Articles and Features

In Retrospect: The Photography of Karl Lagerfeld

Karl Lagerfeld
Karl Lagerfeld. Photo: Pascal le Segretain/Getty Images

“Absurdity and anti-absurdity are the two poles of creative energy.”  – Karl Lagerfeld

The death of world-renowned fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who passed away in Paris last week at age 85, has inspired many to look back at his monumental career in fashion. As Chanel’s creative director for 36 years, and Fendi’s creative director for 54 years, Lagerfeld’s  distinctive style and artistic vision played a big part in shaping the history of the fashion world. However, Lagerfeld was not just a fashion artist, but also a passionate photographer, despite this side of him being less well-known.

As a photographer, not only was Lagerfeld responsible for Chanel’s publicity shots each season, he was also particularly interested in exploring avant-garde processes. Lagerfeld used large-format Polaroids, green platinum prints, and fire prints, as well as an obscure  method of printing which used honey and rubber, and was adapted from a method invented by Alphonse Poitevin, a French chemist who discovered the photolithography and collotype processes. Since 1996, Lagerfeld has been represented by Galerie Gmurzynska, a gallery with over fifty years experience showing modern art with a focus on Picasso, Kurt Schwitters, Fernand Léger, Robert and Sonia Delauney and Lyonel Feininger. Lagerfeld first contacted the gallery to express his admiration for their exhibitions, which he visited frequently, and this eventually led to him becoming one of their represented artists.

To honour his passing, Galerie Gmurzynska mounted a spontaneous photography retrospective of Lagerfeld’s work on the 21st of February in Zurich, which will run through May 15th. Among the works included in the exhibition are Lagerfeld’s artistic exploration of human body parts, fashion photography, portraits of celebrities, photographs of architecture in various cities, and still life pictures presented in avant-garde colour schemes. The exhibition showcases Lagerfeld’s two poles of creative energy, absurdity and anti-absurdity, side by side: seemingly mundane and strongly geometric photographs of architecture are offset by extravagant, seductive and experimental photographs, like a reclining Nicole Kidman in the style of pre-war pin-ups, or a pink-hued Naomi Campbell as Scarlett O’Hara and Charlton Cannon as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind.


Galerie Gmurzynska calls the exhibition ‘an homage to one of the great Renaissance people of our time,’ and there is perhaps no better way to describe the multi-faceted artist with an inexhaustible supply of talent that is the late Karl Lagerfeld.

Homage to Karl Lagerfeld - Installation view
Installation view, ‘Homage to Karl Lagerfeld.’ Photo courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska

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