Collecting Books

Bruce Weber’s Bear Pond

The inspiration behind the fashion marketing aesthetics of the 1980s and 1990s.

One of the delights of my day is perusing the list of recently sold interested items every morning. Not only is it interesting, but it helps me to spot trends in the rare book world – for example, I saw two copies of the same title sold yesterday. I didn’t recognize the title of the book or the author’s name, so I did some digging.

The book that caught my eye today is Bear Pond by Bruce Weber. Bear Pond was released in 1990 and it was a hit. It contained 100 of Weber’s photographs, comprised of landscape shots and figure studies (some NSFW). It was already a relatively rare photography book and this recent publicity has increased both its selling cost and decreased its availability.

So why is it in the public eye again? Abercrombie & Fitch.

Netflix recently released a new documentary called White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch. This show follows the famous clothing brand’s rise from humble beginnings to one of the most popular stores in the United States. The magic behind the success is their marketing and brand consistency, which started with their aesthetic in the 80s. Both the storefronts and their shopping bags used large black and white photographs of young models in relaxed poses in beautiful locations.

The artist behind the photographs was Bruce Weber, a well known fashion photographer. His work is recognizable from the popular black and white Calvin Klein ads in the 1980s and 90s, but also Ralph Lauren and Versace campaigns. He worked with Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss, among many other famous models of the era.

A&F ad from the 90s

A complicated work

Bear Pond’s was a success and reviews were positive. It had the added benefit of drawing attention to the AIDS crisis, as the book was published to benefit the AIDS Resource Center. The reception is summed up well in this excerpt from a review:

It may seem somewhat singular to say that a book of male nudes by a gay photographer deals with innocence, particularly when the photographer was roundly criticized by many for his commercial images delineating the sensual beauty of the male body as well as — and even more so — those depicting what some termed a “teen-age drug culture,” but there you have it. There is no escaping that this book (published, incidentally, in 1990 to benefit the AIDS Resource Center in New York) celebrates a vision at once romantic and fundamentally spiritual. – Robert M. Tilendis for the Green Man Review

In 2017 Weber was sued by former models over claims of sexual harassment during their shoots in the 90s. The cases were settled and Weber denied all accusations, but many of his former brands will no longer work with him.

These days, Weber is still working as a photographer, documentary director, and is publishing books of his work.

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