Sarah Moon: PastPresent

September 30, 2020

From 18th of September 2020 to 10th of January 2021, the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris presents the exhibition “PastPresent” around the work of Sarah Moon.


Can you tell us about the origin of the exhibition? How did it come about?
This exhibition was born from Sarah Moon and Fabrice Hergott’s encounter a few years ago. The MAM acquires and exhibits the greatest contemporary photographers, such as recently Larry Clark, Jan Dibbets or Ron Amir.  Sarah Moon is a photographer of international stature. She benefited very early on from this recognition, through fashion campaigns that became emblematic in the seventies. This notoriety led her to be published and exhibited throughout the world, from New York to Tokyo, passing of course through France, with monographic exhibitions at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, or at the Rencontres d’Arles. But by being welcomed at the MAM, an open and plural museum on modern and contemporary art, we affirm that the work of this photographer is not only essential for the history of photography, but for the history of creation in general.

What is the place of fashion photography in Sarah Moon’s work? More broadly, how does it relate to fashion as an industry and as clothing?
Fashion is a major element in Sarah Moon’s career. It was while working as a model that she first discovered this world in the 60s, and she began to learn photography on her own, taking pictures of her colleagues during the long hours of fittings. Through Jean-Régis Roustan, a fashion photographer for L’Express, she receives her first order for a replacement. Then the arrival of Corinne Sarrut as artistic director of Cacharel in 1968, and her collaboration with Sarah Moon to shape the image of the brand, propelled the photographer to international fame. For almost twenty years, she worked almost exclusively for the fashion industry, defining an immediately recognisable universe, marked by her interest in German expressionist cinema. Models are no longer simply summoned to promote a piece of clothing, but seem to emerge from a fictional narrative from which Sarah Moon only takes a moment. “What I like is the character that the dress embodies. The garment offers a role to the woman who wears it, like a suit. “Sarah Moon says. Although from the mid-1980s onwards she expanded her photographic and film practice beyond fashion commissions, these continue to flow in, and the artist does not draw a line between all these disciplines. Numerous fashion photographs mark out the path of the exhibition “Sarah Moon. PastPresent ».

As the exhibition argues, Sarah Moon’s temporality seems to be defined by the concept of “PastPresent”. In this respect, isn’t her relationship to time similar to fashion time, itself constantly caught between past and present?
This is indeed the tour de force and the mystery of Sarah Moon’s photographs. How does she manage to gain acceptance for her photographs, which blur the markers of time, and which are difficult to date, in the fashion industry, which is asserting itself through the rapid evolution of trends, their confrontations, their ruptures? The title of the exhibition implies a review of our temporal values and their classifications. Sarah Moon’s time is the “past-present”: a looping concept like in Lewis Carroll’s tales, which cracks and intertwines a temporality that is too rectilinear. This is undoubtedly what fascinates the world of fashion in this universe, the quest for timelessness in the present moment.

Could you choose a representative photograph of this concept and comment on it with us?
The photograph Anatomy (1997) is a good example of the temporal disorder we are talking about, as well as the special status Sarah Moon gives to fashion photography. This work dates from the 1990s and was commissioned for a collection by Christian Lacroix. The framing of the photo, centred on the corset, evacuates the face, the hair or the hands, to retain only the sculptural aspect of the garment’s frame.  A hesitation arises in the visitor’s perception: are we looking at a mannequin of flesh and bones, or an inanimate object? When was this photograph taken? The technique used by Sarah Moon, based on the polaroid negative, registers accidents, scratches and fingerprints very noticeably. The photograph thus seems to be exhumed from a distant era, whereas it is relatively contemporary to us. The material is alive while the character is ghostly. These questionings, beyond the look on the garment, generate a fictional dimension that is part of each visitor’s imagination.

Anatomie © Sarah Moon, 1997

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