This is signalled in Funny Face by the way the fashion shoot predominantly takes place on location. It is also symbolized by Astaire’s character, Dick Avery, who is based on Richard Avedon.10 Alongside Carmel Snow, he acted as visual consultant for the film and was responsible for the photographic stills in the opening credits and photoshoot sequence.
In 1944, aged 21, Avedon had taken up work as a staff photographer at Harper’s Bazaar under its legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch, who had been appointed by Snow in 1934 and remained at the title until 1958. Brodovitch, a white Russian, had emigrated from Paris to America in 1930, initially to direct the first program in advertising design at Philadelphia College of Art along the lines of European modernist principles. Inspired by seminal works like Moholy-Nagy’s Painting, Photography, Film (1925) and The New Vision: from Material to Architecture (1929), the new graphic style, with its reliance on uncluttered or white space, promoted the page layout as a creative and harmonious artwork — though art in a commercial context. In 1941 Brodovitch relocated his “Design Laboratory,” focused on the application of art to graphic journalism, to the New School for Social Research in New York City, and by 1945 he had sealed his reputation for innovative design with the publication of Ballet, a ground-breaking set of photographs of dancers in movement, produced in the 1930s. It was from this point onward that the relationship between Avedon and Brodovitch seriously developed, as evidenced in their layout, “Perugia’s bronze kid shoe edged with mink,” for Harper’s Bazaar August 1948, with its close-cropped photograph that bleeds across a double-page opening and represents the leg and foot of a model wearing the shoe as she strides in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Avedon’s photographic style was also influenced by two other practitioners: German photojournalist Martin Munkácsi, who emigrated to New York City in 1934 and won favour with Snow at Harper’s for the way his work embedded fashion in the everyday world, and Helen Levitt, who developed an intense preoccupation with photographing street life in 1940s New York City. Many of Avedon’s images for Harper’s from the late 1940s and 1950s likewise put fashion into unexpected situational contexts and he exploits informality, drama, and playfulness to choreograph a sense of the ambiguity of the real. Striking examples of this duality are his respective photographs of Elisa Daniels modelling a Balenciaga outfit among street performers in the Marais district, Paris (Harper’s October 1948) and of Dovima in a Dior Dress, flanked by elephants at the Cirque d’Hiver, Paris (Harper’s August 1955). In both images, then, we witness a form of magic realism that expresses a collision between the ordinary and the extraordinary. Unlike the sporty, healthy models in Munkácsi’s fashion photos, however, Daniels and Dovima are emaciated, tense, and somewhat artificially posed. Indeed, Dovima and another model of the period, Suzy Parker, both make cameo appearances in Funny Face — the former plays Marion, while the latter appears in the “Think Pink!” routine.
Avedon, of course, was not alone in the evolution of a new form of fashion photography in the immediate post-war period, and alongside him we have to credit other Brodovitch protégés such as Lillian Bassman and Louise Dahl-Wolfe, whose work also appeared in Harper’s, and Irving Penn, employed by Vogue (Arnold 2002; Harrison 1991: 25-88). The discourse and style of the “New American Vision” of fashion photography (Harrison 1991: 25) Funny Face authorizes, especially in the extended photoshoot involving Dick and Jo that takes place on location across Paris as she models Hubert de Givenchy’s new look designs and to which I return below, reveals an affinity with performance. For it is as if the models also double up as actors in Avedon’s photographs, as if we are looking at stills from a film rather than straightforward fashion photographs. This approach is connoted at the start of the extended photo shoot in the Gare du Nord when Dick barks at Jo, “You’re not only a model, you’re an actress!” Adam Gopnik has argued that “Avedon’s early fashion photographs use the models to attack a false mystique of femininity … The pictures are about the fun and pain and absurdity and tedium of presenting a perfect image to the world … Femininity, style, is something constructed — worked for, tweezed and modelled and highlighted into being” (Gopnik 1994: 110-11). In fact, it is this play on power and control that underscores the entire reconstruction of Jo from someone fashionistas such as Maggie see as a gawky bluestocking into an elegant swan, and that overlaps with the next key event Funny Face iterates.