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Gagosian Quarterly

June 2, 2022

fashion and art:saint laurent and magnum photos

SELF 07, the latest installment in Saint Laurent’s series of SELF collaborations, brings together six photographers, hand selected by Anthony Vaccarello, the creative director for the brand, and Magnum Photos, the storied photography cooperative, for a simultaneous, multi-city exhibition. For the Quarterly, the photographers—Olivia Arthur, Birdhead, Harry Gruyaert, Takashi Homma, Daesung Lee, and Alex Webb—explain their process and what it means to exhibit their work in these cities. 

Harry Gruyaert, Magnum Photos for Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello

Harry Gruyaert, Magnum Photos for Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello

Since 2018, Anthony Vaccarello, the creative director for Saint Laurent, has been curating a series of collaborations between the brand and various photographers, artists, and filmmakers. Entitled SELF, the projects seek to explore the convergences of art and self-expression with the core values and personality of the legendary fashion house. Prior iterations have included installations and videos envisioned by Vanessa Beecroft, Bret Easton Ellis, Abel Ferrara, Daido Moriyama, Gaspar Noé, and Wong Kar-wai.

For SELF 07, Vaccarello has devised a multi-city, multi-artist project with the international photographic cooperative, Magnum Photos. Founded in Paris in 1947, Magnum Photos was the creation of Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, and David Seymour. From its inception, the agency—rising out of the horrors of World War II—has sought to support photographers and open the world through images to an increasingly curious public.

From June 9 to 12, 2022, SELF 07 will present new work by six photographers in six different cities. The photographers were selected by Vaccarello and Magnum Photos due to their deep connections to these places, and the exhibitions will be staged simultaneously in public settings in each metropolis. Olivia Arthur, Birdhead, Harry Gruyaert, Takashi Homma, Daesung Lee, and Alex Webb have created work about and for the following cities, in respective order: London, Shanghai, Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, and Los Angeles/New York.

In London, Olivia Arthur’s installation will be on view at Observation Point on the South Bank of the river Thames. The pair of artists behind the collective Birdhead, Song Tao and Ji Weiyu, explore the city of Shanghai in their work via a digital presentation that extends beyond the city’s limits. Paris’s Palais Royal will be the home for Harry Gruyaert’s work for this project, while Takashi Homma will present his photographs in Tokyo’s Miyashita Park. In Seoul, the Namsan Seoul Tower will display Daesung Lee’s contribution to the project, and in New York, Alex Webb’s installation of images created in Los Angeles will be found in Madison Square Park.

To learn more about these photographers’ processes in approaching this project, Gagosian Quarterly invited each to reflect on their thinking in their own words.

Fashion and Art: Saint Laurent and Magnum Photos

Olivia Arthur, Magnum Photos for Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello

London: Olivia Arthur

In her series So not so, created for SELF 07, Olivia Arthur addresses the city of London with questions of physicality, touch, and the nature of interaction. Arthur, elected president of Magnum Photos in 2020, is best known for her books Jeddah Diary (2012) and Stranger (2015), and for co-founding Fishbar, a publisher and space for photography in London.

I wanted to look at two different locations to represent London: firstly, somewhere old with the texture and feeling of London’s historic buildings, and secondly, somewhere outside.

For the outside location, I had initially wanted to work in the Thames estuary—this is the area where the river Thames expands outside the city, becomes more industrial, and goes out to meet the sea. There is a place called the Isle of Grain that sits in the estuary—and at some point, it was under discussion as an option for a new airport. I wanted to shoot in this location to capture the strangeness of the places that sit outside the peripheries of the sprawling city. An old military building sits in this space and I had wanted to work there, contrasting the rough concrete textures with the warmth and energy of the people and my photographs. However, this location was not accessible in the end, and I ended up moving this part of the shoot to a place called Dungeness and photographing around the concrete “sound mirrors” that were built in the 1920s as an experimental place to listen to airplanes and other military activity across the sea. This strange (and now defunct) technology for me represents both the innovation and ideas that exist in London as well as the important influence on the city of being part of an island and cut off from the rest of Europe.

For the interior location, I worked in an empty Victorian hospital. Its texture and architecture represents a feeling across London and the spaces and windows people live with. I also wanted to reference nature and its enduring presence across the city, in its parks and woodland.

Fashion and Art: Saint Laurent and Magnum Photos

Olivia Arthur, Magnum Photos for Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello

As a documentary photographer, I am not used to working with models for most of my work, but I saw the opportunity as a chance to push some of these concepts and be a bit playful with them. Working with models is essentially like working with a canvas and being able to project your ideas and create stories or fantasies. And although this opportunity gave me the chance to push my ideas, I also didn’t want to see the models as mannequins. Portraiture is a big part of my work and the process of making portraits is about bringing out the personality of the subject. I wanted to take this approach to the fashion shoot and work with the models as real people, looking to bring out their personalities. The models on this shoot brought character and energy to the project, helped by the direction of stylist Kaduri Elyashar who choregraphed their movements and helped to bring the physicality to the scenes.

The Saint Laurent clothes for this collection are mostly black with clean crisp lines. However, up close the textures are an important part of how they feel and that was something I was able to bring to the project. I hope that the images give a feeling of touch and the sense of skin on skin, but also how these clothes feel on the skin. I would like the viewer to feel the sensuality of the skin of the models, as well as the textures of the fabric.

Fashion and Art: Saint Laurent and Magnum Photos

Olivia Arthur, Magnum Photos for Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello

I hope that viewers coming to this exhibition will enjoy not only the images of models and clothes, but also the ideas and narratives I am playing with. I would like them to come away with a feeling of the importance of touch and connection and what our physical presence can be in the natural and unnatural world. For instance, the smooth feel of a pebble connecting with the head of a boy lying on the floor, connecting in turn to the smooth heads of mannequins. What is real and what is fantasy? Can it make people see simple things around them in new ways?


Fashion and Art: Saint Laurent and Magnum Photos

Birdhead, Magnum Photos Guest Photographer for Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello

Shanghai: Birdhead

Exploring the concept of the photographic matrix, the duo that comprises Birdhead has developed a digital presentation of their analog photographs created for this project. Notions of symbiosis, nature, and the line and gesture of cursive script in Chinese calligraphy underlie their exploration of Shanghai for SELF 07. Employing inverted negative photographic prints, without cropping or reframing, this endeavor marks a new technique in their process.

All of the photos we used in this project were taken in Shanghai. It is the place where Birdhead lives, works, and loves. It is also its birthplace.

Expanding upon the concepts of self and freedom was key. The development of “freedom” on the premise of “limitation” created a perfect balance between the uncontrollable and the controlled.

The core concepts of Saint Laurent provided Birdhead a different perspective and approach to making new attempts and reflecting on the work of photography, and to finding a meeting point between the brand characteristics and Birdhead characteristics.


Fashion and Art: Saint Laurent and Magnum Photos

Harry Gruyaert, Magnum Photos for Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello

Paris: Harry Gruyaert

Originally from Antwerp, Belgium, Harry Gruyaert now lives in Paris, the city he has chosen to engage for his contribution to SELF 07. Picking up on motifs that he first explored in his book Last Call (2020)—a color-rich exploration of airports—Gruyaert organized these new images around signs like arrows, numbers, and letters that mark the framing of centers of transit.

I’ve always been fascinated by airports. They concentrate everything that usually catches my eyes as a photographer: plays of light, transparency and reflections, the effects of superimpositions which create a loss of reference marks and give this very strong impression of being between two worlds. Airports were the core of one of my latest book, Last Call, which brought together my images made in terminals, lobbies, and planes around the world.

For SELF 07, I immediately thought of shooting in an airport. Models could then become these passengers in latency, moving through space as on a stage. I chose to mirror these scenes with my images from Last Call early in the project, to create a dialogue between the real and the occasionally surreal.


Fashion and Art: Saint Laurent and Magnum Photos

Takashi Homma, Magnum Photos Guest Photographer for Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello

Fashion and Art: Saint Laurent and Magnum Photos

Takashi Homma, Magnum Photos Guest Photographer for Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello

Tokyo: Takashi Homma

Utilizing a camera obscura, Japanese photographer Takashi Homma investigates the ways in which the city of Tokyo constrains and guides the manner in which clothes are worn. Believing there to be a direct relationship between cities and fashion, the celebrated documentarian underscores these formal links for this collaboration.

I was born and grew up in Tokyo, and I continually think about the uniqueness of the city of Tokyo as an environment that surrounds me.

The city is huge. There are many different small towns built into it. This time, I shot in places I have known and interacted with daily.

I hope that the exhibition will give viewers a renewed sense of Tokyo and encourage them to think about this place in their own way.


Fashion and Art: Saint Laurent and Magnum Photos

Daesung Lee, Magnum Photos Guest Photographer for Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello

Seoul: Daesung Lee

Best known for his documentary photography that engages environmental issues, Daesung Lee developed these new images with the global pandemic and its effects on the natural world in mind. Building from the visualizations that kept him grounded during lockdown, an imaginary nature that is felt within one’s own senses, the work for SELF 07 explores the possibilities of the inner self.

I have been living in Paris since 2010. The project is about my lockdown experience in this new home. During this time, I watched how nature revived when the whole world stopped. It was an amazing experience. But it was a struggle as well, and order to escape from this reality, I often recalled the memories from my childhood in a rural village and the nature of my country. Nature is deeply connected to spirituality and shamanism in Korea, and these are still alive in Koreans’ daily lives. So, I have taken on an island where wild nature is well preserved as a place of the imaginary nature that I recalled in my mind during lockdown.

During the preproduction phase, I traveled with a location manager to Jeju Island, South Korea, in order to find places where my imaginary nature could be reflected. I wanted somewhere strange and surreal. Jeju Island is a volcanic island that has a unique landscape and vegetation.

The pandemic was an experience for all of us. It gave us an unintended chance to look into ourselves. I believe that we all questioned ourselves in order to understand this situation that we had never faced before. I attempted to visualize this confusing, unstable, and strange feeling during lockdown. I want to share this collective experience and feeling through the exhibition.


Fashion and Art: Saint Laurent and Magnum Photos

Alex Webb, Magnum Photos for Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello

Los Angeles and New York: Alex Webb

Alex Webb’s first instinct on receiving the invitation to participate in this project was to explore the city of Los Angeles through the lens of his previous projects in Latin America and Mexico. These new works were taken in three neighborhoods in Los Angeles—the Piñata District, the Flower District, and the Fashion District. Focusing on the interplay between vivid color and deep shadows, these photographs evoke the power of dynamic meeting places that are made possible in the city. They will be viewed through the lens of yet another city in their exhibition in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

When I first crossed the bridge on the US–Mexico border from El Paso, Texas, into Ciudad Juárez, I was overwhelmed by the sense of life, searing light, and vivid color in the streets of Mexico. I originally worked in black-and-white, but that early trip to Mexico transformed my way of seeing. Since then, I have largely worked in color. So when I was asked by Saint Laurent to create this project in Los Angeles, I immediately thought of these specific areas lying on the edge of downtown. The feel of these neighborhoods—with their brightly painted walls, thriving markets, and notes of Spanish filling the air—made me think I could be wandering the streets of Mexico once more.

Brutalisten, Stockholm, 2022. Photo: Attilio Maranzano

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Takashi Murakami cover and Andreas Gursky cover for Gagosian Quarterly, Summer 2022 magazine

Now available
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2022

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Two dress sculptures in the landscape at Barjac

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Darkly lit road, trees, and building exterior at La Ribaute, Barjac, France.

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Photograph of Serpertine Pavilion designed by Theaster Gates © Theaster Gates Studio. Photo: Iwan Baan, courtesy: Serpentine

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Toyo Ito, project for The Tokyo Toilet, Yoyogi-Hachiman, Tokyo, 2021

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Toyo Ito, Marc Newson, and Koji Yanai

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Black and white composite image of six literary editors

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Cover page with title and author in black and white

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Photograph of the installation process of an unrealized performance by Chris Burden at the Newport Harbor Art Museum, California, 1974. Photo: Brian Forrest, courtesy Michael Auping

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Jeff Wall at Gagosian, Beverly Hills, in front of his photography

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Image of American Artist, Yayoi Shionoiri, Sydney Stutterheim

In Conversation
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Black and white still image from Joseph H. Lewis's “So Dark the Night” (1946)

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