If you’ve ever flipped opened a fashion glossy and gasped at an image inside, the opening of photo exhibit, Click Chic: The Fine Art of Fashion Photography (running through Oct. 6) was the place to be Monday night. Hosted by New York’s School of Visual Arts, a glittering crowd of artists and editors (along with some SVA students who donned a feather headdress and a bunny suit for the occasion), packed the school’s Visual Arts Museum to celebrate the work of six SVA alums.
The rich body of fashion photographs from Roderick Angle (the onetime protégé of David LaChapelle), Guy Aroch, Maki Kawakita, Ryan Michael Kelly, Chiun-Kai Shih and Sarah Silver includes never-before-seen photographs created as personal work, along with images from editorial features and advertising campaigns from around the world. Curated by Dan Halm, the exhibition reflects history, as well as contemporary development.
“I’ve been obsessed with fashion and fashion photography since I was a child,” Halm says. “This is an industry that’s all about the next season. The people showing here are producers of art, and I want people to look at their photos for what they are.”
Inspired by his grandmother, a seamstress, Halm loved studying pictures of the clothes she was making. With ‘Click Chic,’ his first exhibition, he spent hours sorting through photographs before meeting with the artists individually to discuss their work. “Dan has been amazing,” Sarah Silver says. “You can’t imagine how much work has gone into this.”
Part of Halm’s drive stems from a desire to break down stigmas surrounding fashion photography. For years, some critics have refused to consider commissioned editorial and advertising work as “art,” believing it is impure or aesthetically limiting.
In 1955, legendary American Ballet photographer George Platt Lynes destroyed the majority of his photo archives out of fear that his reputation would be tarnished if his male nudes were ever discovered. In the 1980s, many photographers refused to work for mega-corporations, saying their values were not in line with the company or that they had too little creative control over the final product.
Today, some artists eschew editorial and advertising jobs because the work is undervalued thrown out at the end of the month without a second glance. “I face criticism every single day,” Silver says. “We have one toe in the fine-art world, but we’re also drastically grounded in the business of the consumer.”
Halm hopes to change fashion photography’s disposable image by highlighting images that hold their own. The 48 photos displayed each bring a different style and cultural reference point.
While most of Guy Aroch’s work on display were close-ups of the human face, done in black and white, Silver’s contributions feature movement and bold colors. In one shot, a woman in a jeweled red mask and neon-yellow outfit shrieks with her head thrown back. Another photo features a pair of partially open red lips covered in pink crystals.
“What we’re doing isn’t that different from what you’d see at the Met,” Silver says. “No matter who we’re working for, we’re under pressure to get it right. Maybe the difference between the people here tonight and those in fine arts is that we live for the throwaway. We’re looking to make the maximum impact in the least amount of time.”
Chiun-Kai Shih, who works specifically for GQ Taiwan, shrugs off criticism, saying he’s never felt constrained by editorial work. “When I’m assigned to create a work of element, I feel creative the whole time,” he says. “At the end of the day, you’re looking through then lens and making a choice.”
One of Shih’s featured models, Jack Ryfiak, agrees. “Working on editorial shoots can feel more original than pure artistic work,” he says. “A great editorial photographer will create something amazing, no matter what.”
Image by Sarah Silver