Karl Lagerfeld photography retrospective in Paris

After a magnificent Chanel collection, here’s additional proof for you that Karl Lagerfeld is a genius. The first retrospective of his photography, Parcours de travail (Work in Progress), is being held in Paris until October 31st. Part of the pictures on show are Chanel ads, covers and editorials seen before in fashion magazines. But through the exhibition we also catch a glimpse of the more intimate side of a man who remains a mystery despite his well-publicized persona. What is your favorite picture of this retrospective?

Karl Lagerfeld started designing in the 1950s but it is only much later that he tried his hand at photography. Legend has it that, dissatisfied with submissions from agencies, Lagerfeld was challenged to shoot the 1987 press release by Eric Pfrunder, Chanel’s image director. The designer of Chanel’s fashion collections has since then doubled as the man behind the lens for Chanel ads and corporate images. Lagerfeld admits that photography plays a major role in his life; he is quoted at the entrance of the exhibition: “I cannot see life without the vision of a photographer anymore. I see the world and fashion through lens.

Now let’s now begin our visit, shall we?

The exhibition starts with pictures of architecture tinged with a feeling of noble melancholy. The close-up of the Eiffel Tower’s metallic structure enhances the monument’s industrial quality. Versailles is revealed as a haunted château with empty alleys of anguish, far from Sofia Coppola’s festively colored vision.

What struck me during my visit of the exhibition is the wide range of techniques Lagerfeld obviously enjoys experimenting with. As the designer of Chanel and Fendi, he is constrained to respect the stylistic codes and heritage of the brands. Regarding photography however, he can let his imagination run free without boundaries. Being the aesthete that he is, Lagerfeld uses the camera as a means to constantly reinvent his vision and follow multiple sources of inspiration.

Lagerfeld draws part of his inspiration from his love for art and photography from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. His portrait of Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi for Interview magazine for instance is reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art.

Next, the exhibition leads to a room with walls covered with pictures. The closest one is a mosaic of celebrities who posed for Karl Lagerfeld. Can you recognize them?

The opposite wall displays Lagerfeld’s fashion photography. Some pictures were clearly made for Chanel, but others are obviously more personal and touching for their poetic and romantic quality. Passionate about German photography from the 1920s, Lagerfeld is also inspired by the works of contemporary German photographers Helmut Newton, Peter Lindbergh and Ellen von Unwerth.

As you may know, Karl Lagerfeld has a wicked sense of humor, which translates into his pictures of men as objects and over-sexual women. And he has no problem poking fun at Coco Chanel’s legend.

What do you think of this visit? Are there other photographers whose work you are fond of?

A book on the retrospective is sold at Colette’s e-shop. And if you want to see more pictures from the exhibition, have a look at this Vogue Paris page!

Après une magnifique collection Chanel, voici pour vous une preuve supplémentaire du génie de Karl Lagerfeld. La première rétrospective de ses photographies, Parcours de travail, a lieu à la Maison Européenne de la Photographie de Paris jusqu’au 31 octobre. Une partie des images exposées sont des publicités Chanel, des couvertures et des éditoriaux déjà vus au détour de magasines de mode. Mais l’exposition met aussi en valeur une œuvre plus personnelle d’un homme qui reste un mystère malgré sa forte médiatisation. Quelle est votre photo préférée de l’exposition ?

Créateur de mode depuis les années 1950, Karl Lagerfeld s’est initié à la photographie sur le tard. En 1987, jugeant les dossiers de presse « has-been », Lagerfeld est mis au défi de les réaliser par Eric Pfrunder, directeur de l’image Chanel. Depuis, le créateur des collections est également l’homme derrière l’objectif pour toutes les publicités et images de mode de la maison. Lagerfeld avoue ne plus pouvoir se passer de la photographie ; cette citation nous prévient  au début de l’exposition : « La photographie fait partie de ma vie. Elle ferme le cercle de mes préoccupations artistiques et professionnelles. Je ne vois plus la vie sans sa vision. Je regarde le monde et la mode avec l’œil de l’appareil. »

L’exposition commence par des photographies d’architecture empreintes d’une noble mélancolie et d’un sentiment d’absence. Le gros plan sur la structure métallique de la Tour Eiffel la dépeint comme une Dame de Fer industrielle. Versailles se révèle être un château hanté aux allées vides presque angoissantes, bien loin de la vision festive et colorée de Sofia Coppola.

Ce qui m’a frappé lors de ma visite de l’exposition, c’est la multitude de techniques avec lesquelles Lagerfeld aime à l’évidence expérimenter. Son travail de créateur chez Chanel et Fendi le contraint à respecter un nombre de codes et d’héritages stylistiques. Avec la photographie par contre, il laisse libre cours à son imagination sans la brider. Epris d’esthétique, il se sert de cet art comme d’un jeu lui permettant de réinventer sans cesse sa vision.

Passionné d’art et de photographie de la fin du 19e siècle au début du 20e siècle, Lagerfeld s’en est visiblement inspiré pour certaines de ses œuvres. Le portrait de l’actrice chinoise Zhang Ziyi pour le magasine Interview notamment rappelle le pop art de Roy Lichtenstein.

L’exposition mène ensuite à une pièce aux murs recouverts de photographies. Le plus proche est une mosaïque des célébrités ayant posé pour Karl Lagerfeld. Savez-vous les reconnaître ?

Le mur en face présente les photographies de mode. Certaines portent l’empreinte Chanel, mais d’autres, plus personnelles, sont émouvantes par leur poésie et leur romantisme. Passionné par la photographie allemande des années 1920, Lagerfeld se dit très touché par les photographies d’Helmut Newton, Peter Lindbergh et Ellen von Unwerth dont les influences se ressentent dans son œuvre.

Comme vous le savez sans doute, Karl Lagerfeld a un humour ravageur et ça se voit dans les photos où il met en scène un homme-objet et une femme ultra-dominatrice.  Même Coco Chanel en prend un coup !

Que pensez-vous de cette visite ? Y a-t-il d’autres photographes dont l’œuvre vous touche ?

Vous pouvez retrouver les photographies de cette rétrospective dans un livre édité à cette occasion. Et si vous voulez voir davantage de photos de l’exposition, allez faire un tour chez Vogue Paris !

18 Comments

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18 responses to “Karl Lagerfeld photography retrospective in Paris

  1. I really love the picture of the 4 different (paintings?) of a woman in front of a flag/moon/etc. It is amazing.

  2. Quelquefois je crois que Karl Lagerfeld était envoyé par un monde plus avancé pour nous enseigner la culture. Et je rigole seulement un peu quand je le dit.

  3. I love his work so much – thanks for sharing!!

    Briony xx

  4. @ Nathan: They’re so unique, real works of art. And it’s a change from how this actress is usually portrayed.

    @ Anwa: Hahahaha c’est vrai qu’il a l’air d’un extraterrestre :-D Ce mec est une vraie encyclopédie, c’est incroyable.

    @Briony: You’re welcome! Being the Chanel lover that you are, I thought you’d like them ;-)

  5. This retrospective looks amazing!
    I see there some of my favorite photos too. I loved his goth editorial for German Vogue. And I really love photos with Stella Tenant. He strives for the perfection and beauty in everything he does! He’s admirable!

  6. J’ai vraiment envie d’aller voir cette expo !
    Dès que je rentre à Paris, j’y cours !

  7. Wow! I knew Mr. Lagerfeld was a “photographer,” but to have his own exhibit of all those gorgeous photographs…that really makes him a PHOTOGRAPHER, now doesn’t it!! They are just beautiful, wish I could see it in person…

  8. Ava

    Have you ever seen the documentary “Karl Confidential” about Karl Lagerfeld? It’s sooooooo interesting, as he really opens up to the documentarians about his life, his childhood and his philosophies on love, friendship, and creative work – including his photography! He’s extremely intelligent and very articulate. I feel I could watch that documentary numerous times and always take away something new. You should check it out, if you haven’t already :)

  9. @donutsoup Haha I see what you mean. Since he’s a designer first you’d think his pictures would look totally amateur, while actually he’s better at it than a lot of professional photographers! It’s great that his work gets that kind of recognition now.

    @Ava Yes, I’ve seen this documentary! It was a long time ago though, and on Youtube. I just looked it up on this website but couldn’t find it anymore :-( Too bad, because you made me want to watch it again!

  10. Great post! It feels like a must-see expo. Beautiful blog. I love to see much art.
    As for other (fashion) photographers, Herb Ritts, Peter Lindbergh and Tim Walker are in my top 5 for sure.

    And I love Bruce Weber and Juergen Teller too….You?

    Bisous!
    Le Choix Trois

    Fashion is all about choices. What will you choose?

    • Thanks for your comment!
      My favorite photographers… good question, there are so many great ones it’s hard to make a choice! I love Steven Meisel, Richard Avedon, Mario Sorrenti, Helmut Newton just to name a few.

  11. Really great pictures!
    Didier

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  14. Pingback: Helmut Newton, still provocative | Ritournelle

  15. Pingback: Karl Lagerfeld - on the other side of the lens - Les Belles

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