Fernand Fonssagrives

14 Jan - 25 Apr 2010

The Michael Hoppen gallery is delighted to announce an exhibition of work by one of America’s foremost fashion photographers Fernand Fonssagrives. 


Once the highest paid photographers in the world, he was ambivalent about the acclaim he received in his chosen field, preferring to remain anonymous. Little was written about him, even at the peak of his success. He was linked to the early ‘Design Laboratory’ classes of Alexey Brodovitch, and was a key member of the close knit group of photographers now celebrated as ‘The New York School.


His most memorable work traces the unique partnership he had with his first wife, legendary model Lisa Fonssagrives, a former dancer who went on to marry Irving Penn. A major influence and inspiration to both men, Lisa was responsible for Fonssagrives picking up a camera – she gave him a Rollieflex after his own dance career ended due to a diving injury; “It became,” he said, “part of my body”.


Born in 1910 in France to a sculptor father and a musician mother, Fonssagrives was encouraged to do the things he most loved: science, art, sports, gymnastics and dance. He moved to America aged 18 to continue his studies, and returned to Europe at 21 for military service. After joining a German dance company, he met the young Swedish dancer Lisa Bergstrom who became his dance partner and then his wife. 


Fernand and Lisa spent two years in Europe, supporting themselves by selling his photographs of her to over 50 European publications. Lisa had an uninhibited and carefree style, and her look was much sought after by fashion editors and stylists in the 1940s. She and Fonssagrives helped to define the natural, effortless beauty that has become the mainstay of fashion photography as we now know it. Lisa’s elegant dancers’ figure and enigmatic look were a constant inspiration to Fonssagrives whether he photographed her dancing in the open air, or experimentally draped in shadows to define the contours of her naked body. When World War II forced them to return to New York, they were catapulted into separate but highly successful careers. 


Unfortunately, their careers diverged and the marriage ended in 1950; Lisa was the epitome of fashion, a form of photography Fonssagrives began to resent as too commercial, and which limited to his creative freedom. After becoming disillusioned with advertising photography, he moved to Spain, taught himself to sculpt, and regained his creative independence. Lisa married Irving Penn, and her collaboration with him is an acknowledged landmark in the maturity of fashion photography.


Fernand Fonssagrives died in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2003. . This exhibition of little –seen prints pay tribute to a talent not often shown to the public.


We encourage you to experience Fonssagrives eye for beauty.