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Fashion Photography Collage

Fashion Photography

Started: 1850
Fashion Photography Timeline
"Many photographers feel their client is the subject. My client is a woman in Kansas who reads Vogue. I'm trying to intrigue, stimulate, feed her. My responsibility is to the reader. The severe portrait that is not the greatest joy in the world to the subject may be enormously interesting to the reader."
1 of 20
Irving Penn Signature
"The modern photographer is not at all a snob, he brings equal interest and devotion to the problem of photographing a queen, a chair, a fashion model, a solider, a horse, he finds something of himself in everything and something of everything in himself."
2 of 20
Irving Penn Signature
"I don't have two lives. This is one life, and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it."
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Annie Leibovitz Signature
"I am very attracted by bad taste - it is a lot more exciting than that supposed good taste which is nothing more than a standardized way of looking at things."
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Helmut Newton Signature
"What I find interesting is working in a society with certain taboos and fashion photography is about that kind of society. To have taboos, then to get around them that is interesting."
5 of 20
Helmut Newton Signature
"I have always avoided photographing in the studio. A woman does not spend her life sitting or standing in front of a seamless white paper background. Although it makes my life more complicated, I prefer to take my camera out into the streets...and places that are out of bounds for photographers have always had a special attraction for me."
6 of 20
Helmut Newton Signature
"In my pictures, you never know, that's the mystery. It's just a suggestion and you leave it to the audience to put what they want on it. It's fashion in disguise."
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Deborah Turbeville
"I have an instinct for finding the odd location, the dismissed face, the eerie atmosphere, the oppressed mood,"
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Deborah Turbeville
"My pictures walk a tightrope. They never know. ... I am one of the very few "enfants terrible" still claiming to take fashion photography. I am not a fashion photographer, I am not a photojournalist, I am not a portraitist. The photographs are a little like the women that you see in them. A little out of balance with their surroundings, waiting anxiously for the right person to find them, and thinking that perhaps they are out of their time. They move forward clutching their past about them, as if the ground of the present may fall away."
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Deborah Turbeville
"I do not like superficiality, but I try to look at what's behind the subject."
10 of 20
Paolo Roversi
"Photography for me is not representation, but the revelation of another dimension. By using the camera, I touch lightly on another life, opening the door to a different world."
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Paolo Roversi
"Working with fashion is wonderful because image-making can be absolutely and completely creative and removed from reality. It is about fantasy, fabric, invention. In order to work, however, a fashion photograph must function in two ways: it has to be the portrait of a woman wearing a dress, but also the portrait of a dress worn by a woman."
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Paolo Roversi
"I feel more when the photos are not sharp...In my work, there is nothing rational or logical ... It's about instinct and feelings."
13 of 20
Paolo Roversi
"You gotta have style. It helps you get down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It's a way of life. Without it, you're nobody. I'm not talking about lots of clothes."
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Diana Vreeland
"A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste - it's hearty, it's healthy, it's physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I'm against."
15 of 20
Diana Vreeland
"I think part of my success as an editor came from never worrying about a fact, a cause, an atmosphere. It was me - projecting to the public. That was my job. I think I always had a perfectly clear view of what was possible for the public. Give 'em what they never knew they wanted."
16 of 20
Diana Vreeland
"Fashion is part of the daily air and it changes all the time, with all the events. You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes. You can see and feel everything in clothes."
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Diana Vreeland
"Fashion must be the most intoxicating release from the banality of the world."
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Diana Vreeland
"Fashion film isn't like ordinary film, and shouldn't look to those references; it should be more akin to fashion photography. Fashion film is just moving fashion photography, its garments in movement. The medium is non-narrative. Whereas film has narrative, a fashion photograph doesn't have to narrate...fashion film needs to look at itself as a different thing from regular film, or conventional film. Remove the narratives and use the codes of fashion photography..."
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Nick Knight
"...clothes are made to be seen in movement..."
20 of 20
Nick Knight

Summary of Fashion Photography

Not a movement as such, fashion photography is perhaps best described as a branch of fine art photography that focuses exclusively on the promotion of haute couture. Fashion photographs accentuate the fashion designer's brand - or their "look" - which is typically expressed as an attitude or concept (and may not feature the clothes or accessories at all). Since it is informed by high art, popular culture and societal views of gender, self-image, and sexuality, Fashion Photography is seen as, in the words of art historian Eugenie Shinkle, "a most fantastic barometer of the time."

Historically, Fashion Photography was regarded as ephemeral and commercial, with gallery and museum exhibition space only granted to those special fashion photographers who also happened to be established artists. By the 21st century, however, art historians, scholars, and leading art institutions have come around to the idea that Fashion Photography deserves to rank as a branch of fine art photography. Indeed, Shinkle observed that apart from "a handful of exceptions, there was a real reluctance amongst scholars to engage with [Fashion Photography] in a serious way. Unapologetically commercial, it had been reduced to 'only advertising.' And, until recently - that is until it started appearing in galleries - it was considered to be ephemeral."

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • More than any other photographic genre, Fashion Photography blurs the line between art and commerce. Rather than an impediment to creativity, however, the conflict of interests brings a dynamic tension that gives Fashion Photography its unique place within the canons of Modern Photography.
  • Closely aligned to celebrity culture, Fashion Photography has the capacity to bring the styles and methods usually reserved for high culture - or haute couture - to the widest audience. It operates thus on a close reciprocal relationship with the magazine, music, film, and television industries.
  • Mirroring developments in modern photography, Fashion Photography became liberated from the studio in the late-fifties/early-sixties as photographers and their models took to the urban streets. Contemporary Fashion Photography occupies thus a space that accommodates, sometimes even at once, urban street style and haute couture.
  • Like all progressive artforms, Fashion Photography has kept pace with the avant-garde. Yet no other artform is so inextricably tied to the ideas of vanity and narcissism. As a celebration of beauty - though what that might be exactly changes with the times - modern Fashion Photography has given birth to the phenomenon of the supermodel.

Overview of Fashion Photography

Fashion Photography Image

Iconic Fashion Photographer Deborah Turbeville despised the fashion world. "It's seeing all those people who you’ve seen for years, who've spent fifty years of their lives just looking at clothes," she said. But this didn’t stop her producing some of the most groundbreaking works Fashion Photography had to offer.

Key Artists

  • Edward Steichen was an important early photographer. He was an innovative fashion photographer and helped Alfred Stieglitz found with his first modernist projects.
  • Man Ray was an American artist in Paris whose photograms, objects, drawings, and other works played an important role in Dada, Surrealism, modern photography, and avant-garde art at large.
  • Beaton was an influential fashion photographer known for his technical precision and staging, helping to form the sophisticated style of the 1930s. Beaton was also a successful set and costume designer, and war photographer.
  • Irving Penn was a fashion photographer and worked for many years for Vogue magazine, founding his own studio in 1953. Influenced by European Modernism - and in particular Surealism - he became one of the most famous photographers of all time erasing the lines between fashion photography, fine art photography, and "high art".
  • Richard Avedon revolutionized fashion photography by enlivening his models, by showing them in movement. He also excelled in black-and-white portraiture - celebraties and common folk were exhibited in psychologoically revealing ways. His large and powerful body of work makes Avedon one of the most famous photographers of all time.
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Do Not Miss

  • Documentary photography attempts to portray various realities and is best thought of as an umbrella term that encompasses many styles including Social Documentary, Conservation Photography, Ethnographic Photography, War Photography, and the photo essay.
  • Straight Photography is a movement centered on depicting a scene in sharp focus and detail as a way to emphasize the photographic medium and distinguish it from painting. Straight Photographers manipulated darkroom techniques to enhance the photograph with higher contrast and rich tonality.

Important Photos and Artists of Fashion Photography

Gloria Swanson (1924)

Artist: Edward Steichen

Considered the father of modern Fashion Photography, Steichen's portrait of silent movie star Gloria Swanson remains one of his most celebrated commercial works. Produced while he was house photographer at both Vanity Fair and Vogue, Steichen's image merges the worlds of fine art portraiture and Fashion Photography to spellbinding effect and provides an early example of how the worlds or art, entertainment, and fashion would interrelate. The image was published in the February 1928 issue of Vanity Fair to help publicize Swanson's latest film Sadie Thompson (a topical story of a free-spirited, jazz-age woman who, following a scandal, relocates to a tropical island where she seeks redemption). Steichen's great skill (or one of his great skills) was his ability to work with his models and to draw the very best out of them. It was a knack that all the great Fashion Photographers would need to master.

Journalist, critic and editor of Vanity Fair Frank Crowinshield had referred to Steichen as the "world's greatest living portrait photographer" and in this portrait one can appreciate his point. The most striking element of the picture are Swanson's hypnotic eyes that look directly into ours. Given that they had no voice, it was the norm for silent film stars to convey their screen presence through their eyes. Indeed, Swanson was widely recognized for her wide-eyed look and by emphasising them in this image, Steichen had drawn out her intelligence and her skill as a performer. In this way, the portrait celebrates both her qualities as an artist/model and her essence as an individual.

Steichen wrote about their working relationship in his autobiography: "At the end of the session, I took a piece of black lace veil and hung it in front of her face. She recognized the idea at once. Her eyes dilated, and her look was that of a leopardess lurking behind leafy shrubbery, watching her prey. You don't have to explain things to a dynamic and intelligent personality like Miss Swanson. Her mind works swiftly and intuitively." In this description, Steichen acknowledged that if one was to produce the very best fashion portraiture, then there must first be a true affiliation between photographer and model.

Noire et Blanche (Black and White) (1926)

Artist: Man Ray

Man Ray's iconic photograph shows the French nightclub singer, actress and painter, Alice Prin; better known in the cultured Parisian circles in which she moved as Kiki de Montparnasse. With her eyes closed, her head reclines on a table beside an ebony African mask which she holds upright in her left hand. Published in a 1926 issue of Vogue, the work appeared with a caption, "Mother of Pearl Face and Ebony Mask," and, as art critic Daisy Woodward noted, "It is a majestic study in tone and texture: the patches of light on the dark, lustrous mask are echoed by those punctuating Montparnasse's shiny black hair, while, in contrast, her soft, porcelain-hued face and shoulder boast delicate patches of shadow."

Noire et Blanche was published alongside Man Ray's reverse negative of the same image, thus inverting the play of black and white. With their oval shape, serene expressions, and reflective smooth surfaces, the two faces mirror each another, evoking cultural and racial overtones, but harmonized in their aesthetic balance. As art critic Woody Hochswender observed, Man Ray's "work came out of an era when photographers painted with light. There is a stillness about his fashion photography [...] His women never look into the camera. They seem to be in no particular space or place. They look chipped out of marble."

The avant-gardist Man Ray enthralled the fashion world in the early twentieth century. In addition to his work for Vogue, Vanity Fair featuring his rayographs while the designer Paul Poiret commissioned him to photograph his fashion line. His existing oeuvre also informed the fashion world. For instance, his famous painting Observatory Time The Lovers (1936) was also used as a backdrop for a Harper's Bazaar fashion editorial.

Due in part to Man Ray's (and Steichen's) involvement in the industry, Fashion Photography, now in tune with the avant-garde sensibilities of haute couture, earned its status as fine art. Man Ray's surrealistic photography inspired the next generation of photographers, including Cecil Beaton and Horst P. Horst, as well as more contemporary figures including Guy Bourdin, Paolo Roversi, and Jean-Baptiste Mondino's. Indeed, Noire et Blanche was referenced explicitly by Mondino in his 1999 monochrome advertisement for Jean Paul Gaultier where the African mask is replaced by a bottle of Classique perfume.

The Hat Box (White panama hat) (1934)

Artist: Cecil Beaton

In this signature work, the head of the famous model-turned-designer, Elsa Schiaparelli, is seen emerging from a hatbox. She is wearing a panama wearing hat (by Suzy) that is crucial to the composition; its horizontal and diagonal lines are both emphasized and framed by the conical shape of the box as its lid (which helps frame Schiaparelli's profile). The cropping is slightly askew, playfully emphasizing the unorthodox point of view, while the soft white background, with its fluffy bedding and billowing curtains, lends itself perfectly to Beaton's tongue-in-cheek tone.

In the 1930s Beaton worked with George Hoyningen-Huene and Horst P. Horst. All three explored surrealistic techniques and effects, though each photographer developed their own style accordingly. Irving Penn dubbed Beaton's images of Hollywood stars and fashion models (including Elsa Schiaparelli) as "The Beaton Woman". It was a reference to the way Beaton approached Fashion Photography with a distinctive, often witty, sense of unpredictability.

Here, Schiaparelli's facial expression evokes a touch of disconcerting anxiety and sadness, this despite the playful nature of the composition. Indeed, in 2009, the famous British fashion photographer Rankin chose this image as one of seven that had had a transformative effect on Fashion Photography. Rankin argued that Beaton "set the template for fashion photography. Packaging a world of decadent beauty and above all selling a dream" and that in this particular photograph Beaton had demonstrated "his typical wit and elegance" in the way what Schiaparelli's apparel became "secondary to the beauty of the image."

Useful Resources on Fashion Photography

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd

"Fashion Photography Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd
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First published on 05 Apr 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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