Photography from the V&A: Kevin Lear and Irving Penn

The Victoria and Albert museum displayed two photographs in particular that became most apparent.  The first photograph displays ‘Café in Lima’ by Irving Penn 1948. The second shows Kevin Lear’s ‘Ted Couples’ photographed over 20 years later in 1974. Both photographs being fashion statements of the time, show diversity in composition, class and composure of models give the audience an idea of the photos narrative and social impact.
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Irving Penn, 1948. Café in Lima. [Gelatin Silver Print] Available at: Victoria and Albert Museum. [Accessed: 22/09/2012].
Irving Penn’s ‘Café in Lima’ 1948 is a standard black and white Gelatin Silver print photograph published as part of a Vogue assignment. The female model is poised in a ‘proper’ manner with a sophisticated look which was typical for women at the time. The clothing creates an upper class edge implying her status while being fashionable for the time as expected given the context of a fashion magazine. The fact the model is relaxing her feet rather than the standard stiff poise, implies a movement in photography or perhaps Penn’s style to capture more realistic values of the fashionable woman – thus allowing the audience to connect more with the photograph. The location, the models poise and upper class style of dress creates juxtaposition to draw attention to the model, making her the main focus point – a style icon in an insignificant café. Although elegant, this context of the café suggests post-war fashion photography settled for a more simplistic, relaxed feel than the previous high glamour photographs seen featuring icons like Marilyn Monroe.
 Penn captures the photograph with the straight on angle at eye level perspective with the subject in central focus, to achieve a style statement. This image is appealing, particularly due to its black and white medium which creates strong tones to create a bold style. Although colour photography was not widely used at this point, black and white works to create a harsh contrast between light and shadow to achieve elegance. This reflects the attitude of the model at the time as powerful yet graceful. The harsh bold lines and contrasting colours have similarities within the ‘Pop Art’ movement, where Roy Lichtenstein used aspects in his own art of block colour to make a statement.
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 Kevin Lear, 1974. Ted couples – Southend on Sea. [Gelatin Silver Print]. Available at: Victoria and Albert Museum New Acquisitions, Room 20a.[Accessed: 22/09/2012].
Kevin Lear’s ‘Ted Couples’ (1974) is a black and white fashion photograph printed using Gelatin silver print. Although the photograph is taken over 20 years later than ‘Café in Lima’ it shares many similarities about fashion and photography, and differences with composition and poise to perhaps reflect societies changing attitudes. Lear’s photograph captures the revival of the 50s Rockabilly music and ‘ted’ girl and boy fashions which show a distinction in poise compared to the first photograph. This change in attitude reflects individual’s sense of rebelling and its acceptance within society causing it to be a fashion statement. The photographer carefully captures the rebelling attitude by composing their stance in an edgy yet very free style when compared to the ‘Café in Lima’ piece which is a more rehearsed poise; however both are used to create the same effect. The vintage black and white edge that the photograph emits shows style within the piece – the contrast with shadow and light balance works to create strong tones which would not have been as captivating if shot in colour.
Overall both photographs show diversity within the same medium. The earlier photograph displays class and elegance within a fashion context, where as the second photo displays a slightly more working class group of people with a more edgy style of fashion and social attitude contrasting to that of the first photo. This shows as times and fashions have changed, so has society and it’s perceptions of them. Society represents fashion and fashions reflect society as shown through the medium of photography.
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