Photographers have taken an anachronistic turn these days. For long, most tended to shy away from the spotlight, but today photographic juggernauts like Mario Testino and Annie Leibovitz often eclipse the lauded stars they shoot. Steven Meisel is of the older ilk. Meisel, whose work has been featured in the pages of Italian and American Vogue, prefers to get out of the way of his work and let his subjects speak for themselves. Monday night a retrospective of his work, entitled "Role Play" launched at the Moore Building in Miami’s Design District. The endeavor is a collaboration between Phillips, Spanish fashion brand Loewe, and the Miami Design District.
“My absolute favorite is this shot of Linda Evangelista smoking a cigarette,” says Karla Baqueando, a local Meisel fan who was part of the opening night festivities. “All his work with iconic supermodels is really inspiring.”
Meisel couldn’t have risen to prominence at a better time. It was the mid '80s, and the fashion world’s traditional glamazon farm team — Hollywood starlets — had turned their backs to glamour. Actresses sought to take themselves and their craft seriously, so they started dressing down in baggy jeans, sweaters, and button-down shirts. Bereft of their muses, the fashion world created their own. Supermodels Linda, Naomi, Christy, and many others became immortalized on the covers of Vogue as the chicest girls in town. Meisel played no small role in the process.
As a young illustrator at Women’s Wear Daily, he captured the '80s sartorial zeitgeist with his bold style. His career blossomed and in a matter of years he was shooting covers for Vanity Fair, W, Interview, and Vogue Italia for whom he has photographed the cover for the past 25 years.
Certainly, one of his career peaks was introducing the grunge aesthetic into the pages of Vogue during the early '90s. The spread was a huge gamble for the established fashion magazine, and marked the first time a counter-cultural style was on display in one of its editorials. It wasn’t a top-down trickling of style, where a select few editors pick out the trends everyone else is to follow for the coming year; Meisel was instrumental at moving grunge bottom-up, from the streets and into the fashion houses.
“The portrait of Kristen McMenamy and Daniel Blaylock, from the grunge fashion story in American Vogue, is one of my favorite pictures,” Meisel said in a press release. “I remember Anna (Wintour) was thinking of killing the story. Alexander Lieberman, (editorial director for Condé Nast) said it was one of the most important fashion stories ever and it ran in its entirety.”
Throughout his career, Meisel has made sure to keep his lens aimed at contemporary culture, letting the here-and-now speak for itself. It’s a perspective he’s carried from his editorial work to his more personal art photography.
In An Interpretation (1997) Meisel turns traditional gender norms on their heads. The scantily clad men stand objectified in their Speedos, as the women are mostly covered in black dresses. Unlike most beachscapes, these bathers aren’t happy frolicking in the sun, sand, and surf. As they lay in the dunes starring off into the distance, or reading, it becomes clear there's no immediate relationship between them. The image is cold, and distant but strikingly beautiful at the same time.
It was that precise juxtaposition that first struck Loewe’s creative director Jonathan Anderson about Meisel’s work. Anderson was inspired by An Interpretation’s magnetism, and decided to base Loewe’s creative overhaul on the image.
“Steven is shooting all our campaigns this year, it’s been great to work with him,” said Annie Kearny, head of marketing for Loewe.
If you’re interested in checking-out Meisel’s life work, and possibly purchasing one of his prints, "Role Play" will be on display and open to the public at the Moore Building until June 10. Miami marks the final leg of the exhibit's tour around the world, were it made stops in New York, London, and Paris.