A couple of weeks ago I went to Manchester Art Gallery to view the Vogue 100 exhibition. It was a great opportunity for me to go and do some research on a subject that I am looking in to for my dissertation.
Vogue 100 actually starts in the here and now with modern covers and unexpectedly a film showing models in close up, playing in a mirrored alcove so everywhere you look are reflections upon reflections. Then you can trace a path back through the decades of celebrities and approaches, ending up where it all began in 1916.
There is no specific route that you have to take through the gallery, whichever way you chose to go this is clearly an exhibition about the artists that have made Vogue what it is today rather than the story of its production, editorship or backroom dramas. It enables us to see how popular culture was presented and influenced by the pages of this magazine through the choices of models, designers, photographers, celebrities and actual artists who drew works for the early spreads or, like Picasso, were featured in the magazine itself.
The 1920s and 30s show a selection of early prints in decorated glass cases which is a nice touch reflecting the particular style of each era and the major players of the day. This decades represent a stagey look to the images with models in formal, often classical poses against pillars or architecture that infer the silhouette of the outfit. Often ‘moody’, the use of lighting creates contrasts of light and shadow that add considerable atmosphere to the black and white prints, as well as an elegance that colour photos just never seem to emulate.
On to the 40s and the décor becomes a bold striking red as it contrasts its war coverage of pilots and military workers with the New Look that Dior introduced after the conflict. It’s an interesting approach that offers both sides of the magazine’s work. The full-skirted elegance of the 50s gives way to a much more relaxed approach to modelling in the 1960s as formal poses are replaced with ‘action’ shots of fashion in everyday lives. Twiggy of course being one of the most familiar faces. By the time we reach the 70s and 80s it’s those experiments with colour and composition that seem to take precedence.
Vogue 100 doesn’t claim the magazine has profoundly changed the world, but for 100 years it has reflected society’s changing values while offering entertainment and escapism to its readers. Although it is all glossy photos of a world that doesn’t exist, try to view it as an expression of a changing fantasy life.
Vogue 100 is at Manchester Art Gallery until 30th October and entry is free. I would definitely recommend going to see it if you have time.