280408: Vanity Fair

National Portrait Gallery: Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913 – 2008 Those were the days Vanity Fair has attainted the status of a cultural catalyst – be it regarding socio-cultural aspects, fashion, or portrait photography. The US publisher Condè Nast purchased the British weekly magazine in 1914 and after a slow start, he employed Frank Crowninshield, who created a fabulous platform for contemporary literature. This is where Dorothy Parker published her first poem and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s placed his early works. In 1923 Crowninshield managed to publish texts by Djuna Barnes, T.S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley and Gertude Stein in just one edition. Among Vanity Fair’s photographers you will find celebrities such as Cecil Beaton, George Hoyningen-Huene, Martin Munkácsi or Man Ray. The magazine suspended publication in 1936 and was relaunched in 1983. The exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery shows photographs dating from the eras: 1914 to 1936 and 1983 to 2008 – however, it fails to inform on many important aspects. There is not enough information about the history of the magazine nor is its history set in a broader context. It is rather insufficient to solely concentrate on displaying photographs, and thereby not enabling much of a dialogue - even if original editions of the magazine complement some of the exhibited works. But the show also offers some photographic highlights: among them the photo of the silent movie star Gloria Swanson by Edward Steichen, one of the magazine’s head photographers or the photo of Robert Mitchum, standing at a pier in a soaked trench coat, taken by Annie Leibovitz. On the one hand photography and its significance has transformed immensely in the two eras represented at this exhibit; on the other hand the choice of the works displayed clearly reflect the magazine’s stance: photos of Einstein, Joyce or the Sitwells meet with those of Demi Moore, Jennifer Lopez or the incredible family photo of Tom Cruise with wife and child (revealingly an explanatory note was missing). In any case, it is hard to develop enthusiasm at this exhibit, not even if you leave your Kulturpessimismus aside for just a few moments. National Portrait Gallery WC2H 0HE London, St. Martin’s Place, until 26. 05. 2008 www.npg.org.uk

National Portrait Gallery
WC2H 0HE London, St Martin`s Place
Tel: +44- 020 7312 2463, Fax: +44-020 7306 0056
Öffnungszeiten: 10-18 h

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