King Karl's Eye

Photos by Karl Lagerfeld? You might think you’ve seen them all because they are everywhere. You find ads for Chanel, Fendi and, of course, Karl’s favourite drink, Coca Zero in every magazine. But you’d be wrong. The Maison Européene de la Photographie, briefly called MEP, just opened a stupendous exhibition retracing two decades of photography of the German born designer. All of a sudden Lagerfeld is not only one of the greatest fashion designers of 20th century, but also an extremely talented, virtuoso, prolific photographer.

Strange Still Lives

“Karl Lagerfeld. Parcours de Travail” is the title of the exhibition showing 300 of his shots and therefore the largest-ever exhibit shown. Translate it as “Career Path” and you will get an idea of what’s on display in the Parisian mansion, one of the most beautiful and well-informed spaces showing photography in the French capital. There are the fashion shots, the beautiful Chanel campaigns, that are still ads, or the latest one for Fendi which recreates the Mad-Men-atmosphere, consciously playing on the hype of the Fifties. These are kind of strange still-lives that could have been shot on the set of Tom Ford's first and latest film A Single Man – except that in one  King Karl himself is posing. It's now over 20 years that Lagerfeld has been taking photographs professionally. And he's had an impressive number of VIPs in front of his lense. People like Jack Nicolson or Mick Jagger, some of them clearly “on duty” on the Champagne-soaked opening of Tuesday night, like American director David Lynch. “It’s my favourite picture that anyone’s taken of me, ever”, he told a journalist. Why? Because he looks excitingly good in it.

Tinted with eye shadow


But Lagerfeld hasn’t just taken advantage of his connections. He is an artist. And some of his works are clearly influenced by his German heros Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz. Others are a homage to artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, Oskar Schlemmer from the Bauhaus or Roy Lichtenstein. The serigraphy shot in the Casa Malaperte in Italy or the sequence Another Side of Versailles are true art works that look much more like paintings than photographs. Lagerfeld actually used for old techniques of reproduction - like printing on sketch paper. He sometimes retouched his photos with – what? Well, nothing else than eye shadow. The results are very grainy, kind of fuzzy, out-of-focus photos that show you things, buildings, bodies and landscapes from a complete new angle.

A book addict

There is no doubt: Karl Lagerfeld is an eye person. He devours things with his eyes. If you had any doubt about his culture, intelligence and work-ethic, then just read Alica Drakes book The Beautiful Fall where she describes the battle between two fashion monsters: Yves Saint-Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. The latter has may be not the same kind of genius as YSL, but he has more ambition. Lagerfeld buys a handful of art books every day, often in many copies, so he can cut out pictures for his archives. They don’t end up as coffee table books. They are all carefully shelved in his impressive library, while the pictures remain in his creative mind.

FINISHED!! Exhibition was running until 31 of October 2010

Maison Euroéenne de la Photographie
5-7, rue de Fourcy
75004 Paris
+33(0)1 44 78 75 00
From Wednesday to Sunday 11 am - 8 pm
Métro: Saint-Paul   or  Pont-Marie  

Karl Lagerfeld: Zang Ziyi
Linda Evangelista à la Jawlensky Photos coloured with eye shadowsColoured with eye-shadows