“Emotionally, it’s very difficult for me to look at old work I’ve done,” the photographer Steven Meisel told Tim Blanks in a 2015 interview. “It’s either because I look at what I could have done better, or I start crying over the people. I’m ridiculously sensitive, that’s just who I am, so it’s really tough for me to look at old pictures. I always get sad.” I asked him if that response was something as fundamental as melancholy at the transience of everything, including the beauty that is the currency of his work. “I’m not going to get into the whole meaning of life — of which there isn’t one anyway — but yes,” Meisel answered.
Seven years later, and there are times when the melancholy on the walls of “Steven Meisel 1993, A Year in Photographs,” a rare exhibition of the photographer’s work, is overwhelming. A longtime fascination with the Bright Young Things, the glittery party people who juiced up British high society in the 1920s, manifests itself in multiple images of stylish eccentrics like Hamish Bowles, Isabella Blow and Lucy Ferry. In July ‘93, Blow chose a handful of young London beauties for Meisel to photograph for British Vogue. Among those subjects is Stella Tennant, gawky then, with a nose ring and a punk crop and no interest at all in the world of modelling. From that uncompromising entrée, she went on to become one of the great beauties of our time. And now she, and Izzy Blow and Lucy Ferry are gone, dead by their own hands. Time is the most brutal taskmaster of all.