In today’s fashion world the clichés of modern fashion photography are manifold. I am not sure whether I am showing my age here, however there is a predominate feature that unifies them all, and that is the almost unshakeable belief in the power of seduction. Let’s face it sex sells, so they would have us believe. This could explain the dominance of male photographers today, however there are few exceptions to the rule, and one of these is Sarah Moon.
I remember years ago as a teenager in a remote town in Australia devouring all I could lay my hands on to escape to a world of fashion and glamour. Flipping through a magazine I came across an advertisement for the Jean Deprez perfume “Bal a Versailles”. The accompanying photo immediately captivated me. It transported one into a completely different world than what was normally found in fashion magazines and the like. An unusual thing was that, the photo was actually credited, Sarah Moon. Ever since I have been a fan!
Anyone who has opened a fashion magazine in recent years is likely to have seen Moon's work. She also shoots editorial features for Vogue, Marie-Claire and others; has directed commercials and short films and has even illustrated a John Deere annual report.
Born in 1941 she modeled for the likes of some of fashion’s most iconic photographers such as Helmut Newton, Irving Penn and Guy Bourdin. However she was never entirely comfortable in that role and first picked up camera in 1970.
Before long, she was working for Barbara Hulanicki, creating wistfully lovely images for Biba and, most famously, for 20 years, for the quintessentially French label, Cacharel. One of her most memorable images for the label is of a model lying across a Brobdingnagian sewing-machine, its giant needle poised for action. Most of you will recognize Moon’s photographs for Cacherel fragrances, notably Anais Anais.
Sarah Moon’ images are about an imagined world full of Romanesque heroines, who inhabit isolated, surreal and fictional worlds, straight out of dreams.
When men appear, her pictures move towards a more disturbing surrealism and a dangerous mystery is inferred. These are photographs in which the bizarre and unusual confront ordinary reality.
Moon over time has created some of the most heart-stoppingly beautiful fashion imagery that goes against every so-called commercial trend, from the need to establish eye contact – it is only rarely there – to the belief that the most alluring fashion photograph must be glossy, even hyper-real.
A sweet nostalgia invades Moon's magical universe, monochromatic and sometimes sepia-printed or vibrating with saturated colour, where time is the enemy.
"Of course, if something is really bad then I will retouch it," Moon says, "but only very little and never trying to make a woman more beautiful. I don't need to do that. They are beautiful and it is my job to work with the light. I don't feel it is my place to make any sort of moral judgment on people who choose to work in that way, but I suppose it does falsify the approach to a human being. It's a coded language of sex, glamour and gloss, a leveler, too, imposed for marketing reasons."