Can 250 photographs tell the life story of a professional photographer? That's what the retrospective Horst: Photographer of Style at the V&A tries to do, and we reckon it's successful in its intent.
The exhibition explores the multi-faced career of the German photographer, born Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann. His career lasted 60 years, from the 1930s until the end of the 20th century. He was taught by Walter Gropius at the Bauhaus and was an intern under the tuition of iconic architect Le Corbusier during his first months in Paris, where his career officially kicked off.
Horst's encounter with French Vogue photographer George Hoyningen-Huene signalled a breakthrough in his professional life: he got involved in photography and was introduced to Paris' glitzy fashion scene in the 1930s. From then on, his career really took off: from Paris to New York, travelling via London, Horst was requested by Vogue art directors and acclaimed by fashion designers including Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiapparelli.
Haute couture and Horst's work for fashion publications represent the main sections of this exhibition. Starting with black and white photographs (particularly striking are the shots reproducing famous paintings, like the iconic Ingres' Odalisques), we travel through to the introduction of colour. Though the physcial tones change, what remains unaltered is Horst's mastery in every piece he produced. The photographer's attention to light was his signature, alongside the statue-like effect he gave to his subjects.
We particularly like the section dedicated to Surrealism, the artistic movement started in the 1920s that counts Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte as its major exponents. Here, the exhibition depicts the connection between Horst and Dali, who worked together on various professional projects, as well as the photographer's interest for surreal compositions documented by a series of shots.
Other sections detail Horst's interest for the natural patterns, which he elaborated and transformed into colourful and perfectly-designed compositions; and his travels to Syria and Iran with his life partner Valentine Lawford. Horst's infatuation with the human body, and his studies of nudes can be seen in the final part of the exhibition.
This retrospective goes beyond Horst professional work: it explores his personal interests and his private life, revealing what was behind his glazed fashion shots.