Beauty and Power Graced in Photographs

—–Fashion Film Festival Milano

by: lunaviola

Fashion seems to be a world dealing with esthetics, glamour and frivolity, yes indeed it is, but it could also go far beyond. Fashion may serve as a mirror to reflect the current social status, or empower women with strength. In the closing day of the 6th Fashion Film Festival Milano, 2 documentary films interpreted to us how beauty and power could be celebrated and graced through the images of photographers.

Before Chiara Ferragni boasts of her millions of followers and today’s bloggers, KOL, influencers of different colors posing on the street to be photographed by paparazzi, Bill Cunningham already far preceded our era.

The Boston boy started to enter the fashion world when working in Bonwit Teller’s store. Moved in New York at the age of 19, he struck out on his own and launched his own brand of hats under the name “William J”. When drafted during the Korean War and was stationed in France, he had the privilege to be exposed to French fashion scenes.

His working experience in Chez Ninon brought him clients like Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn, and future First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. When it was recognized by everyone even confirmed by Karl Lagerfeld of the First Lady’s Coco Chanel outfit, it was Bill who recognized no, but that is a Balenciaga suit.

In 1978, this Greta Garbo look aged 73 in an unnoticed moment captured by Bill Cunningham caught the attention of New York Time and that was how Bill started his decades of notable 2 columns in the Times: On the Street and Evening Hours.

From then on, these candid and impromptu photos changed as a turning point in the fashion world and Bill Cunningham thus the Nostradamus of our society for more than 60 years. Working in this honest and straight manner in New York though was just like Don Quixote fighting windmills. The corner of 5th Avenue and 57th Street was his battlefield, and the red bicycle was his spear.

Bill’s eyes for fashion are always very personal and democratic. When all photographers swarmed around Catherine Deneuve, he could just stand out still “But she isn’t wearing anything interesting.” This unique perspective gained him respect and awards, even he didn’t care at all, and could attend the Officier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres awarding ceremony still in his signature blue moleskin jacket as his working uniform, obviously not fashionable but could practically endures the constant abrasion of the camera.

Bill’s humbleness was not only reflected in his outfit, but was just his personal philosophy rooted in daily life. In the documentary, we are revealed of his “cave” studio with shared bathroom and no kitchen where he lived for more than 50 years in the 12th floor of Carnegie Hall, neighboring around with Leonard Berstein and various artists. That golden period was recorded in the 2010 Josef Astor’s film Lost Bohemia, where seemed just like the opera set of Puccini’s La Boheme.

Thanks for this document, we would always remember Bill Cunningham in this kind, humorous, warm, even a little bit hilarious smile.


Even much more compelling was what followed after with this documentary film Peter Lindbergh – Women’s Stories.

Peter Lindbergh’s life could be rather defined as wild and vagabond. Expelled from Leszno, German-occupied hometown in Poland, the poor baby hardly survived on the wondering way to Duisburg in carriage with the whole family. After the childhood in the Dutch border, Lucerne and Berlin,  he hitchhiked to Arles in South France in the footsteps of his idol, Vincent van Gogh. The adventure continued then to Spain and Morocco. His father for some time even didn’t know a dwelling address of his son where to post a caring letter.

Jean Michel Vecchiet definitely knows how to manipulate the rhythms and emotions in an artistic film. “One woe after another; One pain after another.” All the suffering life experience but still the unruly and valorous spirit of Peter Lindbergh echoed perfectly in the Flamenco King Camaron de la Isla’s songs na es eterno and dicen de mi.

All guests in the pre-talk of the film mentioned the inner and outer beauty or how Peter anticipated the concept of beauty without filter but spotlighting the wrinkles, while after delving into his personal life, I could reconfirm, even more unswervingly now, my interpretation as an ultimate power, intending for Peter’s photographing works, and also the artistic documentary of the French director.

In 1989, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Tatjana Patitz, Cindy Crawford, and Christy Turlington, young models then, were photographed together in Manhattan for the first time by Peter for the British Vogue cover. This has been credited as the start of the era of super models.

One episode in the film that would simmer every audience with laughter showed how Naomi tried in every way to resist diving into the swimming pool as requested by Peter. Here plays the charm and trick of a fantastic photographer who may skillfully let you collaborate. Of course, Naomi herself also laughed at that scene later “Oh gosh! How was I so unbearable at that time! I was just…..impossible!” Darling, don’t worry, the prima donna could also help to shape a maestro on the other end. As Naomi confessed in the interview, every other photographer just let her pose as a statue, but Peter was the first one able to make her dance and free her spirit before the camera.   

In 2014 Lindbergh once said: “This should be the responsibility of photographers today to free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection.” In 2016, Lindbergh declared that “A fashion photographer should contribute to defining the image of the contemporary woman or man in their time, to reflect a certain social or human reality. How surrealistic is today’s commercial agenda to retouch all signs of life and of experience, to retouch the very personal truth of the face itself?

I would never consider Peter Lindbergh as a fashion photographer. He is absolutely one of the greatest photographer of our time, maybe also a philosopher or a poet.

What do you see in these photos? Pure beauty? I see in them ultimate….POWER!