The Gills shared a passion for photography at the intersection of fashion, design, and fine art in the 1940s and 1950s. With a circle of famous friends and colleagues, they led glamorous careers in the rarified worlds of Condé Nast and Hearst. The exhibition presents images by Leslie Gill who was active from 1935-1957 and Frances McLaughlin-Gill who produced work from 1943-1993, as well as work by their close contemporaries Erwin Blumenfeld, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Paul Outerbridge, Gordon Parks, Norman Parkinson, Irving Penn, and Man Ray. Lives & Still Lives: Leslie Gill, Frances McLaughlin-Gill, and Their Circle is curated by Elisabeth Biondi, an independent curator and former Visuals Editor for The New Yorker. An opening will be held on May 25 from 6-8 p.m.
When they married in 1948 in New York City, Leslie Gill (1908-1958) and his wife Frances McLaughlin-Gill (1919-2014) were both accomplished photographers. Leslie Gill’s work was appearing in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, and Frances McLaughlin-Gill’s photographs were in Vogue. Both Gills contributed a fresh and much needed new perspective to editorial photography.
Leslie Gill was greatly admired for his innovative approach to still life photography, pushing beyond the boundaries of standard editorial images, into the realm of fine art. At Hearst, he collaborated with Harper’s Bazaar’s legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch on ideas, design, and innovative layouts for his pictures.
McLaughlin-Gill was appreciated for her vivid, cinematic, and spontaneous approach to fashion photography, and her thoughtful reflections of the multifaceted lives of women, which was unique at the time.
The Gills would have just ten years together, as Leslie Gill died three months after their only child, Leslie, was born in 1958. As their daughter has noted, "Leslie and Frances’ work resides in rare moments between the staged and the spontaneous. When viewed alongside their circle of friends, the images demonstrate how the emergence of new technologies (strobe and high speed film) can have a rapid ricochet effect between artists. It was a moment when a new medium and a new generation entered a discipline, and on the way, shifted the focus."
“Leslie Gill and Frances McLaughlin-Gill were perfectionists. Their work differed, but they shared an ambition to create unique pictures that reflected their personalities. Leslie became a photographer when as art director at House Beautiful he did not get the pictures he wanted for his layouts. In his still lifes, his impeccable taste and focus on details made them photographic icons. Frances McLaughlin-Gill was an instinctual artist in the way she photographed the contemporary and more emancipated post WWII American woman, which continues to be an integral part of fashion photography,” noted Biondi.
Irving Penn, who was a friend of the Gills, said in 1959 when referring to Leslie Gill’s work, “A group of younger photographers responded to Gill’s talent as soon as he appeared on the scene. Many remained in later years frankly imitative. Many more, influenced, went on to other types of work bearing the mark of Gill’s inspiration. From this group grew the present American school of still-life photography, the influence of which is seen in areas far removed from the immediate one with which Leslie Gill was personally concerned. A man of cultivated visual tastes, Gill was half painter, half photographer. A feather, a piece of old wood, an egg, had for him a meaning beyond themselves.”
Alexander Liberman, the dominant creative force at Condé Nast for decades, hired Frances McLaughlin when he was art director of Vogue. He noted in 1959 “Not only was Franny’s work for Vogue classic, it was pure, the kind of photographic vision that bordered on improvisational theatre, catching the model’s face at a sensitive moment rather than following an artificial grammar inherited from European fashion photographers who were the stars of the moment. Her pioneering concepts made her a key photographer.”