In this rollicking account of fashion photography’s golden age, the New York Times bestselling author of Model and House of Outrageous Fortune, Michael Gross, brings to life the wild genius, ego, passion, and antics of the men (and a few women) behind the camera.
Before Instagram was an art form, fashion photographers and the models they made famous were pop culture royalty. From the postwar covers of Vogue to the triumph of the digital image, the fashion photographer sold not only clothes but ideals of beauty and visions of perfect lives. Even when they succumbed to temptation and excess—and did they ever—the very few photographers who rose to the top were artists, above all.
Focus probes the lives, hang-ups, and artistic triumphs of more than a dozen of fashion photography’s greatest visionaries: Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Melvin Sokolsky, Bert Stern, David Bailey, Bill King, Deborah Turbeville, Helmut Newton, Gilles Bensimon, Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel, Corinne Day, Bob and Terry Richardson, and more. From Avedon’s haute couture fantasies and telling portraits to Weber’s sensual, intimate, and heroic slices of life, and from Bob Richardson’s provocations to his son Terry’s transgressions, Focus takes readers behind the scenes to reveal the revolutionary creative processes and fraught private passions of these visionary magicians.
Tracing the highs and lows of fashion photography from the late 1940s to today, Gross vividly chronicles the fierce rivalries between photographers, fashion editors, and publishers like Condé Nast and Hearst, weaving together candid interviews, never-before-told insider anecdotes and insights born of his three decades of front-row and backstage reporting on modern fashion. An unprecedented look at an eccentric and seductive profession and the men and women who practice it on the treacherous shifting sands of pop and fashion culture, Focus depicts—perhaps most importantly—the rewards and cost, both terribly high, of translating an artist’s vision of beauty for an often cold and cruel commercial reality.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is required reading for anyone with a serious interest in the history of fashion photography, though at times it seemed to lean way too much towards gossip.
For example, I don't know why Gilles Bensimon's penis is so prominent in this book.
I'd have enjoyed more information on how these photographers worked and did business than their sex lives. Mr. Gross should have just put a list up front of the photographers that cheated on their wives (basically all of them except Helmut Newton), which would have left more space for 'real' information.
But I still liked this book quite a bit, because what it gets right, it gets really right.
In particular, I enjoyed the sections on Irving Penn. Mr. Penn was the King of Kings for 50 years, but there is very little information on him in the public sphere.
Also, I liked reading about the business gamesmanship among photographers, magazine editors, and advertisers.
As always Michael Gross has done it again. He captures so well the world of the fashion photographer. It is these very photographers that he writes about and their amazing work that led me to pursue fashion photography as a career. As the books points out...each generation of photographers saw the next crop lacking in the true art of the medium. Time moves on and things change. What's for sure is that pre 2001, the enormous amount of creativity and even budgets that were around were truly addicting. Nothing could beat the rush of going to the photo lab and getting your contact sheets or waiting each month for a magazine to drop. Kudos Michael...what's next?
I threw this book into my travel kit before boarding a plane to Milan. I intended to snooze during the flight but started reading "FOCUS". I didn't sleep the whole trip. This is such an interesting book for me. I spent my career as a photojournalist and knew fashion photographers only by reputation. This book is filled with loads of information for any student of photography. There is information about how different photographers worked. I now know to credit Avedon's assistant, Gideon Lewin, for "light on a stick". Even more interesting are the behind the scenes rivalries of photographers and art directors. Michael Gross mentioned an Alexey Brodovitch Workshop Session that was taught by Irving Penn and Richard Avedon together. I never knew such a thing existed. Two masters going toe to toe. I just printed the 54 page transcript from the Penn archive at MOMA. What a treasure! This book is filled with many more gems. I'm rereading it now as a photo history book.
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