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Sarah Moon, Photographer

June 2, 2015

The photographic work of Sarah Moon work has been described as both timeless, and dream-like. Well, they’re like no dream I’ve ever had, and timeless? Her images from the 70s are so very 70s. But I think that’s because her imagery defines the 1970s, and not the other way around.

Sarah Moon

 

Sarah Moon - Biba Illustrations.

Biba Illustrations.

 

Biba Catalogue Cover

Biba Catalogue Cover

 

Biba founder Barbara Hulanicki’s fashion sketches of sweet faced girls are so closely matched with Moon’s vision that her photos are the embodiment of the “Biba Girl”. They all have round faces, huge eyes, tiny rosebud lips, and a faraway gaze – I don’t know if she ever photographed Lily Cole but that kind of doll like face is Sarah’s ideal model.

Sarah Moon  Dreaming girls

 

Rarely do the women of Sarah Moon’s photographs meet your eye or focus on you – they’re clearly dreaming of meadows full of flowers or that time when they flew though the air on the back of a bird or of ice cream. Perhaps that’s why these images are “dream-like” – the subjects are dreaming. But of childish pleasures. Even when Sarah Moon did the Pirelli calendar – that tradition of perky grins and perky breasts, and a sultry gaze directed at you, Mr Viewer, the actual nipple count is extremely low, and not only do the models not look at the viewer, they barely look at each other, so disinterested are they in their surroundings (a hazy maybe-Victorian bordello with no customers).

 

Sarah Moon’s models were hand picked and insisted upon for the Vogue shoot – Mick Lindburg, Suzanne Moncur, Boni Pfeifer, Inger Hammer, Magritt Rahn, and Barbara Trethman. She works over and over with her favourite models.

Hommage to Bonnard

Bather by Pierre Bonnard.

Bather by Pierre Bonnard.

 

Sarah Moon takes pictures of women, children, flowers, birds. My favourite series is a tribute to Bonnard that she made for Vogue in 1997. A woman lies slumped in a bathtub, photographed from above, blurry and with the look of an early, hand tinted photograph.

 

Although this series was based on existing paintings, it seems like part of a narrative, as so many of her works do. They could be a still from a film perhaps, but the moment where a person turns her back, is daydreaming in the background, not realising that the camera is on her. A still it seems no-one else would have chosen from the reel.

 Rei Kawakubo - Comme des Garcons exhibit at the Met

Comme des Garcons exhibit at the Met

A photographic fiction

 

“For me, photography is pure fiction,” Moon has said, “even if it comes from life. I photograph people, of course, as I do nature – trees, flowers, animals – but I charge it with something other than reality, with feeling, with a certain feeling depending on the day. I compare myself to reportage photographers, who make some sort of statement about life. I don’t believe that I am making any defined statement. Instead, I am expressing something, an echo of the world maybe.”

 

Fashion photography is only a small part of what Sarah Moon does, although she worked for 20 years for French perfume brand Cacherel and worked with Chanel, Sonia Rykiel, Comme des Garcons, and all the fashion magazines of note including Elle and Vogue in many different countries.

Cheb Khaled performing onstage, Oran, 2011

Cheb Khaled performing onstage, Oran, 2011

Sarah Moon films

 

But since the 80s she has moved into more making films, and has created short films based, naturally enough, on fairy tales like the Little Mermaid and Bluebeard. There is a cult feature film, Mississippi One, and a pop video, for Khaled’s Aïcha.

 

In the fashion photographs of Sarah Moon, the clothes are incidental to the moment. “For a split second, I see a sparkle of beauty passing by,” she muses. “That instance of grace that I nearly missed, and that will never happen again.”

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