Focus: The Secret, Sexy, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers

Image of Focus: The Secret, Sexy, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers
Release Date: 
July 4, 2016
Atria Books
Reviewed by: 

There is no question that Focus is a book that must be evaluated on several planes depending on one’s point of view and frame of reference. On the surface, based on its full title, the reader gets more than their share of salacious, rather than just sordid, details, but this is a book that must also be praised for its exhaustive research that more than  delivers on the dishy/ gossipy page turner that it promises to be. You might want to think of it as a nonfiction version of Valley of the Dolls or Hollywood Wives.

The cast of characters, which is based on Gross' personal choices, rather than their mere accomplishments, include but are not limited to: the Richardsons (father and son), the French mob, the terrible three, Richard Avedon and Bill King (who seem to be  targets of the author’s animus), Melvin Sokolsky, Steven Meisel, Bruce Weber, Bert Stern, and more. One has to wonder if the subjects were chosen only for personal reasons or for how much intrusive and smarmy information could be assigned to them. Along with the fabled photographers are an array of personalities from the worlds of publishing, modeling, and design.

Staying on this plane Gross really offers an exposé and history rather than just some expository stories about the photographers as well as those who inhabited their spheres. Some of the greatest names of the fashion world give life and supposed veracity to all that is written.

The more educated reader might take into account that quotes are often taken out of context to bolster one’s point of view/opinion, but no matter as many will only take the subject matter on its face value as being the absolute truth. That being said, Gross delves extremely deep excavations of the history of each of his subjects. Besides, in this age of almost every day sexual harassment in the workplace, the Kardashian media blitz, transgender news, and gay and lesbian equality, much of this “dirty laundry” is hardly big news given that most of it happened at a time that was infamous for “drugs, sex, and rock ’n’ roll.”

The ultimate review lies with the reader according to what their expectation is of the book and how much they actually know of the topic at hand. This reader started by devouring and loving every page until it became clear that the book was rather a weapon against select subjects instead of just sensationalist writing hiding behind oodles of documentation.

There is much to be learned and gleaned from its contents, but the question remains as to how much do you really need or want to know to obtain the fashion knowledge behind it all.