Cathleen Naundorf creates fashion photographs in dream-like settings with an elegant and Old World aesthetic. Documentary representation is less important than an overall atmospheric, pictorial effect. The stunning and unique haute couture designs in Naundorf’s work are a result of her being privileged with an almost unlimited access to the archives of such haute couture houses as Chanel, Dior, Valentino, Lacroix, Armani, Saab, and Gaultier. As the artistic director for each of her shoots, she develops each concept herself and constructs interesting “mise-en-scenes” in historic, cultural, architectural, or garden settings in cities worldwide such as Paris, London, and Bangkok.
Since the end of the 1990s she has found a process that is painterly and dovetails the unpredictable beauty of the fashion which enthralls her. She uses an analog large-format camera by Deardorff or Plaubel along with Polaroid material or film. Unlike other fashion photographers who utilize Polaroids as preliminarily visual studies, Naundorf uses them as the final image and hand prints her black and white photographs as silver gelatin photographs. A further defining trademark of Naundorf’s work is that she created her own technique of Polaroid transfer giving the picture surfaces a quality that includes various markings and irregular abraded patches of color. The final photographs are rich with the saturated color and particular surface densities that are typical in unique Polaroids. They have a constructed visual patina to suggest the passing of time and appear to have had a past life belonging to a “grand age” of elegance and design, while the unique quality of Polaroid photos is played off the notion of the exclusivity of haute couture designs. She has found a way of capitalizing on the creations of the Great Masters of 20th century fashion with an imaginative and unique way of bringing the work to life by also suspending the work in elegant, mysterious, and temporal settings.
Cathleen Naundorf was born in the divided Germany of 1968. Her home of Weißenfels was the same hometown as her famous photography mentor, Horst P. Horst, who she consistently references in her work. Although she grew up in East Germany, Naundorf was able to move to Munich to study painting and photography. She apprenticed as a photo assistant in New York, Singapore, and Paris and was later commissioned by Glamour and Vogue quickly becoming one of the leading high fashion photographers. She brought a steady intelligence and elegance to the world of fashion photography. Naundorf’s reputation grew larger in 2005, when she began her series on haute couture fashion, focusing on the haute couture houses. She published these images in the book, Haute Couture: The Polaroids of Cathleen Naundorf published by Prestel in 2012. Naundorf has been working privately with Valentino Garavani on several projects and has been published in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, W, among others having had numerous exhibitions in Germany, the UK, Spain, and the USA. She won the American Photography Award in 2016. Naundorf lives in Paris and London and she continues to place her faith in the dramatic power of pure beauty and elegance.