“We thrive on confusion, on not being pinned down. You should not have to be the same person you were five minutes ago,” Connie Hanson says, sharing of a point of view that has endowed Guzman with a wit and a joie de vivre. Guzman itself embodies the Dada charm of the absurd, as the husband/wife team of Russell Peacock and Ms. Hanson let it be known that Guzman had a back story. He was a fifty-five year old Czech man with a grey Mercedes. Guzman had also lived in various hotels throughout Paris. And perhaps this is because Guzman is a spirit that inhabits the space between the photographer, the subject, and the stage.
Shoots will have unlikely things, like bouquets of bok choy. Or they will unfold as happenings, a way of art and life that was of a place and a time that defined New York as a bohemia and into this personalities appear. It is just this ability to create alternate universes that makes a Guzman photograph a complete affair. Whether constructing suits of various checked patterns to be born alongside Louis Vuitton accessories (because the brand did not yet have apparel lines), Guzman came along with a complete vision of how Vuitton appears in our lives. It is in this same way that they fully inhabit fashion as a way of life that Geoffrey Beene collaborated with Guzman throughout his career.
The quintessential outsider, Mr. Beene had his own way of doing things. He created Summer/Winter, just because he could. He broke every rule and created another in its place, and in his indomitable way, he was decades ahead of the curve. It was this vision of design that Mr. Beene brought to Guzman, and together they created a series of images that blur the boundaries, as we see not only a dress and a design, but the very idea of the way in which fashion can make us feel. It appears as architecture for the body. It lays between us and the world itself, and it is this which appears as the metaphor dancing across the photograph. It is both object and idea at the same time, and in this space Guzman plays with dark and light, with a blur of boundaries and the transformation of space, as the garment slips from three dimensions into two, and what remains is a beautifully selected collection of images that take us back into time to the glamorous life that New Yorkers do so well.
Guzman does not recall exactly how they first connected with Mr. Beene. “Perhaps he liked an image of ours that he had seen somewhere. It must have been in a downtown magazine because that’s the only place he would have seen something. That was around 1988, and even though he was the ultimate uptown fashion designer he was always curious about what the ‘kids’ downtown were up to. Looking for inspiration, ideas or perhaps just another way to see the world albeit through his, signature, horned rimmed spectacles.
“Ironically, while he was looking forward to the coming of a new millennium, we were deep into our ‘1930’s Berlin’ period. I don’t think we ever analyzed the direction we took for this project but there was a desire to provide a narrative for his work and each subsequent photo session developed as a continuation of the previous session. He was definitely not nostalgic about the past but art history was always a point of reference. Not far below the surface you can catch a glimpse of classical ballet…Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes.
“Actually the first time we worked together we didn’t particularly like what we did. I think we picked the wrong type of girl for his clothes. The second time we worked together, he had decided that for the upcoming collection, that there would be no models walking the runway. And so for the Summer /1989 Collection, the clothes were photographed only on mannequins. And although bodies in motion and how material moves across the female form was always of primary interest, with the mannequins he was seeking abstraction... but we did make them dance.
“This series of photographs were taken in collaboration with Mr. Beene between 1988–1995. Many of these images appeared in the press kits that accompanied his spring/fall fashion shows and a select few were also used as advertisements. A number have also appeared in subsequent publications, monographs and museum retrospectives of his life and work. Viewed collectively, this series of photographs not only reveals the evolution of Geoffrey Beene’s designs during that period, but also sets forth a visual narrative that endeavors to evoke, rather than define, the spirit of his work.
“Looking at these photographs now, one could easily overlook the fact that they were taken over a seven-year period. Technically, the camera, choice of film, and lighting were essentially the same for each session. Very few props or accessories were used and, apart from the substitution of dress forms for the spring 1989 collection, very little changed. Consequently, each photo session developed into a continuation of the previous photo session. And although continuity was not the primary objective, this approach, and the narrow parameters that it provided, helped to create this unique context for his work to be seen.
“Mr. Beene followed his own path. His collections were a continuous evolution of his prior work. He was idiosyncratic: a minimalist with a fondness for lace and polka dots. He loved the challenge of combining luxurious materials with more humble, unpretentious ones not unlike his uptown/downtown sources of inspiration. I think we worked in a similar way” ‘If things get too high style we got to throw a wrench in it.’ It’s this balancing act, perhaps, that could be our definition of chic: Style, but with a splash of incongruity.
“Mr. Beene was very quiet and no drama. He would always come to the shoots with an assistant but preferred to style the models himself. Following the collection where we used only mannequins we always used the same two girls as models: Michele Quan and Anna Juvander. They both had an austere beauty that worked well with his designs during that period. He often brought a pair of gloves that went with a particular outfit. He would put them on the model and then take them off for the photograph. I think a women taking off a pair of gloves one finger at a time may have been Mr. Beene’s definition of chic.
“Chic is one of those things best explained with a picture. Anyway it doesn’t really belong to anyone its just a moment in time when a certain style meets a certain attitude.”