Summer Fashions, American Vogue cover, 15 May 1941. © Condé Nast/Horst Estate
The V&A's new show, Horst: Photographer of Style, looks back at sixty years of work by the master image-maker Horst P Horst, who made his name at French Vogue in the 1930s. But with no vintage prints of Horst's magazine work available, the museum had to enlist the help of a specialist printer and the Condé Nast archives to get back to the original Kodachrome transparencies...
In 1930 Horst (1906-99) came to Paris to work as an apprentice to Le Corbusier. After meeting George Hoyningen-Huene, one of the star photographers at French Vogue, Horst gained access to the artistic circles of the French capital – a year later, he joined French Vogue at the encouragement of Dr Mehemed Agha, art director of American Vogue.
This was at a time when publisher Condé Montrose Nast was investing in image reproduction facilities in response to the increasing demand for photography in fashion magazines – and in order to produce such highly detailed imagery, Nast insisted that his Vogue photographers work with large format cameras (which produced negatives at ten by eight inches).
Horst was able to experiment with colour while at Vogue (Surrealism also became an influence on his style) and in 1935 he photographed the Russian Princess Nadejda Sherbatow in a red velveteen jacket for the first of his many Vogue covers.
Yet Horst’s early colour work is rarely exhibited because so few vintage prints exist. As the V&A explain, "colour capture" took place on a transparency that was then reproduced on the magazine page without the need to create an actual print.
Dress by Hattie Carnegie, 1939. © Condé Nast/Horst Estate
Dinner suit and headdress by Schiaparelli, 1947. © Condé Nast/Horst Estate
Vintage chromes from the Condé Nast Archive © Shawn Waldron/Condé Nast
For the V&A exhibition, curator Susanna Brown decided that in order to show Horst's Vogue work properly a series of large prints would be produced specifically for the show, working directly from the original ten by eight Kodachromes held in the Condé Nast archives.
CN archive director, Shawn Waldron, described the process of recreating Horst's work in a blog post for the V&A.
"The vintage chromes contain an incredible amount of depth and detail," he writes. "High-resolution drum scans from Laumont, one of the leading photo labs in New York, allowed us to take full advantage of the chromes' dynamic range. The incredibly precise scans were painstakingly colour corrected by Condé Nast Archive's Imaging Lab."
‘Before’ – A faded vintage chrome before and after colour correction. Dress by Hattie Carnegie, modelled by Carmen Dell’Orefice © Condé Nast
‘After’ – Dress by Hattie Carnegie, modelled by Carmen Dell’Orefice © Condé Nast
"In many cases the original chromes were badly faded," Waldron continues, "so the Imaging team, lead by Lindsay Foster, tackled the delicate task of digitally painting lost colour back into the files. Colour references came from the original magazine spreads, captions, other photos from the period, and other research. In one extreme case, a makeup designer provided a tube of lipstick for matching purposes."
Proofing wall © Shawn Waldron/Condé Nast Archive
The team worked with New York-based printer, Ken Allen Studios, on the project.
"Some of the prints required more than ten rounds of proofing to get the colour, saturation, contrast, and overall aesthetic to what we felt was appropriate and respectful of the photographer and period," Waldron writes. "The photos were also not heavily retouched or cropped. Obvious flaws in the film, such as scratches or processing effects were corrected, but the models' skin was not smoothed or enhanced in the style of modern fashion photography."
Proofs being printed © Shawn Waldron/Condé Nast
"The film's slow speed was particularly challenging and required intense lighting systems and a wide aperture," Waldron explains. [Horst shot his early colour work at the Condé Nast Studio at 380 Lexington Avenue when colour film and photography was still a work in progress].
"Some of the photos may appear as technical misses to modern eyes, but Horst was simply doing the best he could with the limited flexibility of colour film. The exhibition prints aim to present Horst's early colour work through a modern printing technique while remaining true to the original."
"They're very, very high quality scans that have been produced on a drum scanner," says Brown in the film, "so every detail in the images is really dazzlingly clear, every eyelash, every pore, is visible and that's part of the beauty I think of these pictures and the opportunity to show them on such a large scale. The clarity of the photographs is really quite magical."
Once approved by the Condé Nast Archive, the 25 colour prints were mounted on aluminium before being framed at John Jones in London and installed at the V&A.
"I think that Horst himself wasn't a great follower of fashion," says Brown. "It's not really an exhibition about fashion, it's about style and elegance ... that's his lasting legacy and a sense of classicism comes through very strongly in his work and that doesn't change. In fact, if you look at a Horst picture from the 1930s and a picture from the 1980s, that classicism and inimitable style is still present."
Horst: Photographer of Style is at the V&A Museum until January 4 2015. More at vam.ac.uk
Muriel Maxwell, American Vogue, 1939. © Condé Nast/Horst Estate
Corset by Detolle for Mainbocher, 1939. © Condé Nast / Horst Estate
Male Nude, 1952. © Condé Nast/Horst Estate
Horst directing fashion shoot with Lisa Fonssagrives, 1949. Photograph by Roy Stevens/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Three installation images of Horst – Photographer of Style. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London