Sokolsky's Garden of Delights
Digital Journalist is intended to be a celebration of photography.
In these pages you will see work by new, young talent, such
as Suzie Fitzhugh, Andre Lambertson and David Brauchli. Then
there is the work by the giants of the profession, photographers
at the top of their form, such as David Allan Harvey, Eli Reed,
David Hume Kennerly and Mary Ellen Mark. Finally we pay respect
to the legends, Alfred Eisenstatdt, Ed Clark, Carl Mydans and
David Rubinger, the photographers who helped to shape our visual
month we offer the sweetest of all possible combinations. Melvin
Sokolsky's photographic style helped to define how a period
and generation looked in the late 1960s and early '70s. His
career and work became forgotten as he became more involved
in the motion picture industry, and was then rediscovered, leading
to a triumphant new body of work that takes us into the 21st
century of fashion.
Sokolsky wandered into the offices of Harper's Bazaar in the
fall of 1959 at the age of 20. He had just finished a shoot
for a small advertising agency of a model with a fur coat, for
which he was paid the princely sum of $150. Hoping to be considered
someday for an assignment he showed the pictures to the famed
Art Director, Henry Wolf. Melvin was uneasy about how his compositions
would fit into the pages of a fashion magazine. He was worried
about how to shoot leaving enough space for the type. Wolf growled
at him. "You just take a good picture and I'll figure out where
to put the type!"
was a young Wellesley graduate working as the secretary to Bazaar's
legendary Editor, Diana Vreeland. Her name was Ali McGraw. She
suggested to Melvin that there was a wonderful hat sitting on
a table in a storage room that she knew the editor had loved.
Melvin immediately did a cover take with the assistance of the
girl who would become one of the biggest movie stars of the
'70s and his place at Bazaar was assured. Unfortunately Ali
was not the cover model. She was considered to be too pretty.
a time when fashion was dominated by such photographers as Richard
Avedon, Hiro and Irving Penn, the kid from the Lower East Side
quickly developed a reputation for his quirky way of looking
at the world. He became fascinated with the idea of putting
models in plexiglass bubbles. When offered the chance to shoot
the Paris collections he proposed using his bubbles. He had
gotten the idea from "The Garden of Delights" by the great Flemish
painter Hieronymus Bosch, which he had seen as a child. He tested
the idea in Weehauken, New Jersey and editor Nancy White loved
the idea. The big problem then was how to convince the French
authorities to allow him to suspend the bubbles above the Paris
streets and the Seine. Fortunately, his model was married to
a Frenchman who played cards on a regular basis with Chief of
Police, and whenever the Gendarmes would descend on his troop,
Melvin would just point to the back of the van where the official
was playing cards.
relationships of all types fascinated him, leading to experiments
with oversized furniture, and use of negative and positive spaces
in rooms and doors.
the next few years, Melvin's output was prodigious, but eventually
he began to feel as though he was on a treadmill. The spaces
that had served him so well, began to close in on him. He wanted
to burst out of those rooms and tell stories with sequences
and movement. In the mid 1970s he moved to California and began
to shoot film. His intention was to become a feature director,
but he soon found that the studio's system of producing movies
would not permit him to tell the kind of stories he envisioned.
For the next twenty years he devoted himself to shooting commercials,
winning countless Cleos, the Oscars of advertising for his work.
Melvin was frustrated by what seemed to be the end of his still
photographic career at a point when he felt he was at the peak
of his skills." People look at me at my age and say can he still
do it? They celebrate what you did years ago, and now I am at
a time when I really know what I am doing, and yet it is harder
now than it was then. I've discovered I've become so much better
than what I did before. I have the energy level, and the focus."
month, Arena books published a book of his work during the sixties,
and a New York show of his work has been on display at the Staley-Wise
Gallery. Elizabeth Stewart of The New York Times Sunday magazine,
seeing the book, realized how fresh his vision still was. They
immediately shipped him three van-loads of clothes and gave
him carte blanche to create a portfolio. Melvin set out to build
30x40 foot sets from Styrofoam, and using all his creative talent
plus no small amount of Photoshop, came up with a dazzling new
body of work.
the "Dream" Photo Gallery
65, his phone is ringing off the hook. He is the new kid on
the block . But for Melvin, whether he is shooting stills or
film, using computers and digital techniques, it is all about
the importance of the idea.
of the digital photographic devices are meaningless without
an idea," he says. "It still needs the content that comes from
the human mind. It's a new time for me because I am stoked about
what I can do. I find new freedom within myself."
can tell you everything I am going to do, but you can't steal
my idea, because it is individual to me. It's as individual
to me as my fingerprint. You can copy my work, but it won't
be the same. I can't even copy my work. That photograph that
took place is a moment I built. It culminated at that time and
place... and it's over."
is obviously not over is Melvin Sokolsky's journey.
show featuring Melvin Sokolsky's photographs will be mounted
in Los Angeles, November 30, 2000 at the Fahey/Klein Gallery,
148 North Le Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036, Tel: 323 934-4243,
Sokolsky is represented in New York by the Staley/Wise Gallery,
560 Broadway, New York 10012, Tel: 212 966-6223, www.staleywise.com
can also visit www.sokolsky.com
to see more of his work.
Melvin Sokolsky's Gallery