Now, I LOVE a good photography exhibition. If it’s about fashion and iconic women, I’m there, standing as a wide eyed pedestrian, my gaze fixed on glossy captures of beauty. And, when I say beauty, I mean life, in all it’s glamour, gristle, realism and fantasy, it’s all beautiful and photography shows us that better than anything. When I saw that there was an exhibition of unseen Audrey Hepburn photos at The National Portrait Gallery, I figured I’d pop it on my list. The website said to book ahead as demand will be high and so, even though it’s not something I usually bother doing, in an attempt to be organised and to force punctuality upon myself I dutifully booked myself a 1pm slot on a Tuesday for £10. Most galleries suggest pre-booking as it creates the idea that it’s gonna be popular but I never guess it really means it, but, when I arrived a little early on the day, goodness, it was busy! It was in it’s first week, and there was another big free exhibition going on but ooof, it was heaving and they were crazy strict with time slots, all the slots up until 5pm that day had already sold out, so in this instance I was pretty pleased with my pre-planning. When the clock hit 1pm I went straight into the exhibition and it was as busy in there as it was the rest of the gallery, so busy you could hardly get to see the photos, jeepers! I couldn’t believe just how many people wanted to get their peepers on the portraits. Obviously Audrey is lovely and very pretty to look at but, crikey, what made this so special? Well, I still don’t know. The pictures were nice, many were very small and there wasn’t any which I felt were anything new, it all kinda felt like I’d seen it before. I assumed that it would get more magnificent as I went round, it was all very beautiful and a sweet insight into Audrey, but, I have to admit, I was a little under-awed. And then, it came to an end, after 3 very small rooms! A nice selection of images of a great icon, but, meh, I was left wanting more. I like Audrey, she’s not one of my most favourite girls, but I appreciate her and enjoy watching her, but these images all seemed a little stale. Maybe because I go to so many fashion photography exhibitions, my eyes have gotten used to bigger things, I like my photos in galleries to be huge, so big you feel small in comparison, so big you can see every eyelash and every pore of the skin, so you feel you’re getting something that you wouldn’t get if you just flicked through the accompanying book. I like to see a character in the images, a change from one image to the next, I guess maybe the simplicity of Audrey and her image alone is the beauty of this exhibition. I know these are portraits rather than fashion photographs, I just think I hoped for more fashion and variety in them. And they were all so small! I didn’t love this exhibition, but I did like it. I just felt it was a little over-hyped. The cynic in me thinks that maybe the estate of Audrey Hepburn needed a boost as many of the images were on loan from the family, and I see that there’s a new Audrey Hepburn cookbook hittin’ the book stores by her son with all her favorite recipes. Totally fair play, if Audrey Hepburn had been my Mama, I sure would be shouting about it all the damn time.
These shots were the ones that stood out to me;
- Audrey Hepburn by Philippe Halsman for LIFE Magazine, 1954 (above)
- Audrey as Ondine by Philippe Halsman, 1954
- Wait Until Dark by Howell Conant, 1967
- Audrey for Vanity Fair by Steven Meisel, 1991
Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of An Icon is at The National Portrait Gallery until 18th October 2015