Scenes from a Dream

Scenes from a Dream

We meet the confident gaze of a young woman in Sheila Metzner’s (b. 1939) striking portrait, Lisa. Red Jumpsuit (1980). Her scarlet lips complement the striking garment and lead us on a journey across the composition to find traces of the colour in her cheeks and hair. The internationally acclaimed photographer achieved these saturated hues using the Fresson printing method. Invented by Théodore-Henri Fresson in 1899, the patented four-colour printing process has been passed down through four generations with key details shrouded in secrecy. Regardless, a Fresson print distinctively stands out. Their characteristic colour and texture is unmatched. Such dreamy colour palettes are hallmarks of Metzner’s work, which graced the pages of Vogue and the walls of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the International Center for Photography. Now, her work is on display as part of Sheila Metzner: From Life at the Getty Center.

The exhibition highlights the variety within Metzner’s oeuvre, which ranged from glamorous fashion shoots to serene landscapes to floral still lifes. Tulips, roses and orchids take the spotlight in series dedicated to capturing their unique patterns, shapes and textures. These images in particular are reminiscent of Karl Blossfeldt’s (1865-1932) close-up botanical photographs and fit into a longer photographic history that can be traced back to Anna Atkin’s (1799-1871) first photo book published in 1843. Flowers appear across her body of work, showcasing her interest in mood and form. They give a romantic tone to her figurative pieces – such as the vase of anthuriums in Robert Mapplethorpe (1984).

Metzner’s work is timelessly elegant. The people and objects within these frames inhabit their own dreamy worlds. Her scenes resist the passage of time and remain compelling today . Looking back on her career, Metzner explains: “I like the girl who took those photographs in the 70s and the 80s. And I have strong affection for the subjects, to this day. The pictures have a life of their own. I could say, an eternal life.”

Getty Center, Sheila Metzner: From Life | Until 18 February

Words: Diana Bestwish Tetteh

Images Credits:

  1. Lisa. Red Jumpsuit, 1980 Sheila Metzner (American, born 1939) Pigment print Getty Museum © Sheila Metzner 2023.42.1.
  2. Robert Mapplethorpe, 1984 Sheila Metzner (American, born 1939) Pigment print Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art © Shelia Metzner 2012.16.
  3. Man Ray. Tulip, 1988, Sheila Metzner. Pigment print. Getty Museum, Gift of Jack Shear. © Sheila Metzner.
  4. White Anthuriums. Gray Vase, 1980 Sheila Metzner (American, born 1939) Pigment print Getty Museum © Sheila Metzner 2023.42.2.
  5. Uma. Patou Dress, 1986 Sheila Metzner (American, born 1939) Pigment print Getty Museum. Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council © Sheila Metzner 2016.90.