Book Review: "FOCUS: The Secret, Sexy, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers" by Michael Gross
By: Tal Yaron
Focus: The Sexy, Secret, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers by Michael Gross brings us a behind-the-scenes view of fashion photography’s apex; including, but not limited to, an in depth look at the personalities behind industry giants, Condé Nast and Hearst, their prestigious magazines, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and, of course, the great fashion photography masters and innovators of the time: Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Norman Parkinson, Deborah Turbeville, Patrick Demarchelier and Bert Stern, to name a few of the eclectic portraits described. Gross takes us on a chronological tour from the early 1900’s to the modern day of the fashion industry with a focus on “the half century from 1947 to 1997” which he chronicles as the glory days of the fashion world. We follow the real life stories of the photographers themselves, exaggerated and dramatized, based on true experiences; their relationships with their models and the magazines that employed them, and we watch as they changed and controlled the fashion world, while simultaneously the foundation they laid crumbled beneath them. Gross shows us the humanity or lack there-of in all these real life figures that he chooses to represent as the epitome of the art at its peak. Focus provides fascinating insight into the lives of these fashion icons with testimonials involving their every day struggles, drug addictions, love affairs, and interpersonal business relations; Munkacsi’s influence on fashion photography, Bert Stern’s debilitating speed addiction, Avedon’s bisexuality, personal exclusivity with specific models and growing jealousy of other photographers, Italian Vogue’s Franca Sozzani’s re-elevation of the photographer as supreme, or Bill King’s extreme control of his studio where “zones were differentiated with colored tape marking where editors, stylists, and clients could stand.” Focus shows us the freedom, individuality, self-expression and experimentation in an industry that has long since lost those values, chasing money now instead of dreams; a look back at an era that has led up to present day, and, the names that have created and changed the lexical canon of fashion photography and lived that life to its fullest. Focus: The Sexy, Secret, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers by Michael Gross is an exciting read, full of anecdotes and whispers of a fashion era long gone, a must for photography enthusiasts, magazine historians, fashionistas, and lovers of haute couture gossip.
Focus: The Sexy, Secret, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers by Michael Gross first published July 2016 by Atria Books ISBN: 978-1-4767-6346-0
Review © Tal Yaron