Melvin Sokolsky was born in 1933 in New York City and raised on the Lower East Side. He had no formal photographic training but used his father’s box camera from the age of ten.
Sokolsky began his career at Harper’s Bazaar, after being recruited by the prolific art director, Henry Wolf, at the age of twenty-one. By age twenty-five, Sokolsky was already a reular contributor, and it was for this publication that he produced his most iconic and inventive series in 1963. His shoot of the 1963 Paris collection, later becoming known as the “bubble” series, depict models floating in giant clear plastic bubbles, apparently suspended in mid- air over streets in Paris. Sokolsky’s innovative series anticipated the change of language that was to later emerge in fashion photography. The series combines surrealism and the world of high fashion, with a nod to the increasing popularity of street photography. Sokolsky’s series is widely credited for launching the trend of bold, artistic visions within fashion photography, and has been an inspiration for many fashion photographers working today.
Melvin Sokolsky first inspiration for the shoot was a detail from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, an image that had fascinated him for years. In the painting, a couple appear to be trapped in a bubble emerging from the earth below. Determined to bring this evocative image into reality, Sokolsky set himself the task of building his very own Surrealist “bubble”. It was produced in ten days using Plexiglass and aircraft aluminium, and the design was based on that of a Faberge Egg. Suspended by an eight-inch aircraft cable, the “bubble” was hoisted above street scenes in Parisian villages and suspended above the Seine, with Sokolsky’s favourite model, Simone d’Aillencourt, encased within. The cable is often squarely in the shot but is occasionally positioned or illuminated so it remains unseen. Sokolsky is firm that there is very little retouching in the photographs, although in some cases the cable was removed from the frame by hand in the darkroom.
The morning that Sokolsky shot the now iconic image on the Seine, the “bubble” was lowered overzealously by the crane into the water, flooding it up to Simone’s ankles, and in turn ruining an important pair of designer shoes.
Sokolsky is now celebrated as an important pioneer of illusory fashion photography. He has worked for Vogue and The New York Times, as well as Harper’s Bazaar. He also photographed the entire editorial content of McCall’s Magazine, which was a first for its time. Sokolsky has been awarded twenty-five Clio Awards for his work in the field of advertising. His work is included in numerous private collections throughout Europe and the United States. He currently lives in Los Angeles.