BRINGING FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY HOME: THE SELECTS GALLERY MARIE AUDIER D’ALESSANDRIS
Marie knows, like I do, the sometimes Herculean effort that goes into creating a memorable fashion photograph; it often includes travel to exotic locales for the right backdrop or complicated custom-built sets, the creative vision of the stylist and photographer (and overseeing company funding it all), the hair, the makeup, the clothes, and the model or subject that makes the image jump off the page. But after spending 15 years at L’Oreal in Paris and NYC and 5 at Coach, Marie felt like much of this effort was a waste, because the end result often showed up for one month in a magazine, and then was relegated to archives. Marie’s solution? Her year-old online gallery, The Selects Gallery, which features the work of fashion and beauty photographers by offering large scale prints mean to grace any wall you see fit. Starting this Thursday she is showing some of her work, including images by 70s photographer Chris Von Wagenheim that haven’t been shown in 40 years, at the Pier 94 Art Show in NYC.
What was your path to creating The Selects Gallery? What did you do before?
I launched the gallery one year ago, but it’s really a project of 20 years, in the sense that I worked 15 years at L’Oreal, both in France, where I am from as well as in the U.S. And then my last job prior to launching the galleria was as the CMO at Coach. Early on in my career, I had the chance be on sets and work with some of the most renowned fashion photographers.
That’s when I discovered the amount of work that is required to create strong fashion and beauty photography. And I started to realize the criticalness that is required to create these images and the teamwork that is required–the lighting, the make-up artists, the hair dresser, the styling, the editor of the company, then the press production.
And when you think about editorial or magazine work and how short of a lifespan the images have–they are published for a month in a magazine and then they go back to archive. The budget that is required to achieve fashion and beauty editorial photography, versus the shelf life, is always something that I found very interesting and kind of a waste. I always thought, why don’t we give these images a second life?
The second part to the story is that I went to live in Columbia, Bogota for two years. I had the chance to have an amazing apartment with a beautiful view of the city. But I had three brick walls of brick, because Bogota is a city that is made of a lot of brick. It was a little bit too much of brick for me. I asked for my images from my workshop, in high definition, and we re-centered and contrasted them to really make them interesting and printed them in a large format.
The reaction of people who came to our house was very powerful to see. The pictures came with us from Bogota to Paris to our apartment in New York. Everywhere, everybody would say, “Oh my God, where did you get these pictures?”
And then when was when I was at Coach, I witnessed a major shift going on in their work with the cost of social media and of course, the decreasing budgets for traditional media work. I thought, this is scary in some ways, because the amazing shoots you would have seen in the ’90s and early 2000s, soon they won’t exist any more. And many of those photographers who used to be huge at that time are getting older. I’m working with photographers now that are in their eighties, late seventies. If we don’t do anything about it, the future of all this will disappear along with their art form.
Can you talk about some of the photographers you represent?
In terms of photographers, I have around 15 photographers right now and close to 200 photographs on the Gallery, which are a mix of well-known photographers and less-known photographers. I focus on finding those photographers who have very strong interpretation of the world. In most cases they are usually very famous to a limited number of people. So, that could be either fashion side or it could be people of specific countries. One of the photographers I just added to the gallery is Giovanni Gastel, and his work is probably the most renowned in Italy. He’s the nephew of Luchino Visconti, and he’s an authority in Italy, he’s very successful. He’s never really focused on becoming internationally exhibited. His images are extremely powerful. Then when you stop to connect his work with the history of Italy, his work becomes, even more meaningful.One of the photographers that I’m going to actually use to do presenting at the show is Chris Von Wagenheim.
The story, in short, is that, he was one of the biggest photographers in the ’70s. Actually, he was the peer of Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton. They were called the terrible three, because they were very strong at depicting the ’70s– the violence, the emancipation of women, empowerment and all of the new trends that were happening. That was a really violent time in society. The story is that, unfortunately, he died when he was 39 years old. His wife, who was his muse and model decided to leave the fashion world, and focused on taking care of their daughter and protecting her. So, the pictures haven’t been seen in forty years.
That’s so exciting to have that.
It’s extremely exciting. It’s all about what the Gallery is about–going into archives, finding those images, finding photographers and giving them a second life.
And what will you have at this show?
I’m showing Chris Von Wagenheim, I’m very excited to show three pictures of his, which really again, will be seen for the first time in forty years. There’s an image of Susan Sarandon where she is holding a knife and she has a tattoo. His universe was very inspired by the French trends at the time so she’s posed very seductive and very glamorous, but in a dark way. I think it’s very strong.
We also have a picture of Christie Brinkley, where she was actually being a shot with a doberman. That picture is very angry. I don’t know if you can understand when you look at it but, here were many aspects to this shoot: there was a horse involved, Christie was wrestling with two males, who were hanging and rigged up in a way, but most importantly there was this doberman that had been fed with a lot of meat, but was still very aggressive and bit her dress and went crazy and destroyed it. The good news is that the doberman did not hurt Christie. That was shot for Vogue in 1977. It’s crazy to think that at that time these kinds of pictures, which were so strong, were featured in magazines.
What inspires you?
I’m driven by representing our world and connecting. I get inspired by people who are driven by a mission and really make it happen whatever it takes, people who have the courage to go after what they can bring to the world, and don’t let the naysayers and their environment stop them. It could be artists, who follow their vision. I think the world has shown us often that the artists who were the most avant-garde, were also the ones who were the least understood in their time. So I have a very strong admiration for the people who go after their vision whatever it takes.
Are there women whom you admire or identify with?
Not anyone in particular. What I like is to connect and get inspired by parts of personalities of the people that I read about, connect with, and my friends. That could be the very strong capability to communicate from a strong public figure or it could the capability to connect at a deeper level from a coach or friend. I have some friends I look to, because they always have that sense of finding a way to help you, when you don’t even realize that you need it. I’m also a strong observer and very inquisitive, so I take those pieces, connect with that, and try to become a better person myself.
Three words that describe The Selects Gallery:
Unorthodox. You know, not classical or expected. In the way [by showing work created for commercial purposes] I’m leveling the classical tools and the approaches of an art gallery. My background is in marketing and I embrace that.
We’ve done partnerships. We’ve offered photograph during Fashion Week, in September, where we did a major exhibition in a townhouse in Soho, in partnership with Yves Saint Laurent Beauté and Harper’s Bazaar. Which leads to the second aspect, which is very inclusive, and that’s why we are online. We are very confident, as well, so we show the pricing. That’s very unusual for galleries to do, too. And then I would say, niche, because it’s all about fashion photography and only fashion photography. The driver is my passion and immense respect for the work of fashion photographs. My mission is to change the perception of fashion photography.
Three words that describe you:
Driven, passionate, and connected. I’m always trying to stay connected to people and be caring. I care about the photographers and I love to get to know them personally so that I understand their world even better. I try that with people around me, because they all mean a lot to me.
A good photograph should…Should be a very clear, vivid, interpretation of our world. I think what a photographer does is catch our ideologies and interpret them in a way that cannot be replicated. I think that is something that they do better than anyone else.
Is there a dream photographer or a work that you would love to add to your roster? When I started the gallery, I had two photographers in mind, that if I could get them in the gallery, I consider myself successful. But over the time, I discovered and I’ve learned to go with the flow. For example, Giovanni Gastel and Chris Von Wagenheim, were not these two photographers. Yet, I find them much more interesting in some ways, that the ones that I was thinking about initially.
Because the work of the gallery is to discover these hidden gems, mostly, I don’t know who they are, yet. It’s part of the journey.
Album currently on repeat:
Right now I’m really into classical music. One in particular that I’m listening to is Chopin, Opus 55, Number One, in F Major. That comes from taking ballet lessons every week. It’s a small victory for me, because I took lessons when I was seven years old and I cried back then. I was very, very bad. I had very bad coordination and difficulty doing one thing with my hands and one thing with my feet at the same time. Now I’m taking lessons and the teacher is very demanding, but very caring at the same time. I like the end of class when we are at the barre, she often plays Chopin and I just escape mentally and go in the flow of the music. I find that very, very, powerful.
Favorite small indulgence:
I don’t know if I’m going to answer your question directly, but one of the things that I love the most is starting a fire in our fireplace, listening to music and sitting with my husband. And dreaming again. You know, sometimes life….I have two kids and a busy life and being able to go back to that free-thinking, open mind where you just dream–that’s a dream. It’s one of my favorite, favorite moments.
Scent that brings back memories:
I love everything that is very deep and strong and “oud-like”, you know old, woody. I always loved that. It’s that smell you can get when you go to a church. I always had such a strong respect for those buildings, the gathering of people who go there to connect with a bigger spirit. That smell for me is very replenishing, so there is this Cire Trudon, candle that I love, Spiritus Sancti. It brings back memories of a deep feeling and a connection to a deeper meaning.
It’s a little owl, a very, very, small thing that I carry in my bag. I found it in Brooklyn, a few years ago, with very good friends of mine who live in Europe. They all came to New York for a few magical days. We found these little owls and we all chose one. They all have different meanings and represent something we each felt we needed the most at the time.
Favorite hour of the day:
I’m thinking of owl again, because I’m generally a night owl. I like it when the house becomes quiet at night. It feels like it’s the moment I can do what I want, nobody’s going to interrupt. It’s usually around 10:00pm. It’s that time where you’re aware of many possibilities because, it’s your choice, to go to bed early or not, and you’re doing what you really want to do. It’s kind of an open window to freedom, that I like very much.
Sunday morning means….
It’s the most relaxed morning of the week. I started to decompress on Saturday and am fully decompressed by Sunday morning. We are usually with the kids, and we chill really, and have a big breakfast together as a family. We’re just slow. It’s good to be slow, sometimes.
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