Why it's important to remember a generation of intensely creative
photographers from the 70s and 80s.
"In all types of photography, one thing was the same during this period," says Naudet. "This was when photographers became stars, when magazines would hire someone for his or her particular point of view." Photographers were no longer merely staff functionaries sent out to illustrate stories; they became auteurs who often flaunted their eccentricities, because those were exactly the qualities that editorial and advertising clients were interested in purchasing.
"This led to an incredible kind of creativity during that period," says Naudet. "You had photographers stretching the limits, inventing new things, because they were allowed to and encouraged to."
The empowerment of photographers to create was especially apparent in fashion, and Naudet admits that his "underrated" list is weighted heavily toward that genre. "Partly it is because I love fashion, I love women, and I once wrote for fashion magazines, so I was very aware of this world," he says.
Fashion was also where art and commerce came together to reflect and ultimately to define the culture of the time. Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin tapped into personal fantasies and took fashion photography to new places. But if those two photographers are well known today, others, like Chris von Wangenheim (who, says Naudet, was the artistic heir of Newton), have largely been overlooked. Bill Silano, who shot extensively for Harper's Bazaar, was a master of composition and design. Alex Chatelain brought a simplicity and freshness to fashion. New Zealand-born Barry McKinley brought a lushness and elegance to women's and men's fashion. Bill King turned women into icons, especially in a long series of ads for Blackglama. Philip Dixon also brought a singular sensuality to fashion and to celebrity portraiture. Leslie Krims captivated collectors and curators with fine-art photography that turned his private impulses into a visual theater of the absurd.
Bill Cunningham is another case entirely. His photos can still be seen each Sunday in the New York Times. For decades, he has been chasing the celebrated (such as a reclusive Greta Garbo) and the anonymously stylish through the streets of New York, documenting the history of our culture on a weekly basis. Yet, because he is almost fanatical about not promoting himself beyond the realm of the newspaper, his efforts have been largely overlooked.
The portrait of the '70s and '80s that emerges from our portfolio shows just how provocative photographers could be, once upon a time. The culture has changed since then, in interesting ways. Fashion magazines now would probably not publish an image of a supermodel fondling her own undergarments, as French Vogue Homme did with Denis Piel's memorable image of Andie MacDowell; nor would they be likely to run Ara Gallant's fashion photo of two men snorting cocaine, as Interview did in 1977. Today we live in a more conservative era, at least as it relates to advertising-driven media. In researching this portfolio, we were, in fact, obliged to set aside many images-images once thrillingly published by mainstream magazines-because of their "controversial" sexual or cultural nature. The creative imperative now often comes not from individualistic photographers but from marketing departments whose goal it is to avoid offending cultural pressure groups.
Does that mean photographers today are less innovative than those who preceded them? Perhaps, says Naudet. "The key is for photographers now to look to the past for inspiration-not to imitate, but to see the creative dimensions and all the possibilities of another time."