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Walk to the upper floor of the Photographer's Gallery and you couldn't find a more different view of photography to that of Edward Steichen, on show downstairs, than the work of Viviane Sassen. One of the leading figures in contemporary photography, she sets out to turn the accepted view of the fashion photograph on its head with her alternative vision.
Sassen in known for her experimental approach to image making. ‘Viviane Sassen - Analemma: Fashion Photography 1992–2012’, is the first London exhibition of this innovative Dutch artist whose work appears in independent fashion magazines such as i-D, Dazed & Confused, POP, and Purple.
With some 350 images presented in the form of an immersive installation, the show is a multimedia presentation involving two video feeds of scrolling images, incorporating mirrors and projections, which shift across the Gallery space. Alongside a short stop-motion film of one of her shoots, accompanied by a soundtrack from the Scottish band, Board of Canada, her aim is to disorientate the viewer and disrupt their preconceptions about what a fashion photograph is.
The title, ‘Analemma’, refers to an astronomical term describing a figure-of-eight curve, which maps the apparent path of the sun across the heavens through the year. Within the context of this exhibition, analemma stands as a symbol of the constant seasonal flow of fashion, as well as echoing one of Sassen's signature aesthetics: arched bodies placed against the light of the sun.
Born in Amsterdam in 1972, Sassentrained in fashion design and briefly worked as a model before turning to photography. She grew up partly in Kenya and her visual vocabulary is informed by the country's vivid colours and strong contrasts of light and shade. These are reflected in her work. Her award-winning campaigns include those for Stella McCartney, Adidas, Carven, Miu Miu, and M Missoni.
Her work is characterized by the subversion of the prevailing codes and conventions that dominate the worlds of fashion and advertising. Eschewing well-worn concepts of glamour and celebrity, Sassenpresents an alternative vision driven by bold colours, abstract shapes, volumes and lines. Her models, although at the centre of the frame, seem secondary to their settings: figures obscured by light and shadow, transformed into graphic forms and intertwined with props and garments to create sculptural compositions.
Preferring to work on location, Sassen often brings elements of the natural world into the studio. Her work is spontaneous, instinctive, energetic, thought provoking, transcending the boundaries of fashion photography.