Dovima with the Elephants in Paris
One of the most iconic photoshoots in the history of fashion is Richard Avedon's capture of Dovima in the Cirque d'Hiver in Paris. The photoshoot was published in the September of 1955 issue of Harpers' Bazaar and the model was wearing Dior haute-couture dresses, designed by Christian Dior's new assistant, Yves Saint Laurent. The photoshoot set the path for a shift in the way of portraying commercial fashion photography towards art.
Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba, widely known as Dovima (a nickname that she came up with herself, combining her three names), was one of the most iconic models of the fifties. She had a mysterious air and an elegance that complimented couture in the most beautiful way. Richard Avedon characterized her as the most "remarkable and unconventional beauty of her time". Soon after she got discovered, in the sidewalk beside the Vogue offices in New York, she became one of the most famous models in the world. Her career skyrocketed until she decided to end her career at the very young age of 35 years old, since as she declared, she "didn't want to wait until the camera became cruel".
On the other hand, Richard Avedon needs no introduction. In his sixty-year career, the American photographer established himself as one of the most famous photographers of his time. He combined reportage with fashion photography. His portraits were remarkable and wrote history. His talent in capturing motion and producing the most amazing static, yet moving portraits was unparalleled.
Dovima and Avedon had worked together in many occasions, in various fashion projects and the model was very enthusiastic about the photographer. Referring to her collaboration with Avedon once, she said: “We became like mental Siamese twins, with me knowing what he wanted before he explained it. He asked me to do extraordinary things, but I always knew I was going to be part of a great picture.” This remarkable photoshoot is the perfect proof of her words.
In 1955, when both Dovima and Richard Avedon were prominent in their respective fields, they created this iconic editorial for the September issue of Harper's Bazaar, in the Cirque d'Hiver in Paris. Dovima was dressed in elegant black and white gowns, the first designs of Christian Dior's new assistant, Yves Saint Laurent. The result of the photoshoot was iconic. Dovima With Elephants is one of the most famous fashion photographs of all time.
The photo has been included in the catalog of the 100 most influential pictures of the century. The influence of the photo refers not only to the image, but also reflects its creators, the two people that produced this iconic result. It captures one of the last moments in history when haute couture was closed and accessed only by the elite. And Dovima was one of the last models that portrayed this sophisticated and unattainable beauty. After the 1950s, models began to gravitate toward girl-next-door looks, helping turn high fashion into entertainment.
Richard Avedon's vision was to showcase models not as mannequins, but as the people who bring the clothes to life. This all was achieved by bringing art into the equation. So Avedon, took the model out of the studio, and put her out in the world. In this photoshoot the juxtaposition between the grand spectacle of the circus, with the two huge elephants, portraying strength and nature, against the elegance and delicacy of the beautiful model in a couture gown, is the perfect portrayal of this new vision. In this way, movement is being introduced to the photo, a medium that is clasically characterized by stillness.
In this way, by taking the models out of the studio and showcasing the clothes against inspiring real backdrops, contributed in a turn of commercial fashion photography into art. This is how Dovima With Elephants captures a turning point in our broader culture: the last old-style model, setting fashion off on its new path.
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