Fashion Photography - History and Concepts
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.