House of Hackney:
There is a stark difference between Horst’s famous high contrast studio work and his later photo essays of people’s homes – which are almost painterly compositions. How do the two connect? Susanna Brown:
Horst trained in three-dimensional design and architecture in Germany and in 1930 he worked for Le Corbusier in Paris. His understating of space and form underpins his work from every decade of his long career, whether its fashion, interiors, travel pictures from the Middle East or still life studies. He is often referred to as ‘the master of light’ and sometimes he spent as long as two days setting up the lights for a single fashion sitting. He began photographing the homes of the rich and famous in the early 1960s and he liked to spend several days at a house in order to ascertain the quality of light that best suited each room, he recalled ‘I always waited for the best light – six in the morning, eight, twelve.’ Between the 1960s and the 1980s he photographed many of the world’s most spectacular homes for Vogue and House & Garden. As design history, these images represent a lasting record of how everyone from Cy Twombly to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent lived.
What elements of his fashion photography come into his photography of interiors?
Horst possessed a great eye for colour, which is evident in both his fashion and interior studies. In the 1940s he acquired five acres of land in Oyster Bay Cove, Long Island, part of the estate once owned by the belle époque designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. On the land he described as ‘everything I had ever dreamed of’, he built a unique house and landscaped garden. Even before it was complete, the house became the location for fashion shoots and occasional pictures for House & Garden. Treasured possessions were carefully combined in each room: pictures by Bérard, Braque and Dalí, rugs given by the Qashqa’i tribe, Coco Chanel’s baroque mirror, Jean-Michel Frank furniture and Giacometti plaster lamps and vases – all reflective of the owner’s international life and style.
Why did Diana Vreeland commission Horst in particular to do the series of features on the homes of the famous and the beautiful?SB:
The dynamic editor Diana Vreeland left Harper’s Bazaar for Vogue in 1962 and soon put Horst to work on Vogue’s ‘Fashions in Living’ pages, photographing opulent homes around the world. Horst’s creative chemistry with Vreeland brought him a new lease of life. It was a collaborative endeavour with Horst’s partner Valentine Lawford, who wrote the essays to accompany the images. As Barbara Plumb explains in her book Horst: Interiors (Bulfinch Press, 1993), ‘Because he was universally respected not only for his work but also for his charm, Horst was welcomed into households that would have been off-limits to almost any other photographer.’
How was Horst so able to capture the spirit of the owner in his photographs of their homes? SB:
Horst often captured the intimate details within grand spaces, such as groupings of objects on tables or mantel-pieces, which he called ‘table-landscapes’. Part of the reason he was so able to capture the spirit of the owners is because they were often his close friends. I find his portraits particularly memorable – Truman Capote standing in front of a brick fireplace; Jane Holzer barefoot before an abstract painting by Larry Zox; Baroness Pauline de Rothschild peeking through the door into a bedroom decorated in an eighteenth-century Chinese style.
Knowing Horst’s style and taste as you do, whose home do you think Horst would photograph if he was still alive today, and why? SB:
Horst always admired British style. He first visited London in 1930, and later recalled being impressed by ‘the immaculate style of an extraordinarily high proportion of the men I saw on the street.’ If he were still alive today, I think he would enjoy photographing the home of a British style icon such as David Hockney, Hamish Bowles or Sir Elton John.
Horst: Photographer of Style
runs from 6 September 2014 – 4 January 2015 at the V&A. Travel partner American Airlines; with thanks to Bicester Village, London, and Kildare Village, Dublin; supported by the American Friends of the V&A www.vam.ac.uk/horst