‘Chronorama’: Fashion and Portraiture from the Condé Nast Archive at New Exhibition in Venice
24th March 2023
‘Chronorama: Photographic Treasures of the 20th Century,’ is currently on view at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice until January 2024. Displaying 70 years’ worth of imagery from Condé Nast archive, the exhibition offers a survey of contemporary life and fashion from the 1910s until 1979, filtered through some 400 works by Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Lee Miller, Horst P. Horst, Diane Arbus, and many others.
An accompanying catalogue includes contributions by leading experts in the industry, including the former Vogue editor, Anna Wintour, who shares her thoughts on the exhibition.
Wintour celebrates the power of journalism and its influence on contemporary life, declaring that the most daring photographs were the ones that made history. In reference to the exhibition’s title (which combines ‘Kronos’, the Greek god of time, with the suffix ‘orama,’ referring to vision), she also ruminates on the impact of time, as culture shifts from one generation to the next. What was once a radical audacity, such as women wearing trousers, could later become the height of chic, as well as banality. She writes:
“Brilliance and bravery. Those are my impressions from this tour of photographs—a history lesson in portraits that tells a story of the better part of a century through people, places, fashion, culture, and art. The word ‘brilliance’ comes to mind because, of course, this is the work of the best photographers of our age. Steichen, Penn, Horst, Beaton, Newton, Elgort, Miller, and so many others—their names are as iconic as the cultural figures they captured. But I also think of bravery because these are magazine pictures. Photographs commissioned by editors to run in the pages of Vogue, Vanity Fair, House & Garden, GQ, Mademoiselle, and Glamour—Condé Nast magazines with a wide and varied readership. Each photograph is therefore an act of journalism: this person represents our moment, these clothes tell us about the time we’re in, this building or object explains our era.
Is journalism art? Of course, and every page of this book puts that question to rest. But magazine pictures are also something slightly to the side of art, and that is why they seem so brave to me. To tell the story of the moment you’re in is not always an easy thing. Who is relevant? What matters now? What is happening? The answers can set off a storm of debate. The editors behind these photographs, everyone from Edna Woodman Chase to Frank Crowninshield to Grace Mirabella to Alexander Liberman, Condé Nast’s legendary editorial director, made wonderful choices. The people here do define the century, from Charlie Chaplin to James Joyce to Henri Matisse to Ernest Hemingway, Mick Jagger, Catherine Deneuve, Karl Lagerfeld, Richard Avedon, Arthur Ashe, Twiggy, Veruschka, and so many others. The settings and fashion are profoundly chic.
It is impossible to pick favourites among these pages, but I will say this: the bravest pictures, the controversial ones, have uncommon power. Think of Helmut Newton’s ‘Story of Ohhh…’ from 1875, a portfolio so sexually liberated that Vogue readers were aghast. Or the Deborah Turbeville bathhouse photographs from the same issue, as unsettling and allusive as they were glamorous. Or any one of Irving Penn’s unrelating, uncompromising images; these pages are full of their classical, modernist brilliance. In the 1950s, Vogue editors apparently fretted that his pictures were too much: ‘They burn the page’, they said. They certainly do.
I like to look forward, not back, but seeing these photographs, I find myself a little nostalgic for a different age, warmly recalling how, when I came to Vogue, Mr. Penn would photograph models with barely anyone around him, only him, a Vogue editor, and the smallest of teams. I think of photographers disappearing for weeks and coming back with pictures that astonished me and frightened me too. Every editor knows the experience: the recognition of risk and the knowledge that no other choice will do.”
‘Chronorama: Photographic Treasures of the 20th Century‘
By The Pinault Collection, Condé Nast Archive