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Books et Veritas: Art, Photography, and Dressing Up

Olivier van Donselaar

As an international transfer student coming from London, a city famous for its vibrant and diverse cultural scene, I experienced culture shock and serious disorientation during my first couple of weeks in New Haven. There was, however, one place I could go to that felt at least somewhat familiar: the Yale University Art Gallery, or YUAG. The institution’s hallowed galleries and exhibition rooms filled with treasures from all around the world turned out to be places I was well-acquainted with and could find comfort in: that of the art space. The universality and timelessness of art’s beauty, concept and genius proved to be the perfect counterbalance to meeting dozens of new people on a daily basis, adapting to a foreign culture and country, and navigating a new education system. The gallery’s collection is so diverse and features so many highlights (from Warhol and Picasso to Asian ceramics and ancient Roman statues) that a single visit to the gallery’s iconic Louis Kahn building on the corner of Chapel and York is never enough. Now that my first academic year is almost coming to a close, I still attend the museum’s events and talks whenever my schedule allows, and every now and then I try to slip in and just wander around.

Scanning the YUAG website’s calendar for exciting events (such as the upcoming Paul Mellon Lecture Series, for example), I was instantly drawn to a panel discussion taking place February 5th about Lee Friedlander’s new book Dressing Up: Fashion Week NYC. My passion for art, design and fashion, and my familiarity with Lee Friedlander’s iconic photographic work made this event a no-brainer.

The panel discussion and Q&A featured a Yale alumna and model, a Yale student and photographer, a Yale professor and professional photographer, and a YUAG curator who had worked with Friedlander. The event was a fascinating roundtable on the value of photography as an art form, the role of the photographer in an age dominated by social media and camera-equipped smartphones, the turbulent and chaotic nature of the fashion industry, and the mastermind that is Lee Friedlander. To say that it was an afternoon well spent is an understatement. I bought the book in the gallery’s lobby immediately after leaving the auditorium.

Completely in black and white, Dressing Up features 59 beautiful duotone photographers commissioned by the New York Times Magazine that were taken in 2006 during New York Fashion Week. Friedlander spent time backstage at the fashion shows of fashion industry giants like Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Oscar de la Renta, and Proenza Schouler turning his lens to the frenzied world of fashion and showing us what is ordinary about it: behind the glamorous spectacle are numerous stylists, dressers, makeup artists, photographers, and models hard at work.

The first art book I purchased while at Yale, Dressing Up has turned into one of my prized possessions and a valuable addition to my collection. It extends the space of the gallery into my bedroom, creating a safe space in an environment away from home that can at times still be unfamiliar and alienating to an international student. Ultimately, for me personally, art books like Dressing Up reaffirm the power of art and books as a stabilizing factor in people’s lives.

Olivier van Donselaar is a junior in Yale College majoring in American Studies with a passion for social justice, art, and pop culture.

Further Reading:

Dressing Up Cover 2










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