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Profiles in Black & White: Horst P. Horst

In Article, Black and White Photography, Photographer on December 30, 2013 at 6:10 pm
Horst P Horst, by Michael Somoroff, 1980

Horst P Horst, by Michael Somoroff, 1980

Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann, better known as Horst P Horst, captured and exemplified the world’s beauty when many of his contemporaries sought out its dire underbelly. Using a keen eye aided by a love of architecture, art, literature and nature, Horst’s fashion photography graced magazines such as Vogue and exhibitions around the world.  Modern fashion barons like Donna Karan have continued to credit works such as the mystically erotic “Mainbacher Corset” as inspiration for new clothing lines, while contemporary photographers continue to strive to meet his high standards.

Dubbed “photography’s alchemist” by Vogue, Horst’s beginning can be credited to said magazine in 1931. He built on this initial success by holding his first exhibition in 1932 at Paris’s La Plume D’or. A review of the exhibition by The New Yorker’s Janet Flanner garnered him international acclaim, to which Horst used to his advantage. In addition to future fashion shoots, he became the portrait photographer of choice for a number of public figures, be it figurative Hollywood royalty – like Bette Davis – or literal aristocracy – Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark.

Stylistically, the German-American’s photographs are often bequeathed with dramatic and enchanting undertones. According to Philip Core of the British publication The Independent, Horst’s work initially reflected the sharp distinctive undertones of the 1920’s until he was exposed to fantasists such as Dali and Cocteau. Horst’s evolution from these meetings resulting if photographs often constructed with elaborate Baroque settings, garnished with ambiguous lighting yet still structurally sound. Horst was highly meticulous and often stubborn about his photography settings. Marlene Dietrich, for instance, protested his arrangements for her portrait. Ignoring her, Horst carried on with how things were set. Dietrich loved the results, using them for her own PR.

Mainbacher Corset

Mainbacher Corset

Horst became an American citizen, registered as Horst P Horst rather than his birth name, after leaving his German routes behind at the time of Nazi ascendance. He was granted his citizenship after joining the US Army in 1943.

Among his most frequent collaborators were fashion stalwart Coco Chanel – for whom he did fashion photography for over 30 years – and, interestingly enough, the White House. Horst befriended President Harry S. Truman after photographing him, leading to frequent future invitations to take portraits of numerous First Ladies.

Horst died at the age of 93 in 1999. His life partner Valentine Lawford had died eight years prior, while he was survived by his adopted son, Richard J. Horst.

Horst P Horst Photographs

  1. Thank you for sharing. I love your blog, the profiles you present, and the inspirations you provide! Blessings, Robyn

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