Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn: epitomes of the ’50s and inspirations to countless wardrobes.
They are both indisputable icons and darlings of the press, still as influential today as they were in their life times. Surely, an exhibition featuring both should be the art equivalent of Rocky vs Creed?
Proud Central is a small gallery tucked right behind Charing Cross station, specialising in expensive prints of famous people. The air con buzzes gently and Marilyn’s honey voice quietly coos from the stereo system. The prints, black-and-white and arranged in no particular order, are attributed to 1950s photographer Sam Shaw: a round-faced man with a brush for a moustache.
Shaw had the opportunity of a lifetime. Having eventually worked as a producer, he had the chance to rub shoulders with the biggest names in showbiz of his generation. Unfortunately, he utterly wasted it. Although a few gems shine through, most of the photos are simply poor quality. Grainy, poorly composed and with no sense of lighting, these belong on a metaphorical Facebook of the ’50s rather than an art gallery. The fact that they are selling for almost £2,000 is simply insulting.
Photographers become acclaimed when they achieve one of two things: a stolen glimpse into a person’s soul, or an artistic re-imagining of a familiar character. Shaw achieves neither. His Monroe, although as beautiful and charming as always (and giving two fingers to every ‘size eight in four weeks’ article ever written), is still just a blonde bombshell. His Hepburn is the same shy-eyed Bambi-girl that graces the walls of countless university bedrooms. They are both playing the character they have subscribed to for the duration of their careers; Sam’s greatest failure is not seeing them for anything but their respective stereotypes.
Still, it’s impressive to witness first-hand why these women were such icons in their time. Considering this was an era of pre-Photoshop and pre-airbrushing, they are both stunningly attractive. The exhibition’s main appeal is the candid aspect of the photographs on show; how out of place Monroe looks buying hot dogs or the way Hepburn turned heads just by walking in the park. Unfortunately, this is an exhibition of archives, of images capturing famous lives – not art.
Audrey and Marilyn is showing until July 26 at:
32 John Adam Street