“Shalom Harlow and Marc Vanderloo photographed by Bruce Weber for Versace Autumn/Winter, 1996”
It’s as if we’ve stumbled across something we shouldn’t – a theme recurrent in Bruce Weber’s black and white imagery from the 1990s. The relationship between the couple in front of his lens is something that the photographer clearly enjoys making us think about. It is no different with this candid shot.
At first glance, the naive amongst us will ultimately view this image as a romantically touching scene between a husband and wife. But deeper thinkers will reflect that this is a fashion shoot and one for Versace no less, so there’s bound to be more to the association that we see. Perhaps the Lady of the Manor is enjoying an illicit encounter with a gardener who has stumbled into the library of her stately home. Her husband is away, making important decisions about affairs of state in the House of Lords. He is watching her from an unfinished sketch. She seems unaware or without care.
Whatever the situation between these two characters may be, the viewer feels that they should tiptoe discreetly away.
Much of Weber’s work seems to portray a dramatic contrast between the subject and their environment. Women in ball gowns feed dogs and read comics. In this image, we’re privy to something very contemporary occurring in an incredibly traditional setting. You can almost see the dust settling on the surfaces of shelves, smell the leather spines on the books. And yet the centuries of corseted propriety that must have occurred in this library, are powerless to prevent the man and women from indulging their passions in public. Indeed, the girl in Weber’s scene is clearly free from constraint in her Nineties minimal jersey dress.
Bruce Weber’s photography teases our imagination. Often the ‘just seen’ in his pictures is as crucial to formulating an impression as the ‘seen’. The piles of books around the character’s feet pose the question – Will the one that lies open give us a clue as to the nature of this affair? The tribal souvenirs make us think that, if her husband is a heroic explorer, then why is she bothering with the gardener? The golden retriever peering over the base of the image leads us to wonder, will he tell his owner about what has been going on in the library?
This photograph is clearly more than just two dimensional editorial prose. Through his monochromatic painting with technology, Weber wants to make us think about more than just the clothes – it’s the lives within his work that complete the picture.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this new feature. My closer look at images from the fashion world will take place every month. There may not always be vintage costume jewellery in the pictures, but they will certainly be thought provoking and beautiful.