ART PHOTOS CATCH FASHION’S EYE

Byline: Miles Socha

NEW YORK — He is the picture of vulnerability.
Standing on the beach in Odessa, Ukraine, the adolescent boy wears maroon swimming trunks, large and awkward, that seem almost to be wearing him, like those paper cutout-doll garments held on with flimsy tabs. His skin is beyond pale; he stares at the camera blankly.
This arresting photo, one of a series by Amsterdam-based photographer Rineke Dijkstra, is part of the New Photography exhibition that opened last week at the Museum of Modern Art.
The exhibit, which also features work by three other photographers, is sponsored by Banana Republic and runs through Jan. 13. An opening-night party last week attracted throngs of people, including fashion-industry types looking for what might be the next wave in photography.
“The fashion world is definitely looking to art photography,” said Susan Kismaric, curator of the museum’s department of photography.
None of the photographers has done commercial fashion work. In addition to the beach series of young people, photographed at seaside resorts around the world, Dijkstra does raw portraits of mothers cradling their moments-old babies. An-My Le documents, in stark black and white, cultural transitions in her native Vietnam. Vik Muniz constructs intricate images with dirt and chocolate on light boxes and then photographs them. Kunie Sugiura specializes in ethereal arrangements of flowers and thread.
Fashion has a long tradition of borrowing from art photography, Kismaric said. Recently, fashion photographers have begun exploring the arrested narrative technique — capturing an unfinished moment, akin to a movie still.
Kismaric said Dijkstra’s work portrays human vulnerability in a way that is not exploitive. “What’s interesting is how straightforward [her portraits] seem, but they’re very complex psychologically and sociologically,” she said.
Although she hasn’t done any fashion photography, Dijkstra said she’s intrigued by how her subjects wear their clothes.
“I don’t like to work with models,” Dijkstra said. “I resist changing anything about them. I don’t direct them. I just try to make them feel comfortable.
“For myself, there’s too much distance between fashion and my work.”
At least, for the moment.

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