November 19, 2019
“Man, this book is dope.” This was my 26-year-old male friend’s response after thumbing through Vince Aletti’s beautiful new book, Issues: A History of Photography in Fashion Magazines. My friend does not work in the fashion industry, yet he was unexpectedly captivated by the book’s pictures and Aletti’s elegantly written essays.
Issues is that rare artful, art-filled publication that appeals to women and men in different professions, of different ages, and of different interests. This is because the book is not just about fashion and photography. It is about how visionary photographers, editors and stylists in the magazine industry used current events (not all pretty), social change, and cultural expansion as overt and subtle references in photographs to inform and alter the way our minds and senses, especially our eyes, know our world.
One of best features of the book is that you don’t have to read it from front to back—although I will this summer. Opening the book to any two-page spread of images taken from Aletti’s extensive collection of fashion publications, you’ll see the name of the featured magazine and photographer on the left at the bottom of the page. The classics are all there—Avedon, Horst, Beaton, Penn, Meisel and more. There are names from the contemporary art world—Tina Barney, Collier Schorr, Lorna Simpson, Wolfgang Tillmans. And there are the not-widely known whose wondrous images make you stop and admire their sheer beauty and inventiveness.
Harper’s Bazar, April 1928, Baron Adolf de Meyer; from Issues: A History of Photography in Fashion Magazines, Vince Aletti, Phaidon.
In the accompanying essays, Aletti’s well-written prose and his choice of fascinating, salient and chat-worthy details—historical, biographical, and societal—makes the reading satisfyingly informative. You can take your time to relish his words or speed along to his next bewitching or stunning spread. While my young friend describes “Issues” as “dope,” I say it’s a classic—timeless like the best fashion and the best art on many luxe pages.
Photography by: Photography courtesy Phaidon