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.
Important Photographs and Artists of Fashion Photography
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.
Gelatin silver print - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Noire et Blanche (Black and White)
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.
Gelatin Silver print - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Hat Box (White panama hat)
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."
Gelatin silver print - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Diana Vreeland modeling at Frank Lloyd Wright's Pauson house in Arizona for Harper's Bazaar
This color photograph depicts Diana Vreeland, the renowned fashion director of Harper Bazaar, modeling on a deck of the Pauson house, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Vreeland confidently surveys the Arizona landscape. Bright sunlight and velvet shadows, along with the building's dramatic vertical and horizontal planes, create an elemental and geometric setting that compliments the rugged sunlit expanses of the desert. On the left of the frame, the empty landscape, a mingling of gold and reddish-brown tones, stretches away to a singular rocky peak set against a dark-blue sky. Vreeland, a famous model prior to becoming Harper's director, is at home in this environment and cuts a figure befitting of the stylish red sheath skirt and black blouse she is wearing. The overall effect is one of an independent and modern woman embracing the natural world with a relaxed self-confidence.
A fixture at Harper's Bazaar for a little over 20 years, Dahl-Wolfe was initially hired by editor Carmel Snow in 1936. Snow stated that: "From the moment I saw [Dahl-Wolfe's] first color photographs I knew that Bazaar was at last going to look the way I had instinctively wanted my magazine to look." Art critic Oscar Holland went further when he observed that Dahl-Wolfe's "genre-defining images [which] focused on assertive, aspirational women [...] in casual - and often sun-drenched - outdoor settings," influenced fashion and popular culture for a full two decades.
Dahl-Wolfe's classical training at the San Francisco Institute School of Art informed her strong sense of composition and color, as she herself observed, "You have to study color like the scales of the piano." At the same time her enthusiasm for art history was reflected in her preference for posing models in the vicinity of famous art works and designs (as seen here in Lloyd Wright's desert house location). Dahl-Wolfe's influence was felt especially by Richard Avedon who said, "She was the bar we all measured ourselves against." Indeed, Avedon acknowledged that her image Twins with Elephants (1947) directly inspired his own Dovima with the Elephants (1955).
Color proof - Collection of the Museum at FIT, New York
Girl in Black & White (Jean Patchett)
Penn's iconic black and white Vogue cover depicts the American model Jean Patchett. It was commissioned by Vogue to replace the color cover images it had used since 1909. Such was its impact, the image helped define the 1950s and became a part of art photography's history. The image is one of simple contrasts and symmetry, the latter being broken with Patchett's playful sideways stare. To help get such sharp contrasts, Penn revived the earlier technology of the Platinum Palladium print. He also asked Patchett to use black lipstick which she was able to improvise by blending lipstick and mascara.
By the 1950s, Penn's approach to fashion photography was one of "simplification and elimination." By removing all background interference, Penn was able to reduce his images to their bare bones; just the model and her apparel. Penn's stylistic awakening came following a trip to Paris where he took ownership of a theater curtain. Penn began to use the curtain as a backdrop through which he was able to recreate what he called "the light of Paris as I had imagined it, soft but defining." As Laird Borrelli-Persson wrote, "Simple, sophisticated, and potent as a dry martini" Penn's iconic Vogue cover "showcased the clean lines and tapered waists of Postwar Paris and New York, and transformed the aesthetic of the fashion industry." Patrick Demarchelier, Solve Sundsbo, and Nick Knight have all credited Penn's images as a defining influence on their own careers. A signed (by Penn and Patchett), titled, and dated in ink copy of the photograph was auctioned at Christie's New York in 2008 where it sold for $266,500.
Platinum Palladium Print - The Art Institute of Chicago
Dovima with Elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d'Hiver, Paris, August 1955
Arguably Avedon's most famous photograph, Dovima with Elephants, depicts the model wearing an Yves Saint-Laurent black evening dress designed for Dior. Her graceful, balletic stance - her arms reaching out towards the two elephants that flank her - is further emphasized by a flowing sash tied above her waist, and by the elephant's undulating trunk. The animals seem to be shifting rhythmically from side to side (further adding to the balletic effect perhaps) but, at the same time, we notice that the elephants' legs are chained which adds a poignant note on the theme of captivity. Indeed, the elephants' restriction is perhaps echoed in the figure of Dovima who, being tied about the waist with a giant bow, hints at a statement on the constraining standards of feminine beauty.
Avedon was known for taking his fashion shoot out of the studio onto the streets, where his models were encouraged to engage expressively with their surroundings. Here, in the grounds of the Cirque d'hiver in Paris, the image evokes the archetypal encounter of beauty and the beast; of age and youth; of freedom and confinement. As art critic Cathy Horyn wrote, Avedon's "gift was not merely for the alive moment [...] it was for knowing which of the myriad of gestures produced the truest sense of the moment."
Avedon's dynamic location shooting transformed European fashion photography and further cemented the rise of New York as the post-war center of the fashion world. This photograph also launched the career of the nineteen-year-old Yves Saint-Laurent in what was his first design for Dior. The image also made a star of Dovima who became one of the highest paid models of the 1950s. For his part, Avedon, who photographed 148 Vogue covers during his career, became revered as a sublime portraitist. As McDowell noted, "He treated his fashion shots as portraits, not just of a woman, but also as a dress and above all, an attitude." The freedom and spontaneity in his work made Fashion Photography appealing to young photographers like the British iconoclasts Terence Donovan and David Bailey. He was also an acknowledged influenced on Norman Parkinson, Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton, Bruce Weber, Tim Walker and, in particular, Steven Meisel.
Gelatin silver print - Richard Avedon Foundation
Jean Shrimpton twist
Bailey's photograph shows model Jean Shrimpton on a busy New York thoroughfare. She is wearing a trench coat and beret, holds a teddy bear in her left hand, and appears to be poised to cross the busy road. Standing on the sidewalk, and facing the spectator head on, she adopts a somewhat off-kilter stance: with her feet pointing in opposite directions, her right hand at an angle to her coat pocket, her body appears slightly contorted. It is as if she is responding to the word "TWIST" on the overhead signage (possibly invoking the sixties dance craze). At the same time, Shrimpton's rumpled coat, and the bedraggled teddy bear that hangs listlessly at her side, convey a forlorn, childlike air.
Bailey and Shrimpton, who became involved romantically, met in 1960 on the set of a shoot for a Kellogg's Corn Flakes commercial. Already well-known for his photographs of "Swinging London," Bailey was assigned a New York City fashion shoot for British Vogue's new "Young Idea" feature. "The Young Idea" carried articles on youth culture and promoted more casual clothing styles such as the mid-priced British fashion lines of Jaeger and Susan Small. In America, however, Vogue's editor Lady Clare Rendlesham was unconvinced when Bailey arrived with the then unknown Shrimpton. The two travelled without makeup artists or hair stylists, and once in the city, Bailey elected to work in impoverished working-class neighbourhoods including Harlem and the Lower East Side. Photographing Shrimpton as she wandered the street in a trench coat (and carrying the teddy bear) evoked the so-called "kitchen sink realism" that was a defining feature of contemporary British culture that emerged through leftist literature, theatre, and film in the late 1950s. Indeed, the urban environment - Shrimpton is surrounded by signs, delivering a cacophony of different commands: "do not park," "cross at the sidewalk," "walk" - overlaps the glamorous world of Fashion Photography with the gritty realism of Street Photography.
Despite Lady Rendlesham's reservations, Bailey's feature met with great acclaim on publication. Diana Vreeland predicted (correctly) a "Youthquake" for the fashion industry and the feature launched the careers of Bailey and Shrimpton who became Superstar and Supermodel respectively. The pair's New York series has had a long-lasting historical impact and in 2012 Bailey and Shrimpton's weeklong photo shoot was documented in the dedicated BBC film We'll Take Manhattan.
Platinum print - Vogue archives
Untitled (Le Smoking)
This rather tantalizing image depicts the elegant androgynous model, Vikebe, dressed in an Yves Saint-Lauren tuxedo with stiff white cravat. She is pictured on a deserted and narrow Paris backstreet, at night, and lit only by a row of streetlamps. One hand pokes out of Vikebe's pocket, the other holds a cigarette, while she looks down towards the ground. She seems to be in deep thought while her demeanour conveys an air of assured nonchalance. When Vogue Paris gave Newton (known as the "king of Kink" because of his penchant for fetishism) the assignment to photograph the season's fashions, he chose his own neighbourhood, the rue Aubriot in Marais, as his location; preferring its rough and archaic look to the grand or opulent settings offered in other parts of the capital. Shot at night, without any illumination except for the streetlamps, Newton's image pays homage to Brassai, whose photographs captured the nocturnal life of Paris in the early 1930s. This image in particularly alludes to Brassai's Belle de Nuit (1933), an image of a prostitute smoking on a dimly lit street corner.
Before taking the image, Newton had asked Vikebe to imagine she was a 19th century dandy. The dandy was described by the French poet Charles Baudelaire as someone "cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons, of satisfying their passions, of feeling and thinking [...] Dandyism is not even an excessive delight in clothes and material elegance. For the perfect dandy, these things are no more than the symbol of the aristocratic superiority of mind." As a result, the woman radiates insouciant confidence, while challenging societal convention. As Newton said, "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."
Inspired by the artist Niki de Saint Phalle's "black tie trouser suit," Yves Saint-Lauren's tuxedo debuted in his 1966 Pop Art collection. However the response, in an era that still favored the little black dress, was underwhelming. The tuxedo was considered "outdated and lumpy." Newton's photograph had succeeded in changing attitudes, when, a decade on, the tuxedo became an iconic favorite, worn by female celebrities and models including Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall, Catherine Deneuve, Liza Minelli, LouLou de la Falaise, and Lauren Bacall.
Chromogenic Print - Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
Bath House, New York City, May 1975
Turbeville's image presents five fashion models wearing a variety of casual fashions within an abandoned bathhouse. Each woman occupies their own space within the frame. A sense of mystery pervades, as the spectator is left to wonder what the relationship between the women might be, the clothes becoming almost secondary to the photograph's intrigue. Influenced by the film directors Jean Cocteau and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Turbeville was known for offbeat and theatrical photographic compositions such as this. As she said, "I find personalities, look for interesting faces and do pictures in locations suggestive of the rest of the work. I combine clothes, people and place to make a story [...] I like strange places." Turbeville's work duly paved the way for countless fashion catalogues and features, evoking mysterious narratives that appealed especially to a younger, more urbane, fashionista.
Turbeville came to photography in fact after a long career as a fashion magazine editor. She began as an assistant to the American clothes designer Claire McCardell before rising to the rank of editor at Harper's Bazaar. Realizing that she could not find a photographer to execute her personal vision, she turned to photography herself, enrolling in a seminar with Richard Avedon who, impressed by her work, became her mentor. She developed a unique style that, in the words of British Vogue editor Laird Borrelli-Persson, "grappled with the interior life of women and their changing place at a time when longstanding gender roles were as distorted as the reflections from a disco ball."
Moving into the 1980s, Turbeville's photographs played a leading role in presenting the designs of Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garcons with whom her strange and uneven compositions found a shared affinity. Later, Turbeville's images have courted acclaim outside the fashion world. As art critic Vince Aletti noted of her 2016 exhibit at Deborah Bell Photographs in New York, "Turbeville was not interested in the pristine print; she liked rough textures, uneven borders, grain, flare, blur, accidents. As a result, every picture has a spark of life, a lovely quirk [...] But even the single, more straightforward images in the show have a visionary quality, as if these women, these places, were hallucinated, not documented."
Gelatin silver print - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Linda Evangelista and Kristen McMenamy, L'Haÿles? Roses, France, Vogue
This signature Meisel image shows two supermodels of the 1990s - Linda Evangelista on the left, and Kristen McMenamy on the right - as they saunter down the luxurious paths of the Chateau de Champs in Champs-sur-Marne, France. Walking arm and arm, they are bedecked in hats of bows and veils, and frilly, elaborate, dresses that combine to convey a laissez-faire energy. As Alberto Oliva, Norberto Angeletti, and Anna Wintour all noted, Meisel's photography effectively liberated "haute couture from the heavy self-consciousness of traditional fashion photography" and he had managed to cultivate a style "that has come to define the seemingly effortless elegance and beauty that ruled the final decade of the twentieth-century."
Meisel was working as an illustrator for the fashion designer Halston when he became fascinated by Fashion Photography. Drawing upon a variety of influences from the painting of Alex Katz to the photography of Nan Golden, to the films of Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni, he has said that his inspiration comes "from all over the place [...] it can be from the nineteenth century as long as it's new to me [or it] can come from going to the grocery store or looking at an artist from a million years ago." Meisel's bohemian aesthetic has also made him a leading portraitist of celebrities, and he is well known in popular culture for his long association with Madonna that began with her 1984 album cover Like a Virgin. He has photographed every cover of Italian Vogue since 1988 and since 2004 has been the photographer for every Prada campaign. Part of his success is due to his commitment to innovation, as he said, "My style changes constantly. Fashion is about change. In order to stay current and excited, I try new and different approaches."
Archival pigment ink print - Vogue Archives
Tanel Bedrossiantz (Jean Paul Gaultier's "Barbes" women's ready-to-wear fall-winter collection of 1984-85)
This sultry and wraithlike image is of Tanel Bedrossiantz, model and muse to designer Jean Paul Gaultier. Modelling for the French designer's famous "Barbes" collection, it shows Bedrossiantz, his fixed gaze staring down the camera/spectator, wearing a low cut, tight fitting Gaultier dress. The model's air of defiance is confirmed in the detail of the cigarette, which he holds aloft in his left hand. The velvety bluey-green texture of the fabric and its corrugated bodice and cone-shaped bra create an sharply feminine impression which is contradicted by Bedrossiantz's masculine shoulders and arms. Finishing the effect, with only his head and torso illuminated, the model emerges into view from a black netherworld. As Roversi put it, "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."
Roversi began his career as a photojournalist in the 1970s but turned to Fashion Photography on discovering the work of Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and Helmut Newton. In the 1980s he developed his trademark technique of using an 8' x 10' Polaroid camera, later using the same format for digital prints. Whereas, generally speaking, Fashion Photography had "taken to the streets,' Roversi preferred to work in the studio where he sought the recreate the shadowing techniques of the classical masters. As he said, "I work like all painters do: with the light that comes from the window. I prefer subtracting to adding: I do not want anything around my subjects in order to magnify the person. For me photography is a very intimate act and, in my studio, this happens at my own pace." Roversi's fashion images first appeared in Marie Claire and soon thereafter in the Italian edition of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. He has created advertising campaigns for Comme des Garcons and other avant-garde Japanese designers who took the fashion world by storm in the 1990s.
Digital print - Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York
Tweedledum and Tweedledee
This image, published in Vogue in December 2003, features the model Natalia Vodianova as Alice (in Wonderland). The model, wearing a Viktor & Rolf silk dress, and with her hands placed defiantly on her hips, looks askance at Tweedledum and Tweedledee, standing just a few feet away to her right. The pair is "played" by the noted fashion designers Rolf Snoeren and Viktor Horsting, both dressed in suits of their own design. The three characters stand in the sunlit depths of a thick forest "where things have no names" and where Alice meets the two brothers (who, in Lewis Carroll's novel, recite "The Walrus and the Carpenter" and then, speaking a kind of philosophical nonsense, tell Alice that she is not real, but rather, an imaginary character). This work was part of Leibovitz's Alice in Wonderland Fashion Editorial, imaginatively interpreting Carroll's surreal literary masterpiece.
Leibovitz, the acknowledged doyen of celebrity portraiture, is acclaimed for the theatrical sweep of her compositions. Indeed, as a recognized aspect of her style, the Alice in Wonderland feature works as a narrative composed of potential film stills. Art critic Roberta Smith noted that the images "jump[ed] off the wall with characteristic Leibovitzian flair - a heady mix of intimacy and posturing, elaborated, like paintings of saints, by recognizable attributes." A second art critic, Elizabeth Day, also picked up on Leibovitz's "trademark flourishes" before drawing her readers' attention to the typical "group shot of recognizable faces, each one striking an individual pose" with the composition as a whole "brought to life through a bold use of light in order to create the highly stylized, almost cinematic quality."
Color print - Vogue Archive
This short film (a little over two minutes in duration) shows various models wearing clothes by Givency, Molly Goddard, Hood by Air, and Naszir Mazhar. The models gyrate and pose in dynamic split-screen images to the accompaniment of a Travis Scott soundtrack. Styled by Charlotte Stockdale, Phoebe Arnold, and Raquel Couciero, the models evoke different attitudes as they move in settings that employ color and light that, in the words of Knight, convey "both strength and delicacy, intimacy and discordance." In keeping with his usual practice, Knight's models are diverse, drawn from various racial and ethnic backgrounds. While Knight recruited some of his models through fashion agencies, he discovered others, new to modelling, through Instagram. As he said, "I think you convince people by showing them there is a better way [...] by showing the beauty and strength of these women of colour, it's the best way to convince people." This film was paired with another short film, 90210, both made for the 2016 British Fashion Awards, and for which Knight received the Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator.
Having made his name photographing the Skinhead subculture and London's leading music and fashion personalities for i-D magazine, Knight founded SHOWstudio in 2000 to promote fashion film. His rationale went as follows: "clothes are made to be seen in movement. We've accepted that the way to represent clothes is by static image. I went over that again and again in my mind, and I thought 'Well, this can't be true to the designer's vision', because the designer always imagines them to be in movement. So there was a desire to really get closer to the designer's original vision and that's something that's given rise to fashion film, and it's very much a feeling that it's a better way of showing fashion." Knight's platform became the leading showcase for promoting fashion film and other platforms soon followed. The fashion magazine Dazed & Confused launched its Dazed Digital branch, and Vogue founded Vogue.tv., in 2007, while Prada launched its "Trembled Blossoms,", a short film, using animation and motion-capture technology, to showcase its spring/summer 2008 look.
Beginnings of Fashion Photography
19th Century Trends
By the mid-1800s some commercial photographers became known for portraiture focused on aristocratic and fashionable women, a practice that would set the pattern for the development of Fashion Photography. The Countess di Castiglione Virginia Oldoni, mistress of the Emperor Napoleon III and a celebrity of the court, became, in effect, the first fashion model when, in 1856, she began working with the photographer Pierre Louis Pierson. Their collaboration (the Countess, or La Castiglione, as she was more popularly known, played an active role in designing the photo shoots, selecting theatrical scenarios and dressing to play various roles) spanned four decades and resulted in some 800 images, including photographs of her modelling her custom made "Queen of Hearts" dress. Other celebrities, such as the actress Sandra Bernhardt and the socialite Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, modelled for a number of photographers while wearing the latest fashions. From its very beginnings, then, Fashion Photography was to have a symbiotic relationship with celebrity portraiture that has continued to the present day.
The birth of the fashion model (that is, a fashion model who was not already a celebrity) can be traced back to as early as 1853 when Charles Frederick Worth, a French designer, hired Marie Vernet to exclusively model his clothing range. In the late 1890s Lady Duff Gordon recruited a number of tall statuesque women to model her Lucille brand of clothing in a series of fashion parades. And in the early 1900s, Jeanne Paquinn became the first designer to send her models to public events, and, with Paul Poiret, organized fashion parades featuring their own studio models throughout Europe and the United States.
In the early 20th century, Paris was the leading center for fashion design and French designers were warming to the creative potential for Fashion Photography. By 1910, Jules, Louis, and Henry Seeberger, who had begun their business as postcard photographers, started to publish portraits of aristocratic and fashionable women in prominent French journals. Around the same time, Lucien Vogel, who had founded two new fashion-oriented publications, La Gazette du Bon Ton and Les Jardin des Mode, challenged the fine art photographer Edward Steichen to bring his creativity to fashion photography. Steichen rose to the challenge and in 1911 he took thirteen images featuring Paul Poiret's fashion designs for the Art et Decoration magazine. As photographic historian Jesse Alexander noted, Steichen's intervention is "now considered to be the first ever modern photography shoot. That is, photographing the garments in such a way as to convey a sense of their physical quality as well as their formal appearance, as opposed to simply illustrating the object."
The Rise of the Fashion Magazine
The history of the fashion magazine predates the 20th century. A potential prototype for fashion illustrations began as early as the 17th century, when, in 1672, Jean Donneau de Vise founded Le Mercure galante. Publications like The Lady's Magazine, which published in Britain between 1770 and 1818, also included fashion illustrations. In France, 19th century publications like Le Costume Francais and Journal des Dames et des Mondes carried fashion illustrations too but these relied upon hand-colored engravings for their effect. With its debut in 1867, Harper's Bazaar became the first American fashion magazine, and Vogue followed soon after in 1892. Their emergence coincided with technological advancements that made it possible to reproduce photographs, and by 1890 new printing techniques allowed for text and photograph to appear on the same page. This development boosted the popularity of fashion magazines and radically transformed the format of the leading women's magazines. Indeed, by the early 20th century, and with the beginnings of proper of modern photography, Vogue emerged as the leading fashion publication with Harper's Bazaar positioned as its leading rival.
Vogue and Condé Nast
It was, above all else, inspired leadership that informed the rise of the modern fashion magazine. In 1905 Condé Nast bought Vogue and Vanity Fair and directed the magazines toward a greater emphasis on women's fashion and photography. He introduced inspired innovations such as the two-page spread and, later on, color photography. Nast also appointed Baron Adolph de Meyer, a photographer renowned for his celebrity photographs, as the first Vogue head photographer. Depicting glamorous women in compositions that emphasized mood and atmosphere, de Meyer set the aesthetic standard for the magazine. However, it was the appointment of Steichen in 1923 as house photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair, a post he held for the next fifteen years, that defined both magazines' visual style. Employing the sharp focus of Straight Photography, he created an indelible image of what it was to be a chic, contemporary, woman.
Harper's Bazaar and Carmel Snow
Harper's Bazaar became a distinctive and pioneering fashion influence in the 1930s. Vogue's fashion editor Carmel Snow left Vogue for Harper's in 1932. A huge personality - she was rumored to hardly ever eat or sleep and functioned on a daily "three-martini-lunch" habit - Snow took to the task of reinventing the magazine. Viewing it as a reference "for well-dressed women with well-dressed minds," she created a distinctive American look. In 1933 she hired the Hungarian photojournalist Martin Munkacsi to shoot the swimwear "Palm Beach" issue. Munkacsi photographed Lucile Brokaw running along Piping Rock beach on Long Island and, as Harper's critic Stephen Mooallem noted, the action shot that resulted "would turn out to be a defining one for Bazaar [and soon] Bazaar was filled with images of women in motion and in the world."
Taking over as editor-in-chief in 1934, Snow hired a dynamic team that turned the magazine into a global force. Renowned as a model and social trendsetter, Diana Vreeland, became the head of fashion, and Alexey Brodovitch became the magazine's art director. A Russian émigré, Brodovitch had worked as a graphic designer and theatrical designer for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, and his bold dynamic designs reflected a modernist aesthetic. Louise Dahl-Wolfe became the head photographer; her color cover images of models in sun-drenched outdoor settings reflected the independent and active modern woman. As fashion critic Charlotte Cowles wrote, Dahl-Wolfe "and her eagle-eyed, Russian-born art director [Brodovitch] were both itching to banish the stodgy black-and-white society portraits that still dominated the burgeoning world of fashion photography. Instead they wanted the images to match their vision for the modern, liberated woman - one who worked, travelled, danced, drank champagne, and lived with such vitality that she'd leap off the page." The team transformed fashion photography for the next two decades, until Louise Dahl-Wolfe left the magazine in 1958 and Vreeland moved to Vogue in 1962 where she became editor-in-chief until 1971.
The Post War Revival
Following the "make do and mend" attitude that took hold during World War II, designers consciously attempt to re-embrace femininity and glamour and to revive France's fashion industry. Financed by Marcel Broussac, a clothing and textile manufacturer, Christian Dior launched a new spring/summer collection in 1947, intended as he said, "to bring back beauty, feminine clothing, soft rounded shapes and full flowing skirts."
Dubbed the "New Look" by Harper's chief Carmel Snow, the feminine "rebranding" reached its apex a decade later with the Hollywood musical Funny Face (1957). The film starred Audrey Hepburn as a bookish modern woman (she prefers to dress in black slacks and sweater) who travels to the jazz clubs of Montmartre in search of philosophical conversation with the father of Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre. She doesn't meet Sartre but becomes involved with a fashion photographer, played by Fred Astaire. He slowly "re-feminizes" Hepburn (she of the "funny face"!) who he photographs in a series of fashion shoots in the shadow of Paris's most famous landmarks. Astaire's character was modelled on Richard Avedon who also worked as advisor and photographer on the film (and photographed Hepburn for the film's iconic poster) while the fashion editor, played by a flamboyant Kay Thompson, was modelled explicitly on Diana Vreeland. Givenchy's designs also played a leading role in the film's "New Look" leading critic Pamela Hutchinson to describe Funny Face as "nothing if not a fashion show." The film's musical centrepiece "Think Pink" (sung by Thompson) features the following lyric:
Red is dead, blue is through,
Green's obscene, brown's taboo
And there is not the slightest excuse for plum or puce
Think pink! forget that Dior says black and rust
Think pink! who cares if the New Look has no bust
Now, I wouldn't presume to tell a woman
what a woman oughtta think,
But tell her if she's gotta think, think pink!
It was Dior (rather than Givenchy) that became the leading fashion house and contributed most to the revitalization of Paris as the world center for fashion. The Dior look became so iconic in fact that it has continued to influence later designers including Miuccia Prada, Vivienne Westwood, Thom Browne, and Alexander McQueen. Yet, at the time, the "New Look" was criticized by some women who found the corseted look and its emphasis on male definitions of femininity as repressive. Coco Chanel was amongst those critics: "Only a man who never was intimate with a woman could design something that uncomfortable" she complained.
The post-war era also saw the emergence of leading women fashion photographers, most notably Lillian Bassman. Beginning her career as an assistant to Alexey Brodovitch, Bassman became art director for Harper's where she was an important mentor to Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, and Paul Himmel. Turning to fashion photography in 1947, she experimented in the darkroom, using bleach and burn techniques, and printing through unusual materials to create photographs that were, as art historian Lisa Hostetler noted, "memorable for their emotional atmosphere, impressionistic mood, and subtlety of intimate gestures." Bassman's individualistic approach often clashed with fashion's commercial purposes, however, and Carmel Snow felt compelled to remind her employee that "You are not here to make art, you are here to show the buttons and bows." (Bassman was to leave fashion for fine art photography by the 1970s, though her work has endured through several monographs and retrospectives including one in Hamburg, Germany in 2009.)
Concepts and Trends
Fashion and the City
In 1947, having arrived in Paris to photograph Dior's "New Look," Richard Avedon's photography took a dramatic turn toward a photojournalistic approach, as he henceforward photographed models on city streets and against skyline backdrops. As art critic Colin McDowell described it, Avedon "broke away from the decades-old traditional way of photographing fashion [...] His photographs were about action. What [he] did was to introduce movement to some of the most formal clothes in the world and to give them a spirit that made them exciting for young women - a first in formal couture [...] It is no exaggeration to claim that it was Avedon who matched Dior's masterstroke with his own masterstroke which was to make visible the possibilities of the new way of dressing. And he did so by Americanising its presentation."
The photojournalistic approach, which emphasized dynamism and spontaneity (over studio portraiture), was enthusiastically promoted by Alexander Liberman, art director at Vogue, and Alexey Brodovitch at Harper's. Photojournalism dominated fashion photography in the 1950s and was even mimicked in Funny Face (under Avedon's advice). Martin Munkacsi, the Hungarian photojournalist who turned fashion photographer for Harper's in the 1930s, influenced Avedon's innovative approach. In his essay "Think While You Shoot" (1935) Munkacsi had written, "Never pose your subjects. Let them move about naturally. All great photographs today are snapshots." And as art critic Colin McDowell added, by introducing "movement to some of the most formal clothes in the world," Avedon had "made them exciting for young women."
The Swinging Sixties
In the 1960s fashion became less formal, as youth culture demanded a "hip" and "trendy" look. Sixties fashions employed new materials, bold colors, and styles that emphasized the liberation of the body. In London, three iconoclastic fashion photographers from working-class backgrounds: David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy -dubbed the "Black Trinity" by photographer Norman Parkinson - pioneered the "Swinging London" look. The three men became the first celebrity fashion photographers. In particular, the "Swinging London" look took on international significance when Bailey's photographic feature 'New York: Young Idea goes West', starring the then unknown model Jean Shrimpton, appeared in Vogue in 1962. Shrimpton became in fact the first "supermodel," followed soon thereafter by Twiggy, Veruschka, and Penelope Tree. In the 1960s, new fashion trends included androgynous styles, unisex minimalistic designs, and hippy fashions, all reflecting the alternative, or counter culture, youth movement that was in the ascendance. The British magazines Queen, emphasizing the celebrities and fashion of "Swinging London," and Nova, combining innovative fashion with social issues for the "liberated woman," became trend-setting publications.
David Bailey's swaggering London East End persona was fictionalized in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966). Just as Funny Face had captured the zeitgeist of the 1950s fashion magazine, so the "X-rated" Blow-Up encapsulated the mood of freedom and promiscuity that characterized the London fashion scene during the sixties. The film is focused on a hedonistic young fashion photographer (played by David Hemings) and the personal and professional relationships he shares with his models. Featuring a Hitchcockian subplot (Hemings might have inadvertently photographed a dead body on one of his location shoots, which only becomes visible once his image is "blown-up" in his darkroom), Blow-Up drew praise and criticism in equal measure for its artistry and a new youth sensibility that allowed for nudity and scenes of fornication. In America, indeed, Blow-Up opened without the approval of the Production Code Administration and with a "C" rating ("condemned for Roman Catholic viewers") from the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures (neither of which, incidentally, prevented the film from becoming a cultural event and a box office hit).
From its earliest beginnings, fashion photography has been closely linked with celebrity portraiture. That trend kept pace with the rise of silent movies in the early 20th century (sound arrived in 1927) and fashion photographers often took images of silent film stars, as exemplified by Edward Steichen's famous 1924 portrait of Gloria Swanson for Vanity Fair. Aristocratic women and social movers and shakers also modelled for the camera, as exemplified in Man Ray's equally iconic 1924 portrait of the art collector and socialite Peggy Guggenheim. Images of public figures went some way to promote fashion as an aesthetic pursuit and helped focus fan and consumer attention on designer garments and accessories.
Indeed, the fashion industry has enjoyed a reciprocal relationship with the entertainment and art industries. For instance, the photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe is credited with discovering Lauren Bacall who was offered her first screen test after appearing in Dahl-Wolfe's cover shot for Harper's Bazaar. And in the 1950s, Hubert de Givenchy, then still relatively unknown, designed Audrey Hepburn's wardrobe for the film Sabrina (1954). Since the sixties, Fashion Photography has turned its attention towards pop musicians, as seen, for instance, in Annie Leibovitz's photograph Untitled (Yoko Ono; John Lennon) (1980) and Stephen Meisel's extensive working relationship with Madonna that began with her album Like a Virgin (1984).
Celebrity culture also gave rise to the birth of the supermodel. Though the idea of a "super" model can in fact be traced back to Lisa Fonssagrives whose career began in the 1930, it is generally understood to be a more modern phenomenon initiated by the likes of Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy in the sixties. Peter Lindbergh's British Vogue cover image in 1990, that brought together Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Tatiana Patitz, and Christy Turlington, had such an impact on the public that the models became known collectively as "The Big Five". Male supermodels appeared during the 1980s with Markus Schenkenberg often cited as the first. He was soon joined by Mark Wahlberg, Joel West, John Pearson, and Renauld White, while more recently fashion magazines have made stars of androgynous and transgender models, including Andreja Pejic and Valentina Sampaio.
While the fashion industry has provided rich source material for commercial cinema, a rather more complex relationship has existed between fashion photography and experimental cinema (to which the fashion industry came relatively late). Erwin Blumenfeld, a German Dada artist who began working as a fashion photographer in the late 1930s, was an early pioneer of the fashion film, though his efforts made little wider impact. He made a series of short films, named Beauty in Motion (1958-64), and promoted them to his clients Helena Rubinstein and Estée Lauder who rejected them as being too experimental. Subsequently, Richard Avedon, whose interest in movement was influenced by commercial cinema, and Guy Bourdin had both explored the grainy quality of Super 8 film. While the experimentations informed their photographic stills, they were not meant to be viewed by the general public and became known only much later in archival collections (such as the 2002 collection Compulsive Viewing: the Films of Guy Bourdin).
Working on the maxim "clothes are made to be seen in movement," Nick Knight has been dubbed the "father" of the fashion film. In 2000 he founded SHOWstudio.com, the first site to promote fashion film. SHOWstudio.com has had an industry wide impact, with Prada, Dazed (& Digital), and Vogue all developing video and digital sites for fashion film. Knight explained the late rise of fashion film by noting a quality that is at odds with traditional film-making: "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 [...] 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."
Since the mid-1980s, leading fashion houses have also moved into television and film commercials using renowned film directors - or "Auteur" - to bring their products to life on screen. Martin Scorsese has worked for Armani, David Lynch for Gucci, Sophia Coppola for Marni x H&M, Spike Jonze for Gap, and Wes Anderson for Prada. In contemporary fashion, leading designers, including Prada, LV, Moschino, Chloe, Max Mara, Y-3, Givenchy, and Massimo Dutti have used cutting edge videography to create television and online commercials that allude to the history of the experimental art film. This development was perfectly illustrated in 2010 when Lynch wrote and directed Lady Blue Shanghai, an enigmatic "17-minute advertising event" starring the sophisticated French actress Marion Cotillard. The film was commissioned with the goal of launching the new Christian Dior website and Lynch had agreed to the project because it had allowed him to opportunity work in "a new advertising genre devoid of heavy handed-branding." For his part, John Galliano (who "inspired" the film) had chosen Lynch because his surrealistic sensibility brought "the style, the mystery, the suspense" to the Dior brand.
Connection to Modern Art
Always attuned to the leading trends in the art world (it can be argued that Steichen's Straight Photography and Man Ray's Surrealism established the look of fashion photography in the 1920s and 1930s) the fashion world has been most strongly influenced by Surrealism and Pop Art. Vogue featured the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico and Salvador Dali, along with a series of Man Ray's rayographs published in the early 1920s. Photographers including Cecil Beaton, George Hoyningen-Huene, and Horst P. Horst also explored Surrealistic treatments well into the late 1930s. However, the avant-gardist component often conflicted with the commercial needs of Fashion Photography, as in 1938 when Vogue editor Edna Woolman Chase directed her photographic staff thus: "Concentrate completely on showing the dress, light it for this purpose and if that can't be done with art then art be damned. Show the dress."
Despite their conflicts of commercial interest, art movements continued to inform the fashion world, and fashion photographers often drew upon the avant-garde for inspiration. In the post war era, for instance, photographers like Irving Penn and Erwin Blumenfeld reflected an emphasis on simplification and abstraction, as seen in Penn's Black & White Cover (Jean Patchett) (1950), and Blumenfeld's "doe eye" 1950 cover for Vogue where Patchett's face is evoked with a single glamorous eye, red lips, and a beauty mark.
It was Pop Art, however, that had the widest ranging impact on the fashion world. Coinciding with the rise of 1960s youth culture, Pop Art's brash colors and its emphasis on glamourous consumer culture influenced contemporary fashion design and photography with the likes of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein providing potent inspiration. At the same time, the fashion industry has influenced some art movements including the Fourteenth Street School whose images of middle-class women shoppers from the 1920s to the 1940s was influenced by the concept of the "New Woman" as promoted by Harper's Bazaar and fuelled by the rise of the department store. Later, fashion photography's preoccupation with celebrity culture and its glamorous depictions of consumer culture informed Pop Art as demonstrated in Warhol's many images of Marilyn Monroe. More recently, Barbara Kruger's Conceptual work appropriated images taken from fashion magazines to create a feminist critique of consumerism, as seen, for instance, in her iconic I shop therefore I am (1990).
Later Developments - After Fashion Photography
Combining features on fashion, music and contemporary culture, the 1980s saw the emergence of the so-called "New Style" publication. In 1980 Terry Jones, a former art director at Vogue, launched i-D magazine, a bi-monthly that was hand-stapled and written in typewritten (Courier) text. The magazine was designed to resemble a fanzine and its content placed emphasis on youth culture and street style. For its fashion features, i-D favored non-professional models and alternative takes on street fashion. Photographer Steve Johnson played a pioneering role, as he developed what became known as "straight up" photography, a shooting style that showed the model in full (head-to-toe).
i-D and magazines like it duly influenced the "grunge style" of the 1990s "and promoted what became dubbed later as "heroin chic." The term "heroin chic" - models were thin to the point of emaciation with pale skin and dark-circled eyes - was attached initially to the "anti-supermodel" Kate Moss who came to symbolize the look. In 1992 Moss signed with Calvin Klein, appearing in a series of underwear (including a topless pairing with a young Mark Wahlberg) and perfume advertisements. The Klein campaign, as well as a photo spread for British Vogue shot by Corinne Day, caused public uproar and Moss (and the fashion industry generally) was held to account by the media for celebrating dangerously unhealthy lifestyle choices. Day, and others including David Sims and Jason Evans, subsequently adopted a more documentary approach to their Fashion Photography.
Disillusioned with his photography course at the London College of Printing, Rankin, with his friend Jefferson Hack, started their own campus youth magazine, Dazed and Confused (later just Dazed) in 1991. The magazine was promoted on the London nightclub scene and quickly became a cult reference for emerging artists working in the fields of fashion, music, photography, literature and design. Over the years, Dazed has also helped promote humanitarian causes and has covered issues ranging from the AIDS crisis in South Africa, Islamophobia, climate change, breast cancer awareness and LGBT rights. For his part, Rankin has gone to become one of the world's most famous portraitist and has shot the worlds top models as well as personalities and VIPs ranging from Queen Elizabeth II to Tony Blair; Madonna to The Rolling Stones; Jay-Z to Kendall Jenner; Mikhail Gorbachev to Britney Spears.
The fashion industry is not immune to world events and has had to respond to ethical concerns in first decades of the 21st century. The use of sweatshop labor or prison factories in Southern Asia, and the environmental effects of the manufacturing process, for instance, has initiated a shift in emphasis towards a more diverse representation and working to promote greater social awareness. However, Fashion Photography has never lost sight of the time-honored maxim sex and controversy (both at once, ideally) "sells". In 2003 Mario Testino's advertisement for Gucci was much less about the clothing and more about publicity with the Gucci "G" provocatively shaved into the pubic hair of a female model.
Celebrity endorsement has also continued to be a driving force for the industry. In 2003 the actress Winona Ryder was arrested for shoplifting in a Saks department store in Beverly Hills. Ryder arrived for her court hearing bedecked in a Marc Jacobs dress. Seizing on a publicity opportunity, Jacobs duly hired Ryder who was photographed by Juergen Teller in a somewhat playful and irreverent photoshoot. Indeed, fashion houses are alert to the wide allure of rebellious and "troubled" spirits with Miley Cyrus working for Marc Jacobs, Lady Gaga for Versace and Lindsay Lohan for Miu Miu.
Current advertising campaigns have also tapped into the yearning for nostalgia with Julia Roberts (Givenchy), Madonna (Versace), and Mila Kunis (Miss Dior) all featuring in retro-styled monotone shoots.
The most profound shift for the fashion magazine has come in the way Fashion Photography is now consumed. With the rise of Instagram and fashion blogs, the industry has had to adopt new strategies. Indeed, some Fashion Photography may not even find its way onto a printed magazine page at all. As the idea that images can be consumed, "liked" and "retweeted" so the rise of "lookbooks" - which are cheaper to produce and distribute - had come to dominate digital mediums. Seen by many as a new democracy in what has been regarded as an elitist industry, others see these technological developments as bringing about the demise of the fashion industry's long and proud avant-gardist heritage.
Useful Resources on Fashion Photography
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