Book Report: Zeitgeist and Glamour – Photography of the ’60s and ’70s

The thick, heavy pages of Zietgeist and Glamour consist almost entirely of photos: some with one larger image and others littered with smaller, less artistic shots. The front portion offers a few words from the collector, Nicola Erni, and a short essay on the era written by the curator, Petra Giloy-Hirtz (which, if you’re interested, are also printed in German). As Erni and Hirtz explain, the images published in the book show a very specific slice of the sixties, focusing on glamour, wealth, and art, and purposely leaving out important historical events like the hippie movement and Vietnam War. The faces scattered throughout this massive book are those of socialites and filmmakers, models, and royalty—from Bardot to Warhol and everyone in between. The photography documents the mingling of classes and cliques that took place during the ’60s, when the rich fueled the creative and vice versa. The word “zeitgeist” can be defined as “the spirit of a time,” and the spirit conveyed in Zeitgeist and Glamour is the attitude that suddenly anything was possible (if you had the money).

The photos chosen for this particular collection are a mirror of Erni’s interest in the “Jet Set” society, a group of wealthy nomads who used air travel innovation to get the best the world had to offer at the time. A single day could include shopping in Paris, hair appointments in London, and partying on the Côte d’Azur. This was an unmatched show of excess and eccentricity, and it’s no wonder this over-the-top lifestyle led to the birth of paparrazi photography, as everyone wanted a piece of the grandeur. The high-society life of the ’60s was so craved by the public that many of the most famed photographers of the time came from within the circles they are known for capturing on film, such as Robert Mapplethorpe and his work with Patti Smith and the inhabitants of the Chelsea Hotel in New York City.

The concept of paparazzi photography has always confused me: why would I want to admire poorly shot, quickly snapped photos of someone else doing everyday things in ridiculously expensive clothing? Where is the beauty and glamour in that? I finally discovered the art in paparazzi photos when flipping through Zeitgeist and Glamour, where one can find a collection of celebrity snapshots from the era of hope and change. Although the book contains formal fashion photography from the likes of Avedon and Mapplethorpe, most pages consist of tiny snapshots of a different world, where the rich and famous are always photo-ready and flawless. There are no grotesque shots of celebrities eating cheeseburgers or accidentally flashing a camera while exiting a vehicle—the photos here provide a gaze into a time when paparazzi photos were art, catching the glamour and beauty of an unattainable world as their subjects jet-set by at new speeds, although I’m still unsure about their deeper meaning.

Zietgeist and Glamour has useful information, like mini-biographies of each featured photographer, and a short description of what the metropolitan hotspots were like at the time (New York, Côte d’Azur, London, Paris, and Rome). But I found myself confused and frustrated by the “rich and glamorous” theme of the series. Excluding crucial pieces of the era—such as the civil rights movement, feminism, and the Vietnam War—in order to focus on jet-setting and wealth didn’t sit very well with me in the end.

Zeitgeist and Glamour, Photography of the 60’s and 70’s, by Petra Giloy-Hirtz, Ira Stehmann, Nicola Erni, Prestel 2011.
book report by Alyssa Garrison
photography by Brittany Lucas

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