The media landscape has changed drastically in the last 25 years and no one knows this better than esteemed editor and art director Ezra Petronio. From starting the cult favourite magazine, Self Service, in 1994 to founding his own agency, Petronio Associates, the creative tour de force has worked with fashion’s biggest names from Chanel to Prada. Now, Petronio’s legendary career shaping the visual language of the world’s biggest brands is getting the recognition it deserves in his very own retrospective tome.
Published by Phaidon, Ezra Petronio: Visual Thinking & Image Making features over 400 glossy pages of some of the most iconic fashion images. Showcasing his breadth of work over the last 25 years, the monograph pulls focus on the collaborative nature of Petronio’s work, with industry heavy hitters making an appearance with every turn of the page.
‘I am always attracted to artists and talents who value conversation, aren’t afraid to get out of their comfort zone, look beyond what is in front of them. That aren’t afraid to challenge or be challenged, that thrive on the journey as much as the end result,’ Petronio tells me. ‘Creative minds that have integrity, ambition and humility and understand that great image making and achievements are the result of the sum of all parts.’
Among Petronio's creative collaborators are design luminaries such as Miuccia Prada, Rei Kawakubo, Phoebe Philo, and more. Even those unfamiliar with Petronio's impact on fashion imagery are likely acquainted with his iconic Polaroid series, a modern homage to Warhol's legendary works. Documenting the groundbreaking artists and designers of our era, including Alexander McQueen, Azzedine Alaia, Nicholas Ghesquière, and others, these portraits have become ingrained in the collective consciousness of today's fashion enthusiasts, circulating widely on social media platforms such as Tumblr and Twitter.
The immersive collection of images does more than trace Petronio’s career, it presents a greater depiction of the evolution of fashion image-making. Along with the vivid images that define his career, the book features discussions between Petronio and his contemporary creative titans like Dazed founder Jefferson Hack, photographer David Sims, stylist Jane How and director Lana Petrusevyc. Providing an insightful look at the realities of working in fashion from the 90s onwards, the conversations paint a better understanding of the talents who helped shape fashion's golden age of image-making.
Speaking with the renowned art director, Petronio delves into the profound impact of the digital age and social media on shifting the realities of fashion creativity. He emphasizes the transformative nature of these technological advancements, particularly in reshaping visual communication, brand narrative, and storytelling within the industry. 'Today, campaigns will have a lifespan of five days and disappear into the digital void, immediately replaced by new content. Brands are entrapped in a system that requires constant evolving communication with their consumers,' he explains.
The accelerated pace of content consumption in the digital realm means that fashion campaigns, once carefully crafted and meticulously executed, now have a fleeting existence. This necessitates brands to continuously adapt and produce fresh, engaging content to maintain relevance in the fast-paced online landscape.
Petronio also addresses a downside to this rapid cycle that feels all too apparent when looking at the short lifespan of burgeoning creatives. He expresses concern that the pressure for constant innovation and quick turnover may hinder the growth and maturation of young talent. 'Young talent doesn’t have the time to mature and can be disposed of as quickly.’ In the current environment, emerging creatives may find themselves disposed of swiftly, lacking the time needed to develop their skills and establish a lasting presence in the industry.
It's the shift in industry practices that makes the release of Ezra Petronio: Visual Thinking & Image Making feel so timely. A nostalgic look at what is arguably the golden age of fashion image-making, the book offers more than just fanciful photographs, it provides deep insight and lessons for any creative looking to make it today. For Petronoio, it's a love letter to his career and all the collaborators who made it what it is. 'I always look back with envy to the projects that had the most creative and emotional moments and magic in their making. But in overall I must say that Self Service magazine has a special place in my heart as it was the realization of my high school dream and it is still going decades later.'
Ezra Petronio: Visual Thinking & Image Making is available now at phaidon.com.