"If photographers are responsible for creating or reflecting an image of women in society, then, I must say, there is only one way for the future, and this is to define women as strong and independent. This should be the responsibility of photographers today: to free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection.” - Peter Lindbergh
This September was a devastating month for the photography world. First, we lost the irreplaceable fashion master Peter Lindbergh (1944-2019), then, the street-photography pioneer Robert Frank (1924-2019) and eventually, the magician of colour, Fred Herzog (1930-2019). These three men made the photography world as vivid as we see it today only by the use of hand-held analogue cameras, absence of post-production, a great amount of grain and most importantly, honesty.
The three photographers, including fashion crackerjack, Lindbergh, were terrified of perfection and considered it the biggest enemy of artistic freedom and talent. All three opted for unusual framing, motion blur, non-standard poses, unique compositions and, as mentioned above - grain. Lots of grain. Of course, as it was once said by another street and documentary photographer Constantine Manos (1934 - ): "Grain is the brushstroke of photography". And anyway, life itself isn't sleek and glamorous as it may seem on Vogue covers. It's pretty messy, chaotic and in fact, grainy. Thus, the three photographers did not want to alter the reality they lived in but to capture it the way it is - crude and with the rough edges.
Another enemy, apart from perfection for Lindbergh was youth, especially the idea that women are at their prime only when they are young with flawless skin and freshly-dyed and blow-dried hair. In May 2016 he declared in Art Forum: "If photographers are responsible for creating or reflecting an image of women in society, then, I must say, there is only one way for the future, and this is to define women as strong and independent. This should be the responsibility of photographers today: to free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection.”
Robert Frank with his book The Americans (1958) was the first one to demystify the illusion of an ideal society created in post-war America, the so-called American Dream. Thanks to Frank, for the first time picture-perfect America has finally been portrayed as The Truman Show (1998 film directed by Peter Weir) model of society - where a carefree group of citizens lives in a metaphoric bubble without thinking of the harsh realities. Similarly, Robert Frank also showed that for impossible as it may seem for the upper-class layer of society, America is infected with instability, poverty, and inequality.
Just like another great master of colour photography William Eggleston (1939 - ), Fred Herzog photographed democratically without drawing a clear distinction between beautiful and ugly things or between something important and something less relevant. Herzog began shooting street scenes of Vancouver, Canada in the 50s and became the photographer who managed to capture the city in its less glossy and unexpected moments. He often focused his lens on working-class subjects. While other street photographers of the decade were opting for black-and-white prints, considering colour not artistic and even vulgar, Herzog deliberately printed in colour to reveal life just as it was - resplendent and raw.
In spite of all the sadness and grief for the hot shots of photography, let's also celebrate this September the art of imperfection as something essential for developing such great talents as Lindbergh, Frank and Herzog. It is probably what they would love to be remembered for anyway.