Paging: The Artful Eye of Ara Gallant




Of course to become a character like Ara Gallant (1932–1990), you had to have been born with a name like Ira Gallantz. And, of course, Anjelica Huston tells us in the introduction to the forthcoming book Ara Gallant (Damiani, ed. David Wills, out May 2010), Gallant loved J.K. Huysmans’ fin-de-siecle allegory of decadence, Against Nature, so much that he decorated his West End Avenue apartment like the bejeweled turtle that collapses at the end of the novel. And tragically (of course), Gallant was too vibrant, too exciting, and too tempestuous to stick around for too long. Gallant, who was a hairstylist and makeup artist before transitioning to high-gloss fashion photography—shooting for Interview, as well as Vogue and Playboy and Rolling Stone—was an old-school fashion master who lived for it in all forms of artistry.

You can see the excess, literally, in photographs of male models doing lines of cocaine. But the present book is remarkable for its gentle technicolor quality, and its romance with the escapist power of Old Hollywood. With that taste for cinema comes slapstick—old men gawking at Appolonia in a Jessica Rabbit get-up, his wife embarrassed; the photographer’s hands covering, miming, directing or fanning his sitters. Gallant gave us our December 1977 cover featuring Mick Jagger, Iman and Paul Ravenstein. Indeed, we’d like to think his sensibility owes something to the graphic illustrations on the covers of early issues of Interview, for their pop excitement and their more expressive sense of movement and levity. You see it in—of course—the dramaftic, high-motion hair of Huston, Pat Cleveland or Sissy Spacek, but also in the campy images of Diane Von Furstenberg collaged on top of the Empire State Building, and the comic-book posing of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the beach. Gallant’s was quite an eye, no mater what monocle, opera glass, or sunglasses were covering it. LEFT: ANJELICA HUSTON, 1976.IMAGES COURTESY DAMIANI