07 April 2006

Goodbye Prince of Darkness

“Sex…happened to fashion photography in the 1960’s.”
– Bob Richardson, photographer

Bob Carlos Clarke’s death (my previous post) late last month is not the only loss to the world of fashion and celebrity photography in recent times. In early December last year, another icon of fashion and celebrity photography, Bob Richardson, had passed away. Unlike Clarke, aged 56, who committed suicide by jumping under a passing train in Britain, Richardson, battling schizophrenia, died of natural causes in his home in New York at the age of 77.

In a PDN newswire, Daryl Lang writes, “Bob Richardson brought drama and sexuality to fashion photography in the 1960s... He incorporated sex, drugs and violence into his photos, reflecting a turbulent period in history and creating images that were more about people than about fashion. He was one of a generation of photographers who changed the look of fashion photography in the 1960s...”

According to Anita Hunter from the New Millennium, in her perspective on the history of fashion photography, Richardson played an important part in fashion and celebrity photography:

The 1960’s were years of major change in fashion and fashion photography. As Bob Richardson observed “Sex…happened to fashion photography in the 1960’s”. Women’s roles in society were being questioned and the youth quake was having an enormous cultural influence. Fashion trends were not just flowing down from Paris but were coming up from street culture. In Britain the terrible three David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Bob Richardson were instrumental in introducing spontaneity and sex into fashion photography.

Taking Richardson’s work further, Peter Marshall of About.com says:

The sixties are often seen as the decade when fashion photography discovered sex (notably through the eroticism of Helmut Newton and Jeanloup Sieff), but Richardson’s great contribution was mainly angst. His models acted out love affairs that were falling apart, and doing so with scenes of great emotional intensity - women deserted in cafes waiting, waiting for lovers who would not appear, even women desolate at the graveside. Much of his visual language came from the world of the movies, in particular the work of Antonioni. However, although his pictures could show women in tears, they could also depict the lighter moments, for example with models giggling together.

In Richardson, boundaries were blurred between life and work, between fiction and fact, between photographer and photographed. The photographer became a celebrity of sorts, in particular through his long relationship with his favourite model, Anjelica Houston, daughter of actor, director and screenwriter John Huston. Through his life and work Richardson set an agenda for fashion photography of later decades, one that still has a great influence today.

Photographer Bob Richardson had a reputation for being difficult to work with which was earned though long battles with editors as well as often erratic behaviour elsewhere which was echoed in the moody intensity of his work. He has been called ‘the William Burroughs of fashion photography.’

Lang of PDN agrees: 'Richardson, who suffered from mental illness throughout his life, developed a reputation as a rebellious artist who fought with editors and stylists. In a 1997 interview with PDN, Richardson said, “I don’t know why you’d want to be labeled anything else but a rebel. The opposite of a rebel is a coward, and believe me, I’ve worked with a lot of cowards.”'

John Eder’s personal account of meeting Bob Richardson can be found in The Brink. It’s called ‘Goodbye Prince of Darkness’.

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