Vanity Fair show captures a century in pictures

Wed Feb 13, 2008 1:32pm EST
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By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - As a magazine Vanity Fair captured the changing moods of two distinct periods of the 20th century in prose and pictures -- from the pre-War Jazz Age to the post Pop Modern.

Now for the first time portraits from those two phases of the trend-spotting publication have been brought together in the "Vanity Fair Portraits -- Photographs 1913-2008" exhibition that opens on Thursday at London's National Portrait Gallery.

The show contains 150 pictures painstakingly picked out of more than 10,000 that appeared in some 500 issues by curators David Friend and Terence Pepper in a process that took more than three years.

"It was a tough task. We basically chose the subjects, then the photographers then the images. It was a big back and forth process but I think we have got the cream," Friend said at a press preview on Wednesday.

From Russian ballet star Nijinsky to Britain's Princess Diana, the portraits chronicle an era in which stars became public property and the photographers became celebrities in their own right.

Published by Conde Nast in 1913 at the dawn of the Jazz Age, the magazine set out to be a cultural catalyst, showcasing works and portraits of people from British author Thomas Hardy to American dancer Fred Astaire and Swedish actress Greta Garbo.

As its fame grew, so did that of its photographers like Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, Andre Kertesz and Edward Steichen -- all of whose pictures feature in the exhibition.

"In his day Steichen, who was appointed staff photographer, was paid double what any other photographer could command," a gallery spokeswoman said.   Continued...

<p>Singer Johnny Borrell of Razorlight arrives for the preview party of the Vanity Fair Portraits exhibition at Britain's National Portrait Gallery in London February 11, 2008. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor</p>