Sacha! 50 years of fashion photography

The exhibition presented at Stedelijk Museum tells the story of a Dutch woman who, in the early 1960s, began studying photography at the Sint Joost Academy of Fine Arts in Bréda, to very quickly rise to the highest level of international fashion photography . During his 50-year career, his images bear witness to changes in fashion, while reflecting those of the cultural and social world. The talent of Sacha van Dorssen (born in Rotterdam in 1940) stood out during an internship at Elle magazine in Paris in 1964. She immediately decided to settle there and began to intensely photograph fashion for the press. It has been published in France and abroad, in Marie Claire, The Sunday Times Magazine, Vogue Hommes, as well as English and German Vogue; she worked with many artistic directors and photographed models at the start of their careers who would later become real stars. She has also been associated with agencies such as Mafia or Publicis, on numerous advertising campaigns for Yves Saint Laurent, Roc, Dim, l’Or, Club Med, and has also contributed to several books of Éditions du Regard sur Dior, Fortuny and Old England. Sacha left Bréda in her youth to return there half a century later, at the end of a formidable journey during which she witnessed the emergence in France of ready-to-wear fashioned by a new generation of couturiers. His exhibition, which currently takes place in two large rooms of the Stedelijk Museum, retraces this journey through a selection of some 75 photographs, including numerous large-format prints, twenty magazine covers, as well as reports and documents illustrating his way. to work.

Extracts from an intervention at the Stedelijk Museum in Breda on the photography of Sacha Van Dorssen, on the occasion of his retrospective.

Text by Gabriel Bauret.

During an internship at Elle magazine in 1964, Peter Knapp, then artistic director, gave Sacha pictures to take. Instead of returning to Breda to finish her studies, she decides to settle in Paris and begins to photograph fashion. In this area, Paris remains a great capital: she finds herself in direct contact with this universe to which she devotes her entire career.

How to characterize his photography? First through her practice of color, although she was also commissioned for black and white. Color signifies a form of realism, while black and white tends to detach the image from the real. For Sacha, it is not a question of a saturated color, as for example in the images of Steve Hiett, that we were next to her in Marie Claire; or Sarah Moon who has long played with the grain of the film she used.

Sacha operates mainly outdoors. In real, simple and natural settings. Sometimes very far from Paris, but in a landscape which ultimately always remains quite discreet; the beach being one of his favorite settings, undoubtedly for the generosity of space and light.

A bit of history: Fashion photography sort of came out of the studios with operators like Martin Munkacsi who worked in the 1930s for Harper’s Bazaar and its legendary artistic director Alexey Brodovitch. We know his images of sporty women, in motion. Later, Richard Avedon, still for Harper’s Bazaar and Alexey Brodovitch, crosses the practice of fashion photography with that of reportage. Then for Vogue, William Klein brought fashion to the streets.

We must also remember the historical evolution of fashion: haute-couture was gradually supplanted by ready-to-wear. Christian Dior, with his “New Look” style which embodied the modern woman, took part in this movement from the end of the 1940s. He thinks differently about the silhouette of women, freer in their gestures and their movements.

In photography, this move from the studio to the outside is a bit like what happens in the cinema with the New Wave in France. We are now filming real life, everyday life, the street, natural landscapes.

Yet, with Sacha, working outdoors is done with as much precision and control as if she were working in the studio. Color reproduction, direction and quality of light have been meticulously arranged. It was essentially this natural light that illuminated the clothes. Because Sacha has never forgotten that in fashion photography, there is the word fashion: she strictly respected the purpose of the order. As for her precision and her method, we can guess it through the notebooks that she has carefully kept and in which she recorded, next to a small Polaroid, the information on her shots: aperture, speed, sensitivity. of the movie.

His photography is the expression of a harmony between the subject and the setting. If the landscape can suggest a story, it always remains in its place, as a backdrop. As for the situations she staged, they were most often extremely simple. The shooting obviously involved the staging of the models, but it was barely visible, it was not felt: everything was always very natural. As if it was a report. If it depicts more sophisticated situations, they remain credible, one could even say accessible to the eyes of magazine readers who at the end of the chain were the recipients of the visual message.

In fact, the photography almost made you forget that they are models. No comedy or flashy poses: the “girls” exist, move, offer themselves to photography as they are; beautiful but without artifice. The gestures are natural, not manufactured, never eccentric. In addition, Sacha’s universe unfolded far from luxury, frivolity and worldliness. She showed models – mostly female – that people who viewed her pictures – or read the magazine – could almost relate to. She knew exactly how to translate the right atmosphere, the one that offered these readers a vision of a world to which they imagined they belonged.

Sacha has supported the emergence of a generation of couturiers who have participated in France, but also in Italy and Japan, in the industrialization of ready-to-wear while developing a personal style. A magazine like Elle, invented by journalist Hélène Lazareff, supported the democratization of fashion through the distribution of ready-to-wear. Between the 1960s and 1990s, first in Elle, then in Marie-Claire in particular, but also in foreign magazines not always dedicated to fashion, Sacha attended the creations of these new couturiers. There are not only men, there are also designers like agnès b. This generation had names like Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Emmanuelle Khanh, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, Claude Montana, Sonia Rykiel… As well as Japanese like Kenzo and Issey Miyake.

In the monthly Marie-Claire, for which Sacha worked for more than twenty Peter Lindbergh or the Polaroids of Paolo Roversi. And around Sacha revolved a group of loyal fashion editors: real journalists. Closely following everything that came out of the fashion houses, they made choices with an independence of mind and a freedom of expression that led them to hold a real discourse on the fashion that is being made. Photography served their purpose. In their company, Sacha did not seek to imprint a personal mark; it was about making an image that gives clothes the main role. And her precise knowledge of fashion, materials, shapes and folds has always guided her in her approach.

An often large team accompanied Sacha on the set. And she always emphasized teamwork, showing great humility. For her, a fashion photograph is the result of teamwork; which unites the efforts of everyone: editor-in-chief, model, hairdresser, makeup artist, assistant, even driver!

Today, a page has been turned. The economy of the press has changed, magazine budgets no longer serve the same purposes. The written press has lost its power, has seen its resources increasingly reduced, information and communication have shifted to other media. We could also mention the deployment of digital technology which has turned the practice of photography upside down. And then the representation of fashion in magazines merges more and more with advertising pages. The advertising market conditions, not to say dictates, the content of editorial pages.

During the 50 years of his career, Sacha’s images have witnessed the changes taking place in fashion, but they also reflect those of the cultural and social world. If she worked a lot for Marie-Claire, it is undoubtedly also because this magazine defended a certain image of women and engaged in social, cultural and moral issues. Sacha thus implicitly showed the evolution of the role of women. It testified to their emancipation and in particular to the greater freedom of the body. Each time, with great respect for the person photographed, while being extremely demanding. With hindsight, the images are the expression of a great happiness in life, while scrupulously responding to the reason for the shooting.

Gabriel Bauret, Bréda, October 2021

Sacha! 50 years of fashion photography

Breda – Paris – Breda

until December 5, 2021

Stedelijk Museum, Breda

Bosch Street 22

4811 GH Breda

The Netherlands

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