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Fashion Photography

Fashion Photography Collage

Started: 1850

Ended: Present

"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."

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Summary

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

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.
Fashion Photography Image

Beginnings:

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.

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