Horst P. Horst

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Horst P. Horst : biography

August 14, 1906 – November 18, 1999

Early life

The younger of two sons, Horst was born in Weißenfels-an-der-Saale, Germany, to Klara (Schönbrodt) and Max Bohrmann. His father was a successful merchant.

In his teens, he met dancer Evan Weidemann at the home of his aunt, and this aroused his interest in avant-garde art. In the late 1920s, Horst studied at Hamburg Kunstgewerbeschule, leaving there to go to Paris to study under the architect Le Corbusier.

Publications

Books featuring Horst’s photography:

  • 1944 Photographs of a Decade
  • 1946 Patterns from Nature – a collection of plant still lifes
  • 1968 Vogue’s Book of Houses, Gardens, People
  • 1984 Horst, His Work and His World
  • 1971 Salute to the Thirties (A Studio Book)
  • 1991 Horst – Sixty Years of Photography – this book contains a selection of his work, including his most famous photographs.
  • 1993 Horst : Interiors
  • 1997 Horst P Horst: Magician of Lights
  • 2001 Horst Portraits : 60 Years of Style
  • Spezial Fotografie: Portfolio No. 24

Work

Horst is best known for his photographs of women and fashion, but is also recognized for his photographs of interior architecture, still lifes, especially ones including plants, and environmental portraits. One of the great iconic photos of the Twentieth-Century is "The Mainbocher Corset" with its erotically charged mystery, captured by Horst in Vogue’s Paris studio in 1939. Designers like Donna Karan continue to use the timeless beauty of "The Mainbocher Corset" as an inspiration for their outerwear collections today. His work frequently reflects his interest in surrealism and his regard of the ancient Greek ideal of physical beauty.

His method of work typically entailed careful preparation for the shoot, with the lighting and studio props (of which he used many) arranged in advance. His instructions to models are remembered as being brief and to the point. His published work uses lighting to pick out the subject; he frequently used four spotlights, often one of them pointing down from the ceiling. Only rarely do his photos include shadows falling on the background of the set. Horst rarely, if ever, used filters. While most of his work is in black & white, much of his color photography includes largely monochromatic settings to set off a colorful fashion. Horst’s color photography did include documentation of society interior design, well noted in the volume Horst Interiors. He photographed a number of interiors designed by Robert Denning and Vincent Fourcade of Denning & Fourcade and often visited their homes on Manhattan and Long Island. After making the photograph, Horst generally left it up to others to develop, print, crop, and edit his work.

One of his most famous portraits is of Marlene Dietrich, taken in 1942. She protested the lighting that he had selected and arranged, but he used it anyway. Dietrich liked the results and subsequently used a photo from the session in her own publicity.