Born in 1906 in Germany, Horst P. Horst was a pioneer of the genre now known as classic fashion photography who produced distinctive, elegant work that made him one of the leading fashion photographers of the mid-20th century. He apprenticed with Le Corbusier in Paris and learned how to architecturally construct a picture plane. This training carried over into his photographs resulting in Horst’s sessions sometimes lasting for days as he searched for the right blend of light and shadow. Fashion photographer, Hoyningen-Huene, who further sharpened his vision, mentored him and by 1931 he was shooting for French Vogue and then in British Vogue in 1932, thanks to art director Mehemed Agha. He incorporated the influence that modernism and surrealism had on the art world into his photographs. At that time he also photographed such celebrities as Greta Garbo, Coco Chanel, Joan Crawford, and Katherine Hepburn.
In 1939, Horst made one of his most famous works, Mainboucher Corset. Shot the night he fled Europe at the invasion of the German army into France. This photograph, the back of a woman wearing an unraveling corset, is representative of the elegance and fragility of beauty in the face of destruction. That same year he moved to the United States and became a citizen changing his name to Horst P. Horst. He struggled to find work until he was hired by American Vogue. He soon was immersed in the world of the New York glitterati, and, along with his fashion work, he became acclaimed for his portraits of the powerful and the famous. Horst’s fashion photos were characterized by the anonymous treatment of models.
He would continue to work at Vogue and for many other magazines, including Life. His Life cover of 1980 was the most popular of the year. His fashion photographs are collected in numerous museums throughout the world and was the subject of a retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2014. Contemporaries Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, and Helmut Newton have all learned from Horst and his work continues to resonate with photographers and viewers alike to this day.