The Shrimp at Sea

Being a fashion (photography) nerd, I’m always looking for new photospreads by my favourite photographers. I like playing the game of identifying the photographer just looking at the pics: since all photographers have their own personal style, it is usually not difficult to guess right. I’ve never written about fashion photography of the past, so I really couldn’t play the game with the masters of fashion photography, but when I first saw these photos, I had no doubts: the elegant setting, the quality of the images, the beautiful models all screamed Richard Avedon.

‘The Shrimp at Sea’ first appeared on the U.S. Vogue January 1967 issue: it was shot in Greece (Athens and islands) and had two amazing protagonists, the supermodel Jean Shrimpton and the French photographer Jeanloup Sieff. Part of the action takes place on the ‘Creole’, the then most magnificent private sailing vessel in the world, owned by Stavros Niarchos. The fashion of the roaring Sixties and the relaxed appeal of the European jet-set contribute in establishing an atmosphere which is, on the contrary, suspended in time and place. The two fictional lovers, sailing the Aegean Sea, visiting beaches and Ancient Greek ruins (including the lovely Erechteion Temple in Athens), relaxing on a luxury vessel, could possibly be the modern symbols of the Ulysses’ myth (destined to wander for years before going back to Ithaca) or of the Argonauts in their quest to find the Golden Fleece.

In any case, they surely are the embodiment of the young, rich and beautiful people of those years, portrayed in simple, yet special, black and white shots.  Jean Shrimpton’s outfits are part of the fascination: she wore light-coloured clothes, some of them loose, others fitted and structured, all plain, with no decorations or frills, so as the reader can focus on their shape. Isn’t the plunging back of her snow-white swimming suit perfect in its graphic quality? And isn’t the hand of Jeanloup on her back a sexy and caring gesture?

In most shots Shrimpton and Sieff are sight-seeing: their white-clad figures become part of the landscape and do not contrast with the ancient ruins.

Most of the shots are black and white, but two of them are in colour: the first is all about white, because the clothes of the models are white and so is the high whitewashed wall of a church (this pic was probably set in Santorini or in Ios,  in the Cyclades islands). Apart from the white colour, another recurring theme is the curved line:  look at the profile of the wall where Sieff is sitting, at the arch and the dome of the church.

Two Doric columns are like a frame for beautiful Shrimpton. The scene is all about colour contrast between the golden light of the sun, cast on the columns, and the sky-blue clothes of the protagonists. Shrimpton’s outfit is casual and cute:  the striped shirt and the belted skirt are accessorized with a head-scarf and flat espadrilles.

The complex pleating of the statue’s mantle is juxtaposed to the linear outfits of the models: they’re both wearing long-sleeved sweaters, Shrimpton’s being fitted and Sieff’s loose. Shrimpton is also wearing low-waist sailor pants.

I love the composition of this pic. First of all, please note the contrast between the pleating on the statues and the crossing straps on Jean’s back [2]. Note the head/headless theme, too: the statues have no head, but the centre of the photo is Jeanloup turning his head to look at Jean.

This is my favourite shot:  the Erechteion Temple in Athens is a unique monument, Jean and Jeanloup being the silent witnesses of the six magnificent woman-shaped columns (the so-called ‘Caryatids’).

The protagonists of this image are the landscape and the sea:  the models are leaning on a wall, admiring the breathless view surrounding them.

Some images were taken at sunset and they have a magic atmosphere: the light of the setting sun makes the scenes more pensive and romantic (see Jeanloup’s kiss on Jean’s shoulder). The dress worn by Shrimpton is interesting, with its loose line and cowl-neck.

Here Shrimpton is portrayed in all her beauty and youth: the sailor-like gesture, the curly blonde hair, the white kaftan simply add allure to her elegant countenance.

At sunset the lovers stand in front of the sea and stare at the horizon. The simple perfection of this image is made modern by Shrimpton’s minidress, with a plunging back and buttoned waist-line.

In this beautiful last shot, the close-up on the models staring at the sun makes them look like ancient, blue-eyed gods, symbols of generosity, beauty and perfection. I’ve never had doubts on the reasons why Richard Avedon is deemed one of the best and most influential fashion photographers/portrayers, and this ‘The Shrimp at Sea’ confirms this: it is truly is a work of art, the most because it’s still fresh, modern and fashion-forward after forty-two years.

[1] I think dresses opened on the back are very sexy (I’m thinking about the infamous Narciso Rodriguez black dress worn by Sarah Jessica Parker in the ‘Sex and the City-the Movie’ photospread for U.S. Vogue June 2008 issue).




  1. The stunning thing, to me, is that in the 60’s you could still sit on the Caryatidis!
    Btw wonderful photos (and article), as usual, but just one question… where they come from? pics are original? scanned today from a 60’s magazine? or reprinted in a new vougue?
    Because, as a photoshop nerd, the color pictures seem redigitalized (and in full saturation) to me…

  2. I’ve found the pics on a blog about vintage fashion magazines, so I suppose these are modern scans of the original 1967 magazine.

    1. Ma come??? Strano! Stai leggendo il blog utilizzando Internet Explorer o Firefox? Forse è solo una questione di browser…

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