began to contribute to Harpers Bazaar in 1959, the magazine
had recently dispensed with the services of Alexey Brodovitch,
the Russian art director who had been its guiding visual force
since 1934 and guru to many of Americas leading photographers.
As the Fifties wore on, Brodovitchformerly the insatiable
promoter of the newwas riding on his reputation; though
never less than elegant in its presentation, the magazine appeared
to run out of fresh ideas. The Hearst organization looked enviously
at Esquire, where a young art director, Henry Wolf, was a key
member of a team that was producing a lively magazine that offered
a more contemporary insight and Wolfs innovative layout
and typography to match.
fashion glossy was evidently not the same as a mens general
interest title, but Wolf was soon poached by the Bazaar. He was
new and determined to make changes. Of the established photographers,
some, like Richard Avedon and Lillian Bassman, were unassailable,
but Wolf was aiming to introduce more variety. He began to sign
up photographers with distinctive new visions, from the oblique
lyricism of Saul Leiter to the eye-catching devilment of Melvin
interests devolved, like most great fashion photographers, on
the woman in front of the camera, rather than the illustration
of garments. From childhood, the contact with great paintings
in the museums and galleries of New York was a seminal influence:
besides his abiding love of Surrealism, there were less usual
inspirations, such as the interior spatial effects of Velasquez,
and of the Flemish masters Van Eyck and Van der Weyden, and the
disturbing subject matter of Bosch and Brueghel. Velasquezs
device of including his self-portrait in the open doorway in the
background of "Las Meninas" would eventually recur in
a series of Sokolskys fashion photographs: by photographing
into a mirror, the photographer substituted himself for the painter,
the enigmatic presence and hint at voyeurism intensified by the
pared-down compositional elements (pages 148-149, 192).
Sokolskys ingenuity, the fundamentals that drove his work
and inspired its endless variety were his fascination with female
form and gesture, and he cites specifically the paintings of Balthus
as having led him to understand that this was his métier
(page 151). He says that in every fashion photograph "I tried
to show the gesture of the unclothed body beneath the garment:
I wanted it to be as if the clothes did not exist. For me, if
the merchandise is more important than the woman, then its
not a good photograph. The only times that the clothes ever interested
me were when they suited the woman wearing them: ideally, nothing
should look store-bought."
delicately-poised tussle for supremacy encountered in the business
of producing a fashion magazine, Sokolsky generally found it difficult
to convey his somewhat alternative agenda to the fashion editors.
They in their turn had ambitions to teach this young Vulgarian
(an epithet photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe attached to him early
on) all about fashion: "But what they didnt realize
was that Chanel, for example, ultimately loved women, and that
in her designs she tried to make new clothes appear worn-in."
In analysing and experimenting with gesture, Sokolsky instructed
models to turn the palms of their hands towards the lensa
deliberate flouting of the prevailing Renaissance norms of elegance.
It is clear from his early magazine work that he was rebelling
against what he saw as fashions over-riding tendency to
follow a trend: "I was instinctual in my approach, and all
I had to offer at first was irreverence."
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