Polaroid Pleasure: Cathleen Naundorf Captures Vintage Couture as Art

Artsy Editorial
Nov 12, 2014 4:08PM
L’arche de Noé XXXIII, Elie Saab, HC Summer 2014, Photo Studio Duex Chose Lune, Paris, 2014
Hamiltons Gallery
L’arche de Noé XVII, Dior (Haute Couture) - Philip Treacy (hat), HC Dior Summer 2012, 20th March 2012
Hamiltons Gallery
L’arche de Noé XXXIV, Jean Paul Gaultier, Philip Treacy HC Summer 2014, Photo Studio Duex Chose Lune, Paris, 2014
Hamiltons Gallery

A faded parasol, a feathered plume, an antique carpet, a pet parrot: these are the props, the carefully chosen adornments, which feature in the photography of Cathleen Naundorf. Exhibiting an opulence that speaks of 20th-century voyages aboard luxury ships, where headstrong women set off to view the world, Naundorf’s ongoing series “Un Rêve de Mode” features the garments of major couture houses—including Chanel, Dior, Gaultier, Lacroix, Elie Saab, and Valentino—which she hand-picks directly from their archives.

Naundorf herself travelled to the four corners of the world during the ’90s, from Mongolia to the Amazon, Siberia to the Gobi Desert. Her wandering eyes then settled on the imaginative journeys summoned by fashion, and she was spurred along in this stylized path upon meeting the legendary Horst P. Horst. Like Horst, who happens to hail from the same East German town of Weissenfels, she constructs a complete vision within the frames of a single image, using storyboards and collecting elaborate research in order to arrange every detail. On the influence of Horst’s composition, Naundorf explains in an interview with W: “It’s called zwielichtin in German, the play of light. If you could see the way the light comes through the leaves in Weissenfels, you’d see where we both get [our style] from.” 

In L’arche de Noé XXVIII,  a woman in a silk cyan suit dress peers into a long bronze telescope on which a white cockatoo is perched. In new images from this series, which will be presented at this month’s Paris Photo by Hamiltons Gallery, a delicate figure wearing a laser-cut white robe beneath a spindly black umbrella is trailed by two flamingos; and a model stands beneath an orchid-shaped headdress by Philip Treacy (with whom Naundorf has worked closely); a peacock on either side mirrors her effervescent blue and green dress. The edges of the set and the painted background are visible, making the construction of the pose, a self-conscious framing, apparent. As with her black-and-white work, Naundorf uses a vintage Deardorff camera and large format Polaroid films, printed on the negative and then hand-pressed—a developmental process that leaves natural imperfections and mottling around the edges of the image, the patina of yesteryear.

Hannah Gregory

Visit Hamiltons Gallery at Paris Photo 2014, Grand Palais, Paris, Booth C30, Nov. 13th–16th, 2014.

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Artsy Editorial