The International Center for Photography is the latest victim to fall under Steven Klein’s alluring spell. The recipient of ICP’s 2014 Infinity Award for Fashion Photography, Klein has created a name for himself by combining sex with just about everything else. He transforms Dolce & Gabbana ads and portrait sessions with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie into the opening scenes of classy, high-budget adult films. Any minute now his models will be groping, pushing one another against the wall, and ripping off the luxurious garments they are meant to be selling. Many of his dark, hyper-sexual images verge on sadism. They draw the viewer into a glamorous fantasy world of fetish and role play, where seduction reigns supreme and style is just as good a reason to kill as anything else. Lust runs hot as supermodels and celebrities draped in designer clothes strangle the viewer with desire for flesh, fashion, and fame. Klein revels in rapturous climax that results is the product of a naughty sort of pleasure. These are images that ravish and destroy. If not too careful, one can easily fall down Klein’s tempting rabbit hole. One can either be a voyeur, standing on the edge but never crossing the border into his sumptuous fantasy, or one can accept the pleasure that comes with being a bit bad. Some of his work flows from the hyperreal to the surreal; a beautiful, naked woman and a horse swimming together in a pool, their water-logged manes flowing with the gentle current, is a tame tableau in comparison to Klein’s other images. It is nonetheless a believable part of his fantasy. One is overcome by submissive beauty of the horse and the intensity of the woman’s stare; yet, like all of his photographs, there is a refinement to the composition that references the grace of Classical sculpture and the delicacy of post-Renaissance portraiture.
by Nora Landes