February 22: Finding your style and sticking with it paradoxically benefits from collaboration and commissioned work.
Laure Albin-Guillot who died on this date in 1962, made photographs that are aesthetically Pictorialist but have the compositional strategies of Modernism. This is exemplified, counterintuitively, in her commercial work and her micrographs made with her physician/scientist husband Dr. Albin-Guillot, a specialist in microbiology.
Photographer Maurice Scheltens and artist Liesbeth Abbenes (the latter born on this date in 1970) form the 20 year-old Amsterdam-based partnership Scheltens & Abbenes, their clients are magazines such as Fantastic Man, T, The NewYork Times Style Magazine and Paradis, and their commercial clients include Cos, Yves Saint Laurent, Hermes, Uniqlo and Vitra.
Laure Albin-Guillot took up photography shortly after marrying in 1901 and spent the next thirty years working with her husband in microphotography, and also photographing their friends who came from a wide cross-section of Paris society. The pair gathered and photographed crystals, plant cells, and animal organisms. In 1931, in tandem with her husband’s research in micrography and in collaboration with Pierre Fresson, and as a tribute to her recently deceased husband, she published a photogravure limited-edition book Micrographie Décorative comprising 24 photomicrographs of crystals exquisitely printed on various colored and metallic papers. Later, she and Fresson also collaborated on similar works, which were used as elements of interior design on the luxury liner Normandie.
She was central to photographic and artistic circles in Paris during the 1920s, at which time she began sending her personal work to photographic salons. With E. Sougez she achieved the creation of a photographic section in the International Exhibition of Paris of 1937 and even planned the foundation of a museum of photography in new Trocadero. Between 1924 and 1937, she exhibited her soft-focus portraits and nudes (both male and female) primarily in Paris, but also in Prague, Barcelona, London, and New York.
Though now little known, during her lifetime she was certainly the most exhibited and recognised for her talent and versatility, encomapassing advertising, industrial photography, nudes, portraiture, architectural photography, scientific photography and image-text experiments with important French authors and poets.
Her images appeared regularly in Vu, Arts et Métuers Graphiques, and other French periodicals. Books she illustrated included Henry de Montherlant’s La Deesse Cypris (1932), Paul Valery’s Le Narcisse (1936), in which her male nudes feature, and Pierre Louÿs’s Douze Chansons de Bilitis; all considered avant-garde and risqué writings at the time.
Paris in the 1930s was a good place to be a woman photographer; Denise Bellon, Therese Bonney, Florence Henri, Dora Maar, Lee Miller, and Lisette Model, all were successful there. The proliferation of images in the 1920s and 1930s contributed to the advent of new forms of consumption and encouraged the cultivation of the cult of appearance.
As a demonstration of the way her style straddled Pictorialism and Modernism, during the 1930s she was head of the photographic archives of the L’Ecole des Beaux Arts and president of the French Société des Artistes Photographes, and in 1951 Otto Steinert and Franz Roh, founding members of fotoform considered her work Modernist when they included it in their German exhibition Subjektive Fotografie in Saarbrücken.
Despite this acceptance by proponents of very different styles, Albin-Guillot remains true to a classicism that may be found in French Art, more specifically what used to be known as ‘The School of Paris’, not a style but a preference for elegance and refinement. That can be found in all of her work regardless of subject matter or purpose.
Maurice Scheltens and Liesbeth Abbenes use a digital camera and “very basic and sober” lighting. Their style ‘deadpan’ and sometimes obscures the purpose or branding of a product through close-up, tight cropping.
Their imagery is characterised by straight-on flattening of the subject or, where perspective is required, an orthographic projection achieved with a long lens and tilting digital camera back. Colour is carefully controlled and orchestrated, often muted.
Essential to their work is the process in the studio where they construct their settings.There is a laborious collaborative process in which Scheltens & Abbenes continuously move things around, painstakingly join pieces together and adjust little details. Most product or fashion shoots are scheduled for a week of refinement. They avoid the use of models, and if the client insists on using one, they will be made a static background detail, not the focus of the image.
Scheltens & Abbenes take complete liberties with their objects. Instead of presenting them pure and simply as merchandise, they often manipulate and utilize them as building blocks for new compositions; the artistic integrity of their final image is paramount, so that it can stand scrutiny as an art object in a gallery, or build an ephemeral atmosphere around a brand in a magazine.
They’re a hit with commercial clients, magazines and even galleries, since the same images they make as advertising serve as fine art.
Their 2016 series Trailer derives from their interest in flower still life that tempted them out of the studio where they habitually work, into the street on a rare excursion. They went to the loading bays of the big florist companies where they found new abstract beauty in the handmade forms of decorative signwriting on transport trucks. From their love of the tradition of 17th Century Dutch floral still life comes instant Pop Art!
Scheltens’ and Abbenes’ client list is enviable; Alexander v Slobbe, Arper, Balenciaga, Best Swiss Books, Chanel, Colette, Cos, Droogdesign, Hermes, Kenzo, Louis Vuitton, Loewe, Mykita, Nike, Pantone, Rilievi, Roger Vivier, Scholten & Baijings, Uniqlo, Valentino, Viktor & Rolf, Vitra, Vpro, Yves Saint Laurent.
More at their website.
High-end advertising and product photography as art? The art photographer should prick their ears at this! But historically it has been that way with this medium, as the career of Laure Albin-Guillot, now represented in major museums such as Jeu de Paume, the Getty, Akron, The Science Museum, MoMA and the Met, demonstrates.