What do South Parks Kenny, Hinduism, Ozzy Osbourne, cats and Vanity Fair magazine have in common? They all have many lives.
Opened on September 26 and running until January 3, the Royal Ontario Museum is presenting Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913-2008 in cooperation with The Bay. Vanity Fair Portraits showcases 146 portraits, celebrating Vanity Fairs 95th anniversary as a magazine and its 25th anniversary since its re-launch in 1983.
The brainchild of a collaboration between Vanity Fair and the National Portrait Gallery of London, Vanity Fair Portraits is curated by the National Portrait Gallerys curator, Terence Pepper, and Vanity Fairs editor of creative development, David Friend. This is the exhibitions first visit to eastern North America and the ROM is the only Canadian venue to display these works.
The exhibition shows a vast array of magazine covers from the last 95 years, along with photographs of celebrities, socialites, and artists, from both the original and the modern editions. It also boasts photographs by Edward Steichen, Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, Annie Leibovitz, Michael Thompson, and Nigel Parry, to name a few.
Vanity Fair magazine was born to an eager Condé Nast in 1913. He had purchased the then mens fashion mag under its original name Dress, after which he renamed the magazine Vanity Fair & Dress. The magazine lived a short four-issue life, but was reborn in 1914 as Vanity Fair. Along with the new name came a charismatic new editor, Frank Crowninshield. Together Nast and Crowninshield promoted modern artists, illustrators, and writers. They reproduced works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paolo Garnetto and Man Ray, published essays and literary works by Gertrude Stein and Dorothy Parker, and helped popularize celebrity portraiture through the work of photographers such as Edward Steichen, Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, and Baron de Meyer.
In 1923, Nast recruited Edward Steichen as the head photographer for Vanity Fair and Vogue. Steichen was already a well-established artist who was also known for his painting. He had been working with Alfred Stieglitz, with whom he was a founding member of the Photo-Secession. Steichen had also served as a commander for the photographic division of the Army Expeditionary Forces, where he pioneered aerial reconnaissance photography. His roles with the Photo-Secession and with the U.S. war efforts both called for a different kind of photograph. The Photo-Secession promoted Pictorialist artists and their works; photographers who wanted to marry the romanticism of painting and etching with the technicalities of photography.
In 1935, Vanity Fair ceased publication as a result of the Stock Market Crash in 1929. Their sales dropped, they lost advertisers, and Steichen was given a pay cut. This is when Nast and Crowninshield made the decision to fold Vanity Fair into Vogue. During this time Steichen continued to work for Vogue and had started working on campaigns for Kodak before resigning in 1939.
In 1983, the magazine went through a rocky re-launch led by Condé Nast Publications editors Richard Locke and Leo Lerman, and in 1984 Tina Brown took over, recruiting photographers Annie Leibovitz, Henry Bensol, Helmut Newton and Herb Ritts to their roster.
Annie Leibovitz began taking night classes in photography while she was studying painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. In 1970, she began doing work for Rolling Stone magazine. She became Rolling Stones chief photographer in 1973. Ten years and 142 different covers later, she joined Vanity Fair as its first contributing photographer after its 1983 re-launch. She has shot hundreds of celebrities and says shes interested solely in what they do, not who they are. She was the last photographer to shoot John Lennon before his assassination in 1980 (for Rolling Stone), which was named the best magazine cover from the past 40 years by the American Society of Magazine Editors in 2005. Leibovitzs photos are on display at the ROM.
Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913-2008 runs until January 3 2010 at the Royal Ontario Museum.