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Welcome to 1960s Paris where futuristic bubbles ferry floating models

By Doug Bierend
February 25, 2014 -- Updated 1559 GMT (2359 HKT)
Photographer Melvin Sokolsky captured the now legendary "Bubble" series in 1963 in Paris, for Harper's Bazaar. The only photo retouching involved was to remove traces of an 1/8th inch cable which held the sphere. Photographer Melvin Sokolsky captured the now legendary "Bubble" series in 1963 in Paris, for Harper's Bazaar. The only photo retouching involved was to remove traces of an 1/8th inch cable which held the sphere.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Photographer Melvin Sokolsky captured the now iconic "Bubble" series in 1963 in Paris
  • Images appeared in Harper's Bazaar and are credited with launching artistic fashion photography
  • Models were shot inside a sphere held together by a ring of aluminum and suspended by a 1/8th inch steel cable

Editor's note: Fashion Season: Paris takes you behind the scenes of the Paris catwalks and beyond, exploring the French capital's most stylish hidden corners. The show airs Monday 24 to Friday 28 February on CNN International, with daily reports in 'News Stream' at 1300 GMT and 'Connect the World' at 2000 GMT.

(Wired) -- There's something about floating translucent bubbles that's always seemed futuristic, from the '60s right up to the present day. Photographer Melvin Sokolsky was on the, er, ball, then, when he shot his now iconic "Bubble" series for the Harper's Bazaar 1963 Spring Collection.

The series is widely credited for launching the trend of bold, artistic visions within fashion photography. The bubble first takes off in color from beyond the New York City skyline, then lands on the Seine River in Paris, where it begins a surreal black-and-white tour of Parisian streets, alleys, and cafes. Designer clothes are on display in each shot, something that's easily overlooked as model Simone d'Aillencourt cavorts in the plexiglass sphere, drawing a lot of attention (and even a few fireballs) from standers by.

The "Bubble" shoot was credited with starting a trend for avant-garde, artistic fashion photography.
Courtesy Melvin Sokolsky

Some of the clothes, particularly shoes, were damaged not by fire but by accidental dunks in the water when the bubble dipped a little too low. The top-flight '60s couture, an aesthetic whose appeal also has carried into the modern day, keeps the pictures otherworldly and stylish in equal measure.

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The sphere is held together by a ring of aluminum and suspended by a 1/8th inch steel cable attached to a crane. That cable often is squarely in the shot but is occasionally positioned or illuminated so it remains unseen. In some cases, it was removed from the frame by hand, creating the illusion of a levitating sphere. Sokolsky insists a negligible amount of retouching was involved, and it obviously was not digitally manipulated. He points out that at 15 to 20 feet, such a thin cable becomes essentially invisible to the camera.

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The concept for the Bubble series came from a recurring dream in which the photographer saw himself floating in a sphere above unfamiliar landscapes. The vision was inspired by The Garden of Earthly Delights by early Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch. The fully opened triptych includes depictions of people in transparent spheres suspended among a (mostly) heavenly world. When closed, it shows the earth encased in a vast glass globe.

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Bubble kicked off what would be something of a theme of flying and weightlessness in Sokolsky's work. They weren't the last forward-looking images he produced either; Lips Streaks from 1967 looks like it came straight out of 1987. Sokolsky has a knack for playing with perceptions, which is clear in other work he's renowned for, such as Big Chair and Table, Bazaar. It shows what appear to be tiny models climbing giant chairs.

Sokolsky points to an image's composition, palette, overall concept, and the chemistry between photographer and model as the most important aspects of his craft. While he started his career as a fashion photographer, he had by the end of the '60s transitioned into making commercials and films alongside his photo work.

He was also responsible for a number of innovations including a computerized zoom lens in 1972 that got nominated for an Academy Award. A great interview with Sokolsky further illuminates the methods of this self-taught photographer perpetually interested in making bold statements and expressing nuanced concepts.

Sokolsky's work can be seen at the Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles.

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