The Influence of Sam Haskins

I haven’t been familiar with Sam Haskins’ photography for long, but something about his black and white work has captivated me. His ability to capture his models as if they were actors in a play is truly astounding, making for some fascinating photographs.

Drawing inspiration from the late Irving Penn, Haskins’ noted use of several style techniques have remained prominent in fashion photography for the past 40 years. However, Haskins remains a photographer first and a fashion photographer second. He has credited high-brow fashion editors, with a view of models as props instead of people, for his initial disengagement from the fashion community. Unwilling to be pin-holed into the highly-structured business of fashion, Haskins preferred to shoot his own work in lieu of giving up any creative control. Intent on capturing personality in his models while making the female nude’s movement seem ever so effortless, Haskins’ photographs instantly spark the viewer’s curiosity.

His most iconic works are captured in his seminal collections: Five Girls (1962) and Cowboy Kate (1964). These sixties classics remain cherished landmarks, projecting the elusive stylistic qualities that would become so popular in fashion photography. Five Girls challenged still photography by giving the female form movement, with its cinematic approach to capturing the persona of its characters in provocative, yet compelling depictions. In a 1963 article published in Journal Infinity, Andreas Feininger described Haskins’ work: “Whether smiling quietly, laughing in exuberant joie de vivre or seriously looking into space, they appear completely unconscious of their nudity. It seems to me it is precisely this frankness—those large clear eyes candidly looking at me—that gives Haskins’ nudes and semi-nudes their bewitching quality.”

Then there’s Cowboy Kate, a gun-slinging second-wave feminist, who plays dress-up amidst an old Western tale, told by the photographer in his eponymous book. The model’s stance, the facial expressions and the strategic placement of accessories like a cowboy hat and a hip-hugging holster are techniques that remain synonymous with fashion photography today. Norman Hall, the noted fashion writer, said of Cowboy Kate, “Nostalgically, it guys the props, the conventions and sentimentality of vintage “westerns” but the point it makes is the triumph of beauty – young and wholesome, innocent beauty.” In a way this is true; they are natural yet powerful and provocative- a sort of reclamation of female beauty.

In 2002, Haskins shot for Yves Saint Laurent. With the professional freedom to craft the photographic story that he pleased, he soon began working for fashion designers and magazines. Shooting for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in recent years, Haskins’ work continues to confront the emotive qualities of body language by mixing genres-design, fashion, photography and cinema-to create a story ripe for the reading.

-Anna Cipollone

3 thoughts on “The Influence of Sam Haskins

  1. These photos are beautiful. I like the fact that he plays with the general notions of ‘The Gaze’ and fashion photography. For the most part these models are looking the viewer straight in the eye, yet they are not confrontational. I’m definitely intrigued…

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