PDN Photo of the Day

A Bold Romantic’s Vision of Fashion

As the title of Erik Madigan Heck’s new book, Old Future, published by Abrams, suggests, there is a classic sensibility to the photographer’s images of contemporary fashion that sets him apart. His use of color, his fascination with graphic patterns in textiles, and his integration of the natural landscape manifest an idealized, romantic vision of fashion and beauty that might seem more at home in Alexey Brodovitch’s Harper’s Bazaar of the 1940s than in contemporary magazines. In her essay in Heck’s book, Harper’s Bazaar UK editor-in-chief Justine Picardie notes that, “Unlike several other leading male [fashion] photographers at work today, [Heck] does not objectify the models in his pictures.” It’s a useful point of distinction that emphasizes Heck’s throwback sensibility: so much fashion imagery today is based on sexual provocation and, arguably, exploitation. Heck arouses curiosity through other, dare I say classier, means. (A book of fashion with no nudity. Imagine that!)

“I’ve always looked to painting as a guide for how one can use color and represent the figure,” Heck explains in an interview with curator Susan Bright, published in the book. In the first pages, Impressionistic landscape studies are intermixed with fashion images, illustrating the influence of observed color and light on his work. In photographs made on location, Heck’s models appear in stunning natural settings evocative of fairly tales. Later, the book moves into Heck’s studio work, still influenced by organic forms, but often with brighter, solid color and graphic lines. The book also includes digital photo illustrations that he based on his Comme des Garçons runway photographs. Sticking to the theme of making the old new again, Heck tells Bright that he initially undertook the illustrations “as a way to make stained-glass windows without the labor of glass or the direct use of photography.”

Heck also acknowledges in the interview that, for a time, his sensibilities meant that his “work lived in a kind of purgatory… too fashion-focused to be hung in a gallery, or too old-fashioned in its focus on beauty [for the fashion world].” He stuck to his vision, though, and both the fashion and art worlds have come around. —Conor Risch

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