Born in Germany in 1906 into a middle class family, Horst became interested in avant-garde art , as a teen. First studying near his home, he then moved to Paris to continue his education as he began working under the architect, Le Corbusier. After befriending the Vogue photographer, George Hoyningen-Huene, he switched from architecture to photography. In 1931, Horst began his association with Vogue, publishing his first photograph in the French edition of Vogue in November of that year.
Horst is best known for his photographs of women and fashion, but is also recognized for his photographs of interior architecture, still lifes, and environmental portraits. His method of work typically entailed careful preparation for the shoot, with the lighting and studio props (of which he used many) arranged in advance. His instructions to models are remembered as being brief and to the point.
Modern photographers shoot hundreds of frames, choosing their pictures (once from contact sheets and typically today from a hard drive). Photography to some is thus an accidental art. But there is nothing accidental about Horst's photographs. They are completely contrived.
One of the great iconic photos of the Twentieth-Century is "The Mainbocher Corset" with its erotically charged mystery, captured by Horst in Vogue’s Paris studio in 1939. Horst made a portrait of Bette Davis in 1942, the first in a series of celebrities he would photograph during his life. Within two years, he had photographed Noel Coward, Yvonne Printemps, Lisa Fonssagrives, Natasha Paley, Cole Porter, Elsa Schiaparelli, and others.
Horst officially moved to the United States in 1940 as he became a citizen in 1942. Enlisting in the United States Army in the same year, he became an Army photographer. In 1945 he was given the assignment of completing a shoot of President Harry S. Truman. From that time on he was honored to photograph every First Lady in the post war period.
Horst' career truly reached Old Master status when the world's most famous pop goddess, Madonna, created her celebrated hymn to classic fashion photography with her single Vogue in 1990. The view of a platinum-haired model from the back, arms raised above a loosened ivory corset, was appropriated by Madonna in her 1990 "Vogue" video.
In his approach to portraiture, Horst set out to create a parallel aspirational universe in which his subjects became mysterious and alluring. Bruce Weber, one of many photographers influenced by Horst, artfully described his feelings about Horst's work in a 1992 television documentary… the elegance of his photographs took the viewer to another place, very beautifully; his ability to give his models the untouchable quality is really interesting as it gives you something of a distance; it's like seeing somebody from another world and you wonder who that person is and you really want to know that person and really want to fall in love with that person.
GALLERY M is pleased to represent Horst P. Horst, an iconic Twentieth Century photographer.
- excerpted from Terrence Pepper's essay "Always in Vogue" from the book Horst Portraits, 60 Years of Style. National Portrait Gallery, London, 2001