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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Viviane Sassen: In and Out of Fashion

In bloom by ©Viviane Sassen,  2011, for Dazed & Confused

Viviane Sassen: In and Out of Fashion
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
From today until February 2, 2014 (Free)

As anyone who has ever been involved in the business of producing fashion photography knows, there is an element of surreal performance about getting to the point of the finished product.

Every detail of the shoot needs to be carefully planned. Before a button is even pressed on a camera, there is a mass of organisation involved; from finding a location or studio to organising models, clothes, accessories and props.

Once all the elements combine, the magic can begin.

The last exhibition of work in the Robert Mapplethorpe Gallery at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery featured a broad sweep of Man Ray’s epoch-making photography, including several images of Lee Miller. 
Miller was a fashion model before turning to photography herself. 

Now, it is the turn of Dutch model turned photographer, Viviane Sassen, to take centre-stage in this gallery, the first purpose-built photography space of its kind in a major museum in Scotland.

Sassen initially studied fashion design and worked as a model, before studying photography from 1992 to 1997. 

In 2007, she won the Dutch equivalent of the Turner Prize, the Prix de Rome, for her highly distinctive imagery, which crosses the boundary between fashion and fine art.

Form, figure, texture and colour are integral to her work and in this survey of her work in fashion, from 1995 to 2012, expect total immersion in Sassen’s vividly imagined alternative world.

In and Out of Fashion brings together around 50 photographic prints and displays in glass cabinets, brimming with notes, 
plans and magazines, selected by Sassen, as well as a specially designed installation, in which 200 images are projected onto a mirror in the centre of the exhibition.

Sassen’s campaigns for fashion houses such as Carven, Stella McCartney, Miu Miu and M-Missoni, as well as editorial commissions for magazines such as Purple, i-D, Dazed & Confused and Pop, have had a lasting impact on fashion photography in the last decade.

Miley Cyrus’ ‘twerking’ (shaking her pert bottom) on her Wrecking Ball video, may be separated by fifty shades of grey from Sassen’s highly original lavishly layered imagery, but look closely enough at the Cyrus video, and you spot the influence.

According to the Portrait Gallery’s international photography curator, Annie Lyden, Sassen’s work is ‘not sensational but very sensuous’.

“There is a continuum in Vivian’s work,” she says. “She exploits the graphic potential of bodies. Sometimes there are two figures, but you can't tell who is who. Gravity is often distorted. You wonder if you are looking at the photograph the right way up and there is a big element involving the use of mirrors in the work. You are seeing torsos and limbs that don't match.

“There is such a flamboyant approach to it and I think much of that stems from her being a model herself.”
Alongside images from Sassen’s recent work for The New York Times Magazine, Self Service, Acne, Levi’s, Diesel and Louis Vuitton, is another major body of work, called Foreplay. In this series of almost abstract images, she explores the moments before a fashion shoot begins, offering an insight into the spontaneous, creative way in which her vision emerges.

According to Lyden, the physical set-up of the exhibition – with the mirrored installation at its centre – reflects Sassen’s constant quest to contradict what people expect from fashion photography.

As soon as the visitor walks in, it will be an immersive experience, with images bouncing off white walls and white vinyl floor from the mirror.

“There’s the opportunity to sit down and view in a 10 minute loop images from across the 17 years of Viviane’s career. Then you move on to the framed work on the wall. It is a very engaging experience.

Sassen has developed a highly personal signature style, with challenging, flamboyant, formally inventive and occasionally surreal compositions.

In contrast to her art work, Sassen’s fashion photography is made in collaboration, working with a large team of stylists, models and make-up artists.

She says that for her, fashion photography is like a ‘laboratory’, a domain in which she can work spontaneously and intuitively, assisted by a professional team, to perform an experiment. Many fashion journalists and photographers will say ‘amen’ to that.

In the same way Man Ray pushed back the boundaries of the times in which he lived, at the heart of Viviane Sassen’s work is a kick-back to what it means to be human in the dawn of a digital age in which everyone and anyone can be digitally manipulated.

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