Melvin Sokolsky: Magical Realism

The 60s Fashion Photographer on the Whimsical Project that Made His Name

Whether floating models down the Seine in a bubble, or shrinking his subjects, Alice-like, to miniature heights, Melvin Sokolsky helped to pioneer illusory fashion photography long before the age of digital enhancement took hold. Selections from his archive are included in the Royal Monceau's new exhibition, Rétrospective, which spans the artist’s five-decade canon with curation by Michel Mallard and Hervé Mikaeloff. “When you come to the show you can clearly see ideas that have been used by people like Ryan McGinley or Craig McDean,” says Mallard. “I wanted to show the extent of Melvin’s ongoing influence.” Now 73 and based in New York, Sokolsky began his career shooting for Harper's Bazaar at the age of 21, after being recruited by prolific art director, Henry Wolf. We asked the photographer to reveal the magic tricks behind his iconic bubble series.

On the inspiration behind the bubble:
I was walking past a department store in New York, it was coming up to Christmas and they had these two bubbles in the window, and I remembered this painting by Hieronymus Bosch in which it looked like a bubble was coming out of the ground. So we found a place in Long Island that could make the bubble. I took in a Fabergé egg for them to see the hinging and asked them to put it together. They told me they could only do the Perspex so we ended up building it in our studio.

On the mechanics of floating the bubble on water:
We suspended it from a crane using an eight-inch aircraft cable. We had a VW outside the studio so we tested it with the crane; I wanted to make sure nobody got hurt. We didn’t break the cable so we realized that we could go ahead. We then tested a few models out to see who could handle being in the bubble— we found some great girls.

Problem-solving on the shoot:
There were a few times when I got into trouble, because every time the model left the stylist’s van, the wind would blow her hair out of style and we would have to send her back. In the end, I put the girl and the hairdresser in the bubble together.

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