New Arrivals: Melvin Sokolsky

In 1963 at the age of 21, Melvin Sokolsky joined the iconic fashion magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and four years later he would go on to shoot a collection of images that have influenced the course of fashion photography and our understanding of it. Following the proposal and acceptance of one of his many bold ideas to the magazine’s editors - making his models fly through the streets of Paris - Melvin Sokolsky gathered a young, hard-working, and dynamic team to create some of history’s most memorable fashion photographs. With this series, Sokolsky ultimately expands the possibilities of creative photography and becomes an early influence on a later ubiquitous ‘photoshop’ culture.

Born and raised in New York City, Melvin Sokolsky was never formally trained as a photographer; instead, he learned the art of photography through a trial and error approach at a young age using his father’s box camera and relied on conversations with advertising photographers for his mentorship. As a primal memory, Sokolsky recalls his father had shown him an image of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights,” an image that would impact the young Melvin. Confined to a bed with a fever, Sokolsky would have recurring dreams of traveling above exotic lands in a spherical bubble, similar to the one depicted in the middle panel of a “Garden of Earthly Delights,”.

While at Harper’s Bazaar, Sokolsky was selected for the highly distinguished assignment of “shooting” the Paris collections. Yearning to make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity, Sokolsky decides to bring to reality his transcending and chimeric childhood dream; wafting gracefully above the city plane within the constraints of a transparent sphere. After a series of trial shots (taken over the Hudson River and near his studio) won over the magazine’s editors, Sokolsky’s acrylic bubble, hoisting crane, and model are all ready for their Parisian excursion.

One of the most creative aspects that convinced the magazine’s editors to comply with Sokolsky’s audacious idea, was that he was to use reportage as inspiration for his shoot; using the props, aesthetic, and matter-of-fact camera angles of photojournalism to document the model floating above Parisian streets. In this respect, while literally and symbolically elevating the beauty and grace of one of the world’s first supermodels, Simone D’Aillencourt, the floating figure becomes a divine entity; the figure, clad in elegant flowing clothes, displaying poise and immaculate grace. Sokolsky records these almost otherworldly spectacles with the same attention of passerby looking in disbelief; breaking away from the static, calculated imagery associated with fashion images to a more spontaneous and creative scene. The Bubble series have had a lasting influence on the future creativity of fashion magazines; they have become icons of both creativity and beauty.

As a backstory, Melvin Sokolsky noticed a department store display in which small, acrylic bubbles were suspended with ladies’ handbags and shoes that appeared as if they were floating in space. This display must have triggered his early “bubble” memory. He tracked down the manufactures of the window props and commissioned them to make the massive bubble.

These images were possible through the direction of a large team, consisting of the photographer, stylist, producer, assistant, studio manager, driver, and … crane operator. Made before photoshop, the images created an early standard; the floating, emphatic bubble, highlighting the “mythical woman” within, like Bicycle Street, Paris, used ordinary citizens as witnesses to create a heightened illusion of a levitating being. Although the medium’s ability to capture reality is now accepted along with the widespread knowledge that photographs may be altered, Sokolsky’s enigmatic pictures point to the possibilities that photoshop easily accommodates today.

In the Bubble series, Melvin Sokolsky’s brave, young, and daring project, is an agent of influential transformation for fashion photography and culture. Breaking the rules of 1950’s studio photography, Sokolsky advanced the creativity of fashion magazines. By bringing the medium into the realm of the surreal, he engages the dream world and visually articulates the possibilities of spellbinding, poetic illusions in photography.

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