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.
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.
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.
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.