DERUJINSKY: Capturing Fashion & An Interview with Andrea Derujinsky

Derujinsky Capturing Fashion

Model Sunny Harnett in a black and white Swiss rayon tweed dress suit by Andrée, February 1952

 
Sometimes I believe that glamorous fashion was created so that it could be photographed in unusual, picturesque or spectacular locations in order to ignite our imaginations. Because I believe that one of the biggest gifts of fashion photography has always been that it allowed the viewer to dream. Not because we don’t like our reality, but because it is our dreams that push us forward. Good fashion photography is a story teller. Good fashion photography still impels to adventure, but not in the way it once did, in the days of the pioneering photographers in the field. Gleb Derujinsky was one of them. His photograhy was daring, innovative, outstanding, masterful. He took models out of the confines of the studios and into remote destinations all over the world. Derujinsky’s work truly flourished when he was on location. He had a unique talent to bring together fashion and a natural environment as if they belonged to each other. In his photography, there is always a sense of reality and a bit of fantasy both. “Avedon shot dresses and clothes and Gleb shot women living in them,” said Bruce Clerke, Harper’s Bazaar fashion assistant editor. He saw beauty and glamour in the unexpected. No location, no model was chosen randomly by Derujinsky. History always played a part in his photography – with every image he shot he captured a moment in time. His ’28 Days Around The World’ series of photographs for Harper’s Bazaar, shot in locations such as Japan, Sri Lanka, Jaipur, Athens and Bangkok, remains unparalleled to this day.

Gleb Derujinsky was handpicked by Carmel Snow, the legendary editor of Harper’s Bazaar as one of a select group to photograph for the magazine. Derujinsky, together with Snow, Diana Vreeland and creative director Alexey Brodovitch, brought life to the pages of Bazaar, taught the readers to think outside the box and awoke in them a sense of wicked adventure. And, yes, they made fashion photography history. Gleb worked extensively with top models Ruth Neumann (who became his wife) and Carmen Dell’Orefice. He retired from the world of fashion after almost two decades of working for Harper’s Bazaar, in 1968, but he remained in the pursuit of art, beauty and something new waiting to be discovered, through the way he lived and through a different kind of photography, his entire life.

The very first book covering the legendary photographer’s work, DERUJINSKY: Capturing Fashion, is finally being published, authored by his daughter, Andrea Derujinsky. I have had the privilege of having a first view of the book before its official release here in Europe, later this week, and I was impressed by the passion, devotion and colossal work that went into it from the part of everyone involved in publishing it, but especially Andrea Derujinsky. Gleb’s daughter (her mother was Ruth Neumann) had to buy vintage magazines from paper dealers along with the few negatives Gleb had saved in order to locate all the photos in high resolution, had to identify the designers of the clothes worn by the models and every location where the photos were taken, and all this while remaining committed to this project despite the naysayers (not few) who thought no one would be interested in it.

DERUJINSKY: Capturing Fashion is not just a fashion photography book, it is a tale of past decades fashion and times, it is an art book. It is a long due book that celebrates one of the great fashion photographers in the world, whose work should be known and talked about more, and I think we will all be richer for it. I spoke to Andrea Derujinsky to find out more about her father and his work, and about the challenges of making this publication a reality.
 
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Gleb Derujinsky photographed in Thailand by his right-hand man, Minaru Oaka

 
Did your father constantly have a camera with him?
Dad built his first camera at 6 years old and an enlarger by 10. I’d say his camera was the same as a limb, Attached! I do recall stories about dad during WWII and he had his camera even there. In fact he took some very graphic photos of holocaust victims as well as war torn Paris and near by countries.

In the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s magazines were innovators. They were new, they were different, they were very close to art, they were a source of knowledge. In a way, they helped the public discover the world, not in the least, through the pioneering photography of the likes of Gleb Derujinsky and Norman Parkinson, who, in my opinion, were the ones whose photographs had the incredible ability to take the viewer there. What do you think was Derujinsky’s secret?
Gleb’s secret ingredient would be his life long desire to keep learning new things with a wide eyed enthusiasm of a child. His art as a photographer came from so many different elements including his talented Father, Gleb W. Derujinsky the Sculptor. Ordinary house guests like Rachmaninoff and other artists types were just another day at the Derujinsky’s apartment. A sense of beauty even in what others might not see as beautiful Gleb could convince his viewer to take another glance.

But even when he shot in Paris he looked for something different. I was reading in the book how he didn’t want to use the obvious locations, which had already been used by other photographers, namely Richard Avedon or Louise Dahl-Wolfe, and found inspiration in some old pictures he discovered in a bookshop on the Left Bank, which lead to these documentary style photographs he took of his models right next to real people (sidewalk sweepers, lamplighters). “Picking the climatic moment, I would be preserving history in the making”, he said. Did he pay the same attention to the historical relevance of each of his locations, of each of his photos?
YES!! Once I started going through the pictures knowing this, I then decided I better brush up on my history. Gleb loved history, as do I. There are no coincidences in any location shoot that didn’t have relevance. How about those Broadway Billboards or Central Park or that Chandelier shop! Not to mention the Art Galleries with art not yet Famous like Giacometti. Monuments and historic buildings. Everything was thought out even if on the fly!

Gleb Derujinsky would take his models to the fish market, in the desert, to a beach in Nassau, on a fishing boat in Sri Lanka, a bamboo forest in Maui, a vulcanic lake in Mexico, against the Mississippi River or the ancient buttresses of the Castello sul Mare in Portofino, juxstaposing glamorous fashion with a rugged natural environment. One of his later portfolios covered the Hollywood street people. I have only seen one such photo online, and I have to ask whether it was something that followed on his unique vision of connecting two very different worlds. Through his unique fashion photography in out-of-the-way locations he created a place of unrestrained imagination, but what was the message he wanted to get through through this latter theme?
Interesting question. Gleb really saw things other people didn’t. He was known to be spontaneous. Gleb believed real people weren’t boring. Catching a moment, be it fashion or his other personal projects, would be his trade mark. When working with professional and very talented models he may have suggested they move an arm or leg, but it was more like two people knowing the dance moves. This could then be orchestrated into something real and alive. Taking photos of real situations where people were not posed was just an extension of his reality. Perhaps it was his awareness of the world around him and he needed to capture it.

Although fashion was only part of the story Gleb Derujinsky captured in his fashion photographs (because even his fashion photography was more than what met the eye), he retired from the glamorous world of Harper’s Bazaar after almost two decades of working for them and went on to explore the world and seek for a different kind of beauty. Why did he stopped shooting fashion altogether?
The glamour world had changed so drastically and what was once an adventure was now determined by the bottom line for one. Confining Gleb would be akin to caging a wild animal. Artists can’t function like that. The people he most admired had moved on also. He was ready to expand his skills from photography to commercials. Adding new challenges kept things interesting. Unfortunately I don’t think it was interesting enough.
 
Derujinsky Capturing Fashion

Ruth Neumann wearing Lanvin Castillo at Roger La Grenouille in Paris.

 
In this regard, what theme or part of his work was the most meaningful to him?
What ever he was working on in that moment was the most meaningful. He did not live in the past. He lived his life in the present. In the end he valued all his work and wanted others to know what he had created.

Is curiosity a photographer’s most important trait?
I can’t say for sure. Gleb was a well rounded artist, curious, adventurous, well versed in music, fine art, paintings and books and his interests went beyond that, from racing cars in 1953-55, to learning to fly gliders and planes. I think all artists have different experiences which are portrayed in their work. This is definitely seen in his photography.

Your grandfather, Gleb Derujinsky Sr., was an artist himself, a sculptor and a contemporary and friend of Rodin. Your grandmother was a classical pianist and your family was related to famed Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Did your father talk about his influences? Was this artistic family background one of them?
Dad didn’t talk that much about his childhood. I don’t think he really understood as a boy who his own father was. A man of nobility raised in small palaces if you will. His Father’s father was similar to a senator in Russia. I think environment always has an influence, he just didn’t mention it much.

Your book compiles Gleb Derujinsky’s fashion photography. But your father’s body of work is incredibly diverse: the Navajo Indians portfolio (and that striking portrait of a Navajo chief), the Ghost Town series, the Jazz musicians, the Hollywood street people. Did he have a favourite photograph? What subject impressed him the most?
Dad did actually frame a few of his photos to add to his wall of art. One of my personal favorites is of a white horse and a black cow in a green field with the full moon rising. There’s also a fantastic shot he framed of a train barreling down the tracks smoke billowing from the stack. The other great shot he framed is that of a plank of wood balanced on a rock in the middle of a field surrounded by mountains. I am quite sure he found it like that. I wish he were here to ask. I can say this, he revisited many of these photos when he was working on his book. Many of these photos you asked about he hoped to use. This is on my agenda as I move forward with dad’s work.

I am so glad to hear this. I also wanted to ask you about those few photos in the book of you and your mother, model Ruth Neumann, from when you were 18 months old. So simple, so beautiful, a universal message of love. Do you have a favourite photograph that your father took of you? If so, what’s the story behind it?
My favourite shoot took place when I was 27. I asked him to shoot me as I had been doing extra work for movies and TV and thought I might be able to use a few nice pictures. Well, that turned into a two week adventure, shooting all kinds of wardrobe I had brought to clothes my step mother provided. Not only are the pictures amazing, I learned a lot I didn’t know would become so valuable at this time in my life. Picking just one would be like choosing a favorite color, close to impossible!
 
Derujinsky Capturing Fashion

Model wearing a dress by Robert Sloan, Bur-Mil cameo stockings, Capezio shoes, Miriam Haskell earrings, Wear Right gloves. August 1961.

 
Photographers are such personalities now. Do you think photographers should just let their work stand for them?
It’s none of my business! I don’t care much about personality, because if it doesn’t prove good in print it simply doesn’t matter!

One way I would describe your father’s photography was that it was very individualistic. What was Gleb Derujinsky’s position towards today’s fashion photography, with the digitalization of it and with all the retouching that makes people so interchangeable these days?
Dad did get a digital camera, but didn’t have the interest in using a computer. Therefore, no photoshop be it what it was 5 years ago when he passed. With B/W, one could retouch a photo directly on the film and Gleb was very good at that, with color I am not actually sure what method one could use to manipulate an image. I remember dad using Kodak Ektachrome and the result were slides. Gleb just used various filters to achieve the result he wanted and always shot an f-stop up and down from his center. He relied on getting the picture right from the get go. In his notes he found the retouching a lot of extra work and if he got the shot right to begin with he didn’t need to muck around with it.

Was there any other photographer that your father admired?
Horst P Horst.

Many photographers prefer books as a favourite means to present their work, because of the personal quality a book implies. Why does this book celebrating such an important figure like Gleb Derujinsky come so late? Especially that there are also so few articles about his work available online.
I don’t think my dad thought about it. He went from photography to commercials to making and designing jewellery. He was flying gliders, and skiing, as well as being an instructor for both gliding and skiing. He was busy. Living life and creating new art. As he turned 80, or perhaps a bit sooner, he began taking a look at his work as a whole. Maybe by 80 he was willing to give himself a little credit. It wasn’t like people were pounding down his door to offer him an opportunity. This is why, when I discovered he was working on a book after going through his affairs, I decided I would pick up from where he left off. What you find online now, I put there. I just couldn’t bare to see his work left out. So this is for my dad, the talented photographer and my mom, Ruth Neumann the cover girl!

The most beautiful tribute. I am glad that you picked up where he left off. And regarding the fact that there is not much material about Gleb’s work to be found online, I am kind of glad about that, too. Because it makes the book so much more valuable, particularly after I saw the passion and the meticulous work that went into it, and the incredible attention paid to describing in detail each and every photograph published here. What was the most challenging part about making this book a reality? And what did finally prompt you to embark on this remarkable project?
As I said above, when dad passed, it was apparent he was working on a book. I committed before I left Durango that this was my new job, finish what dad started. I cried more than I ever expected. That first week while making arrangements for my father’s memorial, I began calling his friends to let them know he had passed. While on the phone, they would tell me their Gleb story. I followed up and asked if they could each write it down and send it to me. They all did.

What became the challenge was I had 326 thumbnail 72 dpi images and not one high res file could be found! That was a huge obstacle which cost a fortune to track down as many vintage magazines to compliment my dad’s saved negatives, few in numbers. Add to it, I can not tell you how many people said no one will be interested! Oddly, none of that seemed to phase me much! Not one day did any one or collective naysayers discourage me. Telling me no was fuel for my fire! Not finding the high res files was a gift from God, had it been easy I may not have worked so hard to make sure this was well researched as it was a necessity. I had acquired all the paper! Every description I needed was there.

What wasn’t there too often was the location precisely. Especially Paris. I found each location by Google images and searched and searched till I found the exact location. The hardest place to find was the picture with the serpent wall which after 10 hours I thought about giving up but just couldn’t. Two hours later I would find a clue that lead to another and, voila, I had found it. And it was well worth finding! Page 32. Please read page 104 to know the rest of the story. Flammarion Publishing are the risk takers of today. What a beautifully produced book! Team work.
 
Derujinsky Capturing Fashion

Hag Island (now Paradise Island), 1952. Model wearing a dress by Cabana and Capezio pumps (the photo from page 32 mentioned above).

 
Why did Gleb keep only a few negatives?
I think he felt that that part of his life was over and he left some in a storage unit in apparently New Jersey which he never went back for and what he did save he felt resonated with him personally. You know Harper’s Bazaar dumped all their negs, prints and old mags straight in a dumpster in about 1968. Guess dad thought who would care about this 50 years from then. Now who doesn’t just love looking back at the fashion and the photography. What he did save meant something to him. It was more than a fashion picture, but a clip of time that was amazing. Like a family picture. Dad, Gleb, made friends with everyone there in Paris from his first trip in 1953 to his last I think 1959 and when he went back several years in a row he continued relationships and these people are seen in other photos that didn’t make it into this book.

Your father was so many things, from musician, jazz devotee, ski instructor, race car driver for Ferrari America and sail-plane pilot, to cinematographer, jewellery designer and even inventor of carbon fiber bicycles for the U. S. Olympic team. “You can do whatever you set your mind to” seemed to be a rule he lived by. What is the most important lesson that he taught you?
My dad told me at 13 I had an answer for everything. I did and I still do! It has never occurred to me that there wasn’t anything I wanted to do that I couldn’t. That college wouldn’t be the end at all as long as learning is a lifestyle.

What is your favourite thing to do in Los Angeles and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world?

I have lived in many places all over the nation from early in my life with my parents, as well as an adult starting right out the gate at 18. Right now I have lived in LA for 7 years, this time, and it has taken some time to grow on me. I love going to the galleries and seeing the photo shows. I loved Paris Photo at Paramount Studios! I love LACMA. And can’t wait to find time to visit the Broad Art Museum. The Getty is fabulous also! I stood in front of Van Gogh’s Iris’s and cried! I stood right where he would have stood to paint it. LA is all about the arts and I could forever find myself at home here at last.

Words you live by:
Don’t take NO for an answer! And never give up! When one door closes another opens. I have never found that to disappoint. Trust your instincts.

What do you wish people appreciated more in this day and age?
The same things they didn’t appreciate in 1950 or at any other juncture in time. The work you are doing is important and may be of historic proportions, one just never knows! Don’t waste time as we are not promised tomorrow. Make sure you are doing something everyday towards your goals and keep track of the work. If my consultant, Susan Camp, hadn’t kept up noting each of my accomplishments I would have easily forgotten what I had achieved. On to the next project! So DERUJINSKY…
 
Derujinsky Capturing Fashion

Ruth Neumann, Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong, 1957.

 
Photos published with the permission of Andrea Derujinsky. Please do not republish them without a written approval from the author.

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