Last week I was traveling through a remote part of California where it was damned difficult to use a cell phone, and you could just forget about the Internet. So I missed the news that photographer Corinne Day died on August 27th, quietly, after a very long fight against cancer.
Day is known as the photographer who discovered Kate Moss and ushered in "grunge" fashion photography—a too-easy label, probably. This, from a piece about her in the Guardian:
"Corinne had a very ambivalent relationship with what she had achieved," says photography curator and writer Charlotte Cotton, "Nothing was straightforward for her, not the fashion world or the art world that she tentatively moved into the 90s. She saw the inherent ridiculousness of both and instinctively reacted against it."(Note: the Guardian article says Day died at age 48, but Day's official website gives her birth year as 1965.)
Day herself noted that that her ideas about what photography could be were shaped by Nan Goldin, whose Ballad of Sexual Dependency opened up new possibilities for photographers who felt like opening up a vein or two and letting the hurt flow. What I was stunned at, when Day's work began to appear in The Face in the early 1990s, is how quickly and thoroughly her type of imagery replaced the neo-Hollywood glamour photography of the late 80s.
The change came as a reaction to the past, the way fashion upheavals do. But the consequences were important and long lasting. Day's images were not only anti-fashion and anti-celebrity, but also opposed to the tradition of photography as iconography. The shimmering idolatry of "Hollywood photographers" like Herb Ritts, Matthew Rolston, and Greg Gorman was not meant to be real, but quite the opposite, and it was meant to last for the ages. ("We didn't have dialog," says the faded silent-screen star Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. "We had faces.")
The people in Corinne Day's pictures were meant to be real, and being real they were entirely tenuous.
Her fashion images didn't capture people, as photography had always done; Day's subjects seemed merely to move past her camera, to be remembered or forgotten, as the viewer wished. In the Guardian article, Juergen Teller, another photographer who emerged in the early 1990s, describes Day's early pictures of Kate Moss as having an "end-of-summer feeling." Now summer is over.