"The entire future of photography is on paper," Gustave Le Gray would declare in 1850. A daring assertion at a time when daguerreotypes dominated. Le Gray was right, and, because of his poetic approach and technological innovating in the medium, he would establish himself as a prominent figure in 19th century French photography. But it wasn't the streets of Paris or the well-to-do clients who sat for portraits, that were the subjects of his most enchanting works: it was in nature that Le Gray found his ultimate muse.
And the forests of Fontainebleau would become a frequent model. Once a royal hunting preserve, the meandering stretch of pristine woodlands southeast of the capital has been beckoning Parisian weekenders for eight centuries. Fontainebleau's elegant, savage beauty-a confluence of gorges, commanding rock formations, and verdant plains bisected by pinstripe-straight pathways flanked by stately slender trees-has also been beckoning artists, eager to immortalize its singular landscape, for almost as long. Besides Le Gray's painterly photographs, Fontainebleau would inspire the Barbizon school of landscape painters led by Théodore Rousseau, then Impressionist giants Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir, and, later, the free-wheeling illustrator and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. His expressive renderings of the resurrection grace the walls of the petite 12th-century stone chapel St Blaise des Simples nearby; Cocteau is buried there under the inscription: Je reste avec vous, or "I remain with you."
Fontainebleau remains with you too, lingering in the imagination, long after you've parted ways. Its fading beauty set the scene for Anaak's Spring/ Summer 2018 collection, clothes perfectly suited for a springtime tryst amongst the wooded groves and sun-dappled fields. As always, Anaak ventures to the globe's far reaches to source its stars; this time, to Mongolia for the soft, filmy cashmere that would be woven into seasonless knits and to a remote village in west Bengal, five hours from Kolkata, for Indian jamdani, a delicate hand-woven patterned textile just sheer enough to hint at the form underneath. There is crisp, black and white micro-gingham, transformed into a dramatic, paperbag-waisted skirt and an infinitely wearable strapless, button-front and -belted summer dress; broad cabana stripes, rendered as relaxed, wrap-around pants; and gossamer-weight gauze, imagined as a voluminous dress with ruffled tiers and a breezy cropped tank with smocking and thick straps. From these silhouettes that fuse romanticism and strength, a new breed of love story grows.
Le Gray would help nudge the medium of photography forward, and the latest Anaak collection is its own evolution, an indication of a form in flux. Much like Fontainebleau's fabled landscape, it will endure.