In 1962, twenty-two-year-old Swedish photographer Jan Erik Forsström came to America on a two-year work permit that would leave an indelible mark on his personal and professional lives. By that point, Forsström had achieved multiple milestones as a dedicated champion of photography in his home country. First captivated by his family’s box camera and slide projector, as a child Forsström would click through the slides with fervid fascination. By the time he was eight years old, Forsström had saved enough to buy a camera of his own, launching a life-long exploration that would lead him to win multiple national competitions before moving to New York. Arriving in 1962, Forsström found himself caught in a fortuitous collision of great photographic minds, spending two years as the apprentice of instrumental figures such as Hiro and Richard Avedon. Soon, Forsström assisted in Alexey Brodovitch’s Design Laboratory, gaining exposure to other luminaries from the same era whose influence still echoes decades later, from Art Kane to Irving Penn. After his return to Sweden, Forsström established the JAN/RALF studio with his colleague Ralf Turander and continued to spread a message of inspiration, providing resources to aspiring young photographers. And evertouched by his time in New York, in the late 1970s Forsström purchased the oversized print ofered in the current lot, Avedon’s Dovima with elephants, recalling, ‘It was photography elevated to the highest form of fine art—and the most beautiful photograph in the world.’
Sent by Harper’s Bazaar in 1955 to shoot the Paris haute couture collections, Avedon chose Bronx-born model Dovima (née Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba), whose sharp, sophisticated, icy beauty embodied the refned standards of the Post-War era. Graceful and effortless in front of a camera, Dovima was the favored model by leading photographers of the day. Unsurprisingly, Avedon declared that up until then he had never met anyone whose movement was so ethereal it was worth freezing. Himself a perfectionist, Avedon found in Dovima the ideal vessel to herald his viewpoint that it was the woman who made the clothes, not the other way around. Shattering the stillness that typifed fashion photography in the first half of the 20th century, Avedon, inspired by the bursts of energy in the photographs of Jacques Henri Lartigue and Martin Munkácsi, encouraged his models to leave the studio and playfully jump, dance and twirl in their garments. By injecting motion, the garment became a living, breathing sculpture that morphed and in turn dazzled the eye. ‘In Avedon’s photographs’, Harold Brodkey has noted, ‘the stillness is ravaged by motion, the hint of motion, or by feeling: that is to say, emotion.’ No photograph embodies Avedon’s success in marrying fashion with movement as much as Dovima with elephants.
The original set that Avedon and Dovima had been designated was at a different corner of Paris’s acclaimed performance space, the Cirque d’Hiver. However, upon seeing the pachyderms, Avedon sent Dovima to playfully engage them, and with little further instructions, she struck one of the most memorable poses in the history of fashion photography. Donning the very first dress designed by Christian Dior’s assistant, a promising nineteen-year old talent named Yves Saint Laurent, Dovima stretched her arms, arched her neck, tilted her shoulders and crossed her legs, creating an organic symphony of brushstrokes that fluidly connected the composition. In addition to being a definitively elegant confluence of lines, the image cleverly incorporates a series of opposing forces that harmoniously coexist between the model and the elephants: the sumptuous luxury of her dress against their wrinkled skin; the floating freedom of her pose versus their shackled captivity; her youthful innocence versus their worn wisdom; and perhaps most notably and compellingly, the theme of Man versus Animal, turning this image into modern-day incarnation of Beauty and the Beast. Avedon had stated that he was going for a dreamlike quality in the image, and indeed, over sixty years since it was first taken, Dovima with elephants remains a surreal, timeless icon. It is easy to see why Jan Erik Forsström, over a decade since his tenure in New York working with Avedon, chose to buy an enlarged print of this celebrated image.
In 2017 Time magazine canonized Avedon’s Dovima with elephants as one of the ‘100 Most Influential Images of All Time,’ the only fashion image to be included in the illustrious list.