On looking good in photos

Paul and Stella McCartney, Los Angeles, 1975. By Harry Benson

stupid until a year later, when you think, 'Not bad. What was I complaining about?'"

--Harry Benson, the photojournalist whose 40-year career has included prominent work for Life, Vanity Fair, and the New Yorker, on how people react to photos of themselves (via his recent interview with the New York Observer.)  

Chic Chicago

I went to Chicago for the first time last week to visit my sister Elycia. It was an amazing trip, with way too many good things to blog about-- but a highlight was going to the Chicago History Museum.

HEY!  Before you yawn and navigate away from this page, hear me out.  This museum was awesome—small enough to be digestible, and full enough to be fascinating.  The permanent collection includes the bed in which Abraham Lincoln died and an original waitress’ outfit from the first Playboy Club—dangerous AND sexy!

I particularly loved the “Chic Chicago” exhibit, which runs through July 26th 2009. It’s a collection of more than 60 couture outfits worn by Chicago society women from 1861 to 2004, and I would highly recommend it to anyone, regardless of his or her interest in fashion. It's a remarkably well put-together exhibit, and chock full of interesting information about the outfits on display and the women who wore them.

A gown designed by Madeleine Vionnet; worn by Mrs. Potter Palmer II  when she was presented to the Queen of England in 1938.

A gown (that weighs 17 pounds!) designed by Charles James and known as the "Butterfly"; Worn by Mrs. John V. Farwell III in 1954.

The coolest part about Chic Chicago was the installation's design: The gallery walls had large photos of Chicago’s factories and slaughterhouses with superimposed quotations from prominent 19th and 20th century writers about the seedy, gritty nature of the city.  Basically, the exhibit's organizers acknowledged that the enormous wealth that makes couture clothes available to certain people is often built on the backs of others who aren’t living in such charmed environs.  I thought that it was a brave and very responsible way to frame the exhibit.

We weren't allowed to take photos in the gallery, but I found a couple from the exhibit's opening soiree posted online (here and here you can see the photos and quotations I mentioned.)  I wonder if the socialites in the foreground of these photos were inspired at all by the exhibit's background to think about where their own clothes came from?