Whether floating models down the Seine in a bubble or shrinking his subjects, Alice-like, to miniature heights, Melvin Sokolsky helped pioneer illusory fashion photography long before the age of digital enhancement took hold. Though he is best known for his editorial fashion photographs for publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and The New York Times, Sokolsky’s work is not limited to that field. As Sokolsky said in an interview: “I resented the attitude that ‘This is editorial and this is advertising. I always felt, why dilute it? Why not always go for the full shot?” Toward the end of the 1960s, Sokolsky worked as both commercial director and cameraman.
Born in New York City in 1933, 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. He also relied on conversations with advertising photographers for mentorship. As an early memory, Sokolsky recalls his father showing him an image of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights,” which would impact the young Melvin. Some time afterward, while 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.”
In a golden era from the 50s to the 70s, at a time where American magazines dominated the advertisement industry, photographers would become the latest stars of popular, contemporary art. In the world’s leading fashion magazines, glossy covers and centerfold placements required striking images to run along with articles and promotions on their pages. Magazine executives demanded the work of exceptional artists who could create daring new perspectives and expressive ideas. A select number of photographers working in these magazines would elevate the commercial industry of fashion imagery to levels of artistry. One of these significant players in the creation of legendary fashion pictures is photographer Melvin Sokolsky.
In his iconic Bubble series, Sokolsky defies gravity by displaying the model, Simone D’Aillencourt, airborne within a plastic bubble. She becomes an embodiment of grace and beauty, mesmerizing her observers as well as the viewer. Ultimately Sokolsky’s photographs created graceful illusions in an era predating photoshop, which remains remarkable more than half a century later.
Innovative and determined, Melvin Sokolsky is known for his inventive and unique approach to fashion photography. He created an original and startling aesthetic that ultimately helped expand the creative potential of the genre and the medium.
SELECTED MUSEUM COLLECTIONS:
• Museum of Modern Art, NY, US
• Guggenheim Museum, NY, US
• The Getty Museum, LA, US
• Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK