People considered fashion photography too commercial and vapid to be considered a form of art. However, several artists have tried to prove that this mindset is wrong while raising this form of photography to its legitimate form. Unfortunately, it is still taken for granted. Fashion photographers usually have the difficult task of capturing a brand, model, or publisher’s essence. While doing this, they also have to infuse their style and vision to make it unique. One cannot deny the influence fashion photographers have on the fashion industry. They can dictate what is fashionable, beautiful, or even scandalous with just a photo.
Over the last century, fashion photographers have worked tirelessly to establish themselves as a valid form of expression. Like good advertising, most recognizable and historical fashion campaigns became quite iconic like their brand. This is due to a photographer’s touch. A fashion photographer succinctly captures the spirit, aesthetic, and voice of a designer to add new context to the brand. Over the years, fashion photography has had movements defined by leading talents. Read on to understand the history of fashion photography and how it developed. This article covers how top photographers defined the fashion photography industry; let’s take a look.
Fashion Photography History: 1910 – 1934
Most people believe that Edward Steichen is the founding father of fashion photography. However, due to a dare from a friend, Edward decided to start promoting fashion through photography. He took several photographs of the gowns created by Paul Poiret, a famous French designer. These photographs were then published in a magazine. These photographs are considered the first set of fashion photographs.
Additionally, these photographs succinctly conveyed the outfits’ aesthetics, movement, and details. His style focused on the model and took a typical portraiture style. He also used lighting and carefully planned studio setups to draw attention to the cloth and give it an elegant look that was indicative of the period.
A crucial factor that also played a role in the development of modern fashion photography was in 19101 when Conde Nast purchased Vogue. He gave photographers like Cecil Beaton, Steichen, and Horst P. a platform to showcase their work to a broader audience. In 1913, Conde also launched Vanity Fair, and the two magazines competed with Harper’s Bazaar for many decades to become the leading magazine in America.
Steichen and Vogue gave fashion photography the blueprint to begin fashion advertising, and this became a trend in the years after. Steichen created his visual vocabulary during the 20s and 30s. This helped distill classic renaissance imagery with futurism to create something fresh and exciting. The use of lighting, models, and experimental studio methods was revolutionary, and his contemporaries duly followed in his footsteps. The impact of Steichen on fashion photography cannot be exaggerated.
Fashion Photography History: 1934 – 1944
Harper’s Bazaar lost the edge necessary to compete with Vogue and Vanity Fair for several years. However, things changed in 1934 when the magazine appointed Alexey Brodovitch as the new artistic director. In this role, he took Harper’s Bazaar down a new path that ultimately changed the magazine’s fortune and the future of fashion photography. He began by implementing radical layout concepts. He also used typography in unique ways and vividly approached imagery. By introducing a mix of innovation and elegance, Brodovitch brought Harper’s Bazaar back to the limelight and secured its future.
However, Brodovitch’s influence went beyond the pages of Harper’s Bazaar magazine. He began a course in 1933 called the Design Laboratory. This course was at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art, and he taught his students the full scope of modern graphic design principles. Some of the young photographers who took the course were Eve Arnold, Richard Avedon, and Irving Penn. These students shaped fashion photography in more ways in the following decades. By implementing his lessons, they extended his legacy into the future.
Fashion Photography History: 1944 – 1960
One cannot talk about this period without mentioning one of Brodovitch’s students, Richard Avedon. He began his career in 1944 when he got a position as an advertising photographer. Brodovitch spotted talent in Richard Avedon quite early and sent him to Paris in 1946 to cover new collections from the premier fashion houses. Avedon captured stellar images for Harper’s Bazaar that soon created a new direction for fashion photography.
His focus was on movement. He replaced the lifeless poses synonymous with the Steichen era with photographs full of vitality. He completely hated the studio and chose to work outdoors in a location. Avedon succinctly captured lively street scenes and lively parties. He captured his models at the moment and showcased their natural femininity.
One of his most famous works is Dovima with Elephants. This photo was of a model who upheld the former beauty standards of the haute couture while high fashion gravitated toward girls who looked like they lived next door. Avedon posed Dovima in front of Elephants, one of the biggest mammals. This strategy worked to highlight her dramatic feminism. In a way, the flowing clothes looked like an extension of their bodies.
His move set a new course for fashion photography as most photographers imitated his style. Motion became one of the hallmarks of the new direction. One of the photographers he inspired was Henry Clarke, who loved to use the city’s streets as a backdrop. Photographers could now breathe a new sense of life into their images by exploring the outdoors. The beauty of the models and their outfits could mirror the dynamism of the whole setting.
Fashion Photography History: 1960 – 1970
Avedon’s move signified a turning point for modern photography. A photographer, David Bailey, used this style to capture the exciting times of swinging London. His photo for the British Vogue had a youthful feel, although he used Avedon’s ideas. Nevertheless, some students of Brodovitch continued to stick to the studio traditions. Irving Penn’s cover for Vogue in April 1950 was quite famous. He set the tone and angles in opposition and got a dramatic yet tranquil result. Although his style was falling out of favor in the 1960s, Penn was able to change the face of fashion photography in a subtle and far-reaching way.
1970 – 1980: A Return to the Studio
Although capturing outdoor movements became the norm for many photographers, there was soon a return to the studio in the 70s. This was due to the works of Steichen, Penn, and Beaton. The new movement, however, used female nudity and surrealism. Richard Avedon was at the lead of this new wave. He signed a deal to move from Harper’s Bazaar to Vogue in 1966 and decided to return to the studio. His photoshoots for Versace in the 70s and 80s were quite inventive and exciting. They also portrayed a level of glamour and freedom. Although Avedon returned to the studio, his use of movement was present. However, there was an addition of confidence and vitality.
In contrast to Richard Avedon, Guy Bourdin, a Parisian photographer, relied entirely on sexual imagery. Most people criticized his methods, proclaiming that he reduced the female body to only erotic parts. According to critics, his method promoted violent and misogynistic views. However, his supporters argued that his approach created a unique brand of mysticism. His works in the 70s frequently portrayed women as controlled and weak. This was in complete opposition to contemporaries like Helmut and Avedon. However, few could deny that his imagery was quite captivating. He frequently used bright colors to stage sex and surrealism. His works significantly influenced modern photographers like Terry Richardson.
1980 – 2000: A Return to Commercialism
The 80s started a new trend for fashion photography as it introduced the age of commercialism. Commercialism had been somewhat dormant for many decades until it became alive in the 80s. Fashion’s appeal grew, with the middle class paying more attention to their garments. People also had more money available, and top fashion labels like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and more were quite happy to take it. One photograph that showed this was a campaign for Calvin Klein Jeans by 15-year-old Brook. This ad caught the public’s attention and made Calvin Klein’s jeans a favorite product overnight.
Another person who found more ways to increase demand for his services was Irving Penn, who teamed up with Issey Miyake, a Japanese designer, to create several breathtaking campaigns. With influence from Steichen’s approach, Penn mixed in his surreal tones and made Miyake’s design look large and embellished. In addition, he used the fabric’s pattern and the human body to show Miyake’s creation in a new way. Penn constantly pushed the relationship between photographer, product, and model more than anyone tried. However, he always stayed true to the studio and used his time to improve his lighting use.
The 90s came with many classic ads; labels consistently used sex and supermodels to link natural beauty and aspirational products. Calvin Klein was consistently at the forefront of the new movement. Another controversial campaign featured Kate Moss topless, sporting only the branded underwear.
2000 – Date: Hypersexuality
Sex sells. However, the 2000s brought about an age of hypersexuality as shocking as commercials. A man who continually used the flesh to advertise his products is Tom Ford. Terry Richardson shot his first fragrance campaign and blended sexual imagery with a stark flashbulb aesthetic. Another campaign from Tom Ford was in 2003, and he worked for Gucci. The ad drew a lot of attention as it was an image of a model who had the Gucci’ G’ shaved into her pubic hair. This was quite a bold move but turned out successful for the brand. Over the years, this has remained the norm and only seemed to develop with celebrity endorsements like Winona Ryder, Miley Cyrus, and many more.
Several celebrities followed the footsteps of Winona Ryder and carried out shoots with brands to further their campaigns. Most fashion houses favored strong females who had a rebellious and provocative spirit. However, despite the hypersexuality of modern fashion photography, some brands are returning to the glamour of choreographed black and white shots. This is obvious in Julia Robert’s shoot for Givenchy, Mila Kunis for Miss Dior, and Madonna for Versace.
Fashion photography has taken a wild turn over the decades. However, today it is considered high art fashion due to the influence of many notable fashion photographers over the years. The different ages marked a different movement in fashion photography history. Although many people believe fashion photography is not in its true form, others would argue that the current trend is a dumbing down of this art form that once had great historical significance.