Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Welcome to 1960s Paris where futuristic bubbles ferry floating models

By Doug Bierend
updated 10:59 AM EST, Tue February 25, 2014
Photographer Melvin Sokolsky captured the now legendary "Bubble" series in 1963 in Paris, for Harper's Bazaar. The only photo retouching involved was to remove traces of an 1/8th inch cable which held the sphere. Photographer Melvin Sokolsky captured the now legendary "Bubble" series in 1963 in Paris, for Harper's Bazaar. The only photo retouching involved was to remove traces of an 1/8th inch cable which held the sphere.
HIDE CAPTION
Supreme skill
Style history
A bold way to capture fashion
Inside the realm of fantastical
Inspired by art
Futuristic vision
Fairy tale landscape
Masterful illusion
Floating beauty
Gasping in wonder
The other style center
The creators of illusion
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Photographer Melvin Sokolsky captured the now iconic "Bubble" series in 1963 in Paris
  • Images appeared in Harper's Bazaar and are credited with launching artistic fashion photography
  • Models were shot inside a sphere held together by a ring of aluminum and suspended by a 1/8th inch steel cable

Editor's note: Fashion Season: Paris takes you behind the scenes of the Paris catwalks and beyond, exploring the French capital's most stylish hidden corners. The show airs Monday 24 to Friday 28 February on CNN International, with daily reports in 'News Stream' at 1300 GMT and 'Connect the World' at 2000 GMT.

(Wired) -- There's something about floating translucent bubbles that's always seemed futuristic, from the '60s right up to the present day. Photographer Melvin Sokolsky was on the, er, ball, then, when he shot his now iconic "Bubble" series for the Harper's Bazaar 1963 Spring Collection.

The series is widely credited for launching the trend of bold, artistic visions within fashion photography. The bubble first takes off in color from beyond the New York City skyline, then lands on the Seine River in Paris, where it begins a surreal black-and-white tour of Parisian streets, alleys, and cafes. Designer clothes are on display in each shot, something that's easily overlooked as model Simone d'Aillencourt cavorts in the plexiglass sphere, drawing a lot of attention (and even a few fireballs) from standers by.

The "Bubble" shoot was credited with starting a trend for avant-garde, artistic fashion photography.
Courtesy Melvin Sokolsky

Some of the clothes, particularly shoes, were damaged not by fire but by accidental dunks in the water when the bubble dipped a little too low. The top-flight '60s couture, an aesthetic whose appeal also has carried into the modern day, keeps the pictures otherworldly and stylish in equal measure.

A month as a Parisian
Star bloggers change the fashion game?

The sphere is held together by a ring of aluminum and suspended by a 1/8th inch steel cable attached to a crane. That cable often is squarely in the shot but is occasionally positioned or illuminated so it remains unseen. In some cases, it was removed from the frame by hand, creating the illusion of a levitating sphere. Sokolsky insists a negligible amount of retouching was involved, and it obviously was not digitally manipulated. He points out that at 15 to 20 feet, such a thin cable becomes essentially invisible to the camera.

Read more: This new cycling gear has us dreaming of warm days and open roads

The concept for the Bubble series came from a recurring dream in which the photographer saw himself floating in a sphere above unfamiliar landscapes. The vision was inspired by The Garden of Earthly Delights by early Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch. The fully opened triptych includes depictions of people in transparent spheres suspended among a (mostly) heavenly world. When closed, it shows the earth encased in a vast glass globe.

Read more: The merciless world of mining, made beautiful in abstract photos

Bubble kicked off what would be something of a theme of flying and weightlessness in Sokolsky's work. They weren't the last forward-looking images he produced either; Lips Streaks from 1967 looks like it came straight out of 1987. Sokolsky has a knack for playing with perceptions, which is clear in other work he's renowned for, such as Big Chair and Table, Bazaar. It shows what appear to be tiny models climbing giant chairs.

Sokolsky points to an image's composition, palette, overall concept, and the chemistry between photographer and model as the most important aspects of his craft. While he started his career as a fashion photographer, he had by the end of the '60s transitioned into making commercials and films alongside his photo work.

He was also responsible for a number of innovations including a computerized zoom lens in 1972 that got nominated for an Academy Award. A great interview with Sokolsky further illuminates the methods of this self-taught photographer perpetually interested in making bold statements and expressing nuanced concepts.

Sokolsky's work can be seen at the Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles.

More from WIRED:

A robotic arm paints dazzling sculptures of light

The secret cities hidden between NYC skyscrapers

Fantastic infographics, drawn from a study of instagram selfies

A stunning app that turns radiohead songs into dreamscapes

Subscribe to WIRED magazine for less than $1 an issue and get a FREE GIFT! Click here!

Copyright 2011 Wired.com.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
CNN Style
updated 10:24 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Houses that melt, float and flip upside down? Alex Chinneck's playful architecture sparks the imagination and begs for a photo-op.
updated 8:18 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
Metro stations get a bad reputation as dark, grimy places where travelers are as likely to catch a communicable disease as they are a train.
updated 9:05 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
How can architecture help a nation cope with traumatic history? An institute designed by Zaha Hadid attempts to find a new answer to the question.
updated 8:43 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Italian photographer Antonio La Grotta has been capturing abandoned nightclubs that are falling apart in typically glamorous Italian fashion.
updated 10:41 AM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Bernhard Lang's aerial photos capture the unexpected symmetry and patterns of common public spaces.
updated 11:41 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
How the disembodied head, which seems to have a life of its own, was spirited into the gem seems to be something of a mystery.
updated 6:15 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Paris Photo again drew huge crowds this year, including actresses, designers, artists and, of course, the photography world's elite.
updated 2:28 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Condé Nast has unearthed portraits of the biggest stars of the 20s and 30s, including Fred Astaire and Greta Garbo.
updated 6:06 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
The most "complicated" handmade watch in the world has been sold at auction for an historic $24.4 million.
updated 8:31 AM EST, Tue November 11, 2014
Artists are using a new vocabulary to commemorate lives lost at war. But how do you convey the collective grief of a nation in a single work of art?
updated 8:37 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
Nasir al-mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran
It's a side of Iran the rest of the world doesn't normally get to see -- the kaleidoscopic interiors of the country's intricately designed mosques.
updated 9:59 AM EST, Mon November 10, 2014
Illustrator and design educator Laurence Zeegen looks back at the rise of illustration over the last 50 years.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT