris

By Jenny Barchfield, AP
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Karl Lagerfeld’s photos on display in Paris

PARIS — He’s an uncontested master with a pen and sketchbook, on which he’s been rattling off blockbuster ready-to-wear and haute couture collections for decades. But Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld is also gifted with a camera.

A new Paris exhibition showcases the gamut of Lagerfeld’s photography, from his commercial work for Chanel to celebrity portraits for magazines to more experimental landscapes and architectural pieces.

The show — which kicked off Tuesday with a star-studded and Champagne-soaked opening at the Maison Europeene de la Photographie — brings together about 300 of the designer’s shots and is billed as the largest-ever exhibit of his photographs.

Lagerfeld first took up photography in 1987, and the show, called “Parcours de travail,” or “Career Path,” has something for everyone, with sober landscapes in black and white or sepia to portraits soaked in eye-popping colors or printed on glitter-covered paper.

There are, of course, the obligatory fashion photos. Lagerfeld, who designs for Chanel, Italian fashion house Fendi and his own signature line, has long shot the press kits for the labels, churning out photos of models sporting clothes from his latest collections for decades.

From there, he branched out into ad campaigns for the lines. (Chanel’s latest campaign, featuring waifs sporting Chewbacca fake-fur skirt suits as they lounge on New York City fire escapes, is his.)

Standouts include “Couture 18eme Vogue,” a 1998 series he shot for the fashion magazine, a period mise-en-scene featuring models in towering powdered wigs and merengue-like ball gowns playing cards and tossing back Champagne in an old French town house.

A 1992 series also for Vogue features close-ups of Canadian supermodel Linda Evangelista, her face painted in color blocks of cherry red, teal blue, bubblegum pink and saffron in the style of renowned Expressionist painter Alexej Jawlensky.

Lagerfeld is a passionate connoisseur of modern art, and many of the photos in the show reflect that. Besides the Jawlensky series, there’s a 1997 homage to Oskar Schlemmer, the German artist and teacher at the Bauhaus school, and a 2005 series of pop art portraits of Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi depicting the star talking on the phone or crying dramatic tears in U.S. painter Roy Lichtenstein’s signature style.

Other celebrity portraits — displayed on a massive wall, like a checkerboard of the beautiful, the thin, the rich and the famous — include shots of fashionistas from Claudia Schiffer to Eva Herzigova and actors including Jack Nicholson and Monica Bellucci.

“Mulholland Drive” director David Lynch — captured in black-and-white as he leans over to light a cigarette, his trademark shock of bone-white hair flopping over his forehead — said he loved the portrait.

“It’s my favorite picture that anyone’s taken of me, ever,” Lynch told The Associated Press during the opening. “I don’t really know why, I just like it. Perhaps because I look very good in it,” he added with a wink.

Lynch was among a bevy of celebrities on hand for Tuesday’s opening, including Chanel muses Vanessa Paradis and Ines de la Fressange, actor-cum-heart throb Gaspard Ulliel and French designer Pierre Cardin.

Celebrity architect Peter Marino, known for his trademark head-to-toe black leather look, said his favorites were the series of large-scale images of buildings and monuments shot from unusual angles.

“I loved the series called ‘Men and Nature’ with the shots from underneath the Eiffel Tower juxtaposed with the shots from the underside of the tree. It made me crazy, I thought the contrast was so beautiful,” Marino told The AP, adding that he’s been getting architecture photos from Lagerfeld as Christmas gifts for years. “I treasure them very much.”

He said that Lagerfeld’s unusual eye — his gift for seeing things from unusual perspectives — unified the otherwise disparate work and pointed to the 2007 series “Another Side of Versailles.”

In those grainy black and white images, France’s most famous chateau is pushed out of center stage and onto the margins of the frame. In one shot, a lichen-stained stone staircase dominates the frame, with the chateau’s roof just peeking over the top, while in another the castle is but a hazy reflection in a pond.

“Versailles is about 350 year old now and has this very fairy tale quality about it,” Marino said. “Karl’s photos have a sort of fuzzy, out-of-focus quality that kind of catches more of the feeling of the building than a standard photo of the grand chateau.”

“Parcours de travail” runs through Oct. 31 at the Maison Europeene de la Photographie.



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