Fred Maroon’s Fashion Photography in the Most Unlikely Places
Fred J. Maroon, a longtime D.C.-based photographer, is getting a new retrospective at a gallery in his beloved Georgetown, more than a dozen years after his death. Artist’s Proof is mounting “Time & Travel,” an unusual exhibition of fashion images Maroon made for glossy magazines in the mid-1960s, on location in such places as Outer Mongolia, Leningrad, Moscow, Afghanistan, Japan, and the Colorado River. I spoke with Artist's Proof owner Peggy Sparks about Maroon's background and her new gallery space.
WCP: Let's start with the exhibit. How did you first came to hear about Fred Maroon and these works ?
Sparks: I was quite aware of Fred Maroon’s photography work in D.C., and as a resident of Georgetown, I had on a number of occasions seen his Maroon on Georgetown book. But it was only after I was approached by the estate that I really understood what Fred Maroon had accomplished since the 1950s.
It was definitely quite an undertaking to decide which series we wanted to start exhibiting, as his body of work is pretty varied and extensive. But in the end, I think it just became a personal choice. Being a little bit of a traveler myself, I think the fashion photography series appealed to me on a very personal level.
Tell me a little about his background and career.
After serving in the Navy during World War II, Fred moved to Washington, which became his home for the rest of his life. Fred’s poetic treatment of D.C.’s landmarks and neighborhoods reflect his unique perspective on the city he loved.
But his career spanned more than half a century and touched on topics ranging from fashion to food and architecture to landscapes and photojournalism and politics. Fred is best-known for his work in Washington, D.C., both documenting the Richard Nixon campaign and the architectural landscapes of the city. He was the recipient of numerous awards, exhibited widely, including at the Smithsonian, and lectured extensively.
To what extent are these images similar to or different from his other work?
I think this series of works is particularly evocative. They create a conversation about many things. Not just the Leica camera he shot with—which I imagine all the Leica aficionados might get excited about—but there’s just so many connotations within the series because it was a fashion shoot of European women by an American in places like the Soviet Union. That is why I felt it was important to show the works—to create that conversation.
How did he get assigned to do these, and what do you think drew him to this assignment?
That is quite a brilliant story that was told to me by Maroon’s widow, Suzy Maroon, when we first started speaking about this exhibition.
While on trip to London in June 1966, Maroon had a meeting with John Anstey, the editor of London’s Weekend Telegraph Magazine, where Maroon was working as a stringer. Before too long, Maroon had agreed to go to Outer Mongolia to do a shoot on cashmere wool found only on the underbelly of the Mongolian goats. Maroon has said that “it was the beginning of the most adventurous, risky part of my 50-year photographic career, both physically and creatively.”
As a curator or gallerist, what strikes you about these images?
What stood out quite distinctly is Fred Maroon’s ability to capture the nuance of a space—and now retrospectively, time—through the lens of his camera.
One is not completely overwhelmed by the work—there is almost a minimal quality to it—yet his images are able tell you a plethora of stories. These were not just fashion shoots. In fact, you could remove the model from the piece and still it would be beautifully balanced, stunning photography work. What is quite amazing, too, is that he did all of this with a camera and someone standing by with a reflector (bottom image).
Personally, I felt a myriad of emotions looking at the works—I was in awe of the majestic landscapes that he captured on his film, though at the same time, I was offended by the bare-legged European model in the Buddhist monastery. I was moved by the places that have since been lost to us, like the Bamiyan Valley Buddha statue [destroyed by the Taliban in 2001] but I was perturbed by the intrusion of a commercialism in sacred spaces.
Tell me about yourself and how you got to this point in your career.
I have worked in the gallery and art consulting business for over 10 years now in various parts of the world, starting with Singapore in the early 2000s. I was quite excited to be a part of it and represent some of the top names in contemporary Chinese art and Southeast Asian art.
What is your goal with the new gallery? What will be the gallery's specialty?
I started Artist’s Proof as a space to host contemporary art from around the world. We represent more than 50 artists from around the world. I think the world is a pretty interesting place, and I want to facilitate in the telling of these stories through the medium of art.
After years of the gallery world's center of gravity moving east in D.C., why did you think it was time to set up shop in Georgetown?
I love Georgetown. You can smell the history in the air, the cobblestone, the trees. What’s not to like?
What's next for the gallery?
We are moving to our new space at 1533 Wisconsin Ave., on Wisconsin between P and Q streets, in September, once a renovation is complete. The space will be more conducive to more exhibitions, talks, and events. We want to be more than just white walls with art, and this space will allow for it.
We will be having a sculpture garden in our premises, which is pretty exciting to me. It will be a space that allows for creative learning and inspiration.
Our next event is a class by Chinese ink painter Quek Kiat Sing who will be teaching the art of bamboo and cherry blossom painting.
Through Sunday, June 1, at Artist's Proof: 3323 Cady's Alley NW.