From magazines to advertising posters, fashion photography is omnipresent in our society. This photographic genre is even found in art galleries and museums (Fashion Museum of the City of Paris).
The consecration of this photographic genre took place gradually. At first marginal, fashion photography developed thanks to the proliferation of fashion magazines and couture houses. This allowed specialist photographers to assert themselves throughout the 20th century. Nowadays, fashion photography has acquired its letters of nobility.
From the invention of photography to the present day, fashion photography has evolved. Indeed, under the guidance of photographers and artistic directors of fashion magazines, fashion photography has never ceased to renew itself.
Fashion photos are notably orchestrated according to contemporary social issues. They therefore represent the concerns running through society at a given time. This can be explained by the exposure enjoyed by fashion photos. With the primary goal of selling a product, fashion photography must reflect societal aspirations in order to get the public to adhere to the brand being promoted.
Thus, fashion photography is a genre of photography apart. Its commercial character makes it a discipline firmly anchored in its time. The making of these photos is also particularly aesthetic. Indeed, fashion photographers generally manage to impose a style of their own and thus reveal an artistic vision of the world. Fashion photography can therefore claim the status of a work of art.
Fashion photography is a genre of photography that appeared with the invention of photography in the 19th century. It is about capturing clothes or beauty accessories through photography. These are worn by models or personalities who put them forward.
The notion of "fashion" refers to the way of dressing in a specific place, at a given time. It refers to all clothing movements which are by nature changing. Fashion photographs capture these states and highlight the sartorial trends adopted by a society at a given time. In fact, fashion photos usually show the avant-garde of fashion. These are photographs that highlight the new trends to adopt, chosen by the couture houses.
Fashion photography is a particular genre of photography since it has a commercial vocation. Indeed, a fashion photograph aims to highlight a fashion product in order to encourage its sale. By original staging and involving models or stars, these photos should make the public want to buy an item. So these are not just photographs taken as part of an artistic project. These photographs must meet a commercial imperative. If the product does not sell well, the photograph has not served its purpose.
However, this does not prevent photographers from expressing themselves artistically and telling stories in their photographs.
Fashion photography is a special genre of photography whose history is closely linked to the development of fashion magazines.
With the invention of photography, neophytes began to capture women in their finery. However, this photographic genre remained marginal and did not experience strong exposure in the early days. At the end of the 19th century, the first fashion magazines such as Vogue or Harper’s Bazar appeared. However, these magazines with fairly broad content, primarily promote fashion illustrations.
With the development of these magazines at the beginning of the 20th century and their specialization in the field of fashion, photography began to appear there. The rise of fashion magazines was notably orchestrated by Condé Nast, who bought Vogue in 1909 and launched the English (1916) and French (1921) versions of this magazine. He also launched Vanity Fair in 1913 and in the 1930s bought the French magazine Jardin des Modes. The latter was a benchmark in the fashion industry until his death in 1997.
At this time, photographers emerged who managed to establish themselves as the big names in fashion photography. Adolf de MEYER (1868-1946) and more particularly Edward STEICHEN (1879-1973) are retained as the first.
Steichen described his photographs taken in 1911, of Paul Poiret’s dresses for Art et Decoration, as "the first fashion photographs". In 1923 he became the director of photography for the Condé Nast group. He instigated a modern vision of photography influenced by the Art Deco movement. He incorporated artificial light into his productions and established himself as one of the first famous fashion photographers.
Adolf MEYER is him the first photographer under contract of Vogue in 1913. His style is marked by luminous photographs, carried out in studio and featuring models in elegant decorations. In 1922, he became the chief photographer of Harper’s Bazaar.
In the 1920s and 1930s, fashion photography was influenced by popular artistic trends such as surrealism. Thus, the fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli worked with Dali and the photographs of Man Ray (1890-1976) found their way into fashion magazines. The latter is known for his quirky, theatrical and avant-garde style. He influenced many photographers such as George HOYNINGEN-HUENE (1900-1968) who joined Vogue Paris in 1926 after having been an illustrator for Condé Nast. The latter drew inspiration from ancient models for his compositions and proposed sophisticated staging.
In 1923, 15% of magazine advertising illustrations were photographs, up from 80% in 1933. The rise of this genre of photography coincided with the emergence of portable devices. These allowed natural, realistic photographs taken in outdoor settings. The photographs of Erwin BLUMENFELD (1897-1969), taken on the beams of the Eiffel Tower, are representative of this movement. These photos were published in May 1933.
During World War II, the English and American editions of Vogue continued to appear, while the French edition did not. Cecil BEATON even photographed for Vogue UK in 1941, a model parading through the ruins of London with the caption: "Fashion is indestructible".
Following the Second World War, French haute couture returned to the forefront. The actors of this revival are emerging couturiers like Christian Dior and his “New Look”, worn by new photographers like Irving PENN (1917-2009). Post-war fashion was voluptuous, elegant and colorful.
In the 1950s, fashion photography took a new turn. Photographers feel more free and want to represent a modern woman. For this, they explore the streets and do not hesitate to provoke. The work of Richard AVEDON (1923-2004) is representative of this period. His humorous and spectacular fashion photographs are offbeat. It offers surrealist scenes that strike and amuse the spectators.
In the 1960s, fashion changed, fashion photography followed. Haute couture is in decline in favor of affordable ready-to-wear. Fashion photography then becomes more accessible and simpler.
In the 1970s, Helmult NEWTON (1920-2004) and Guy BOURDIN (1928-1991) proposed a new form of fashion photography by exploring sexuality and provocation. They therefore photograph sensual women in sometimes exuberant scenes.
From the 1980s, the explosion of advertising and the rise of brands transformed the world of fashion. Indeed, it is they who will now model fashion photos and choose staging serving their sales. The artistic directors of the advertising agencies then orchestrated the photographic campaigns. Fashion photos must therefore represent society and reflect societal upheavals in order to gain the most customers.
Since the 1990s, editors of fashion magazines have established themselves as essential characters. They are the ones who now have the influence necessary to validate or reject collections and impose new photographers. Thus, Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue USA since 1988, notably encouraged the emergence of Patrick DEMARCHELIER and Peter LINDBERGH (1944-2019). The latter is often presented as one of the best fashion photographers in the world. His photographs with simple staging are humanistic and enhance natural beauty.
Likewise, Mario TESTINO raised the “chic porn” style to the top of fashion photography through his collaboration with Carine Roitfeld, then editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris.
The first color fashion photographs, published in a magazine, date from 1911. These are two photographs by Edward STEICHEN (1879-1973), illustrating an article on the fashion designer Paul Poiret.
However, despite the invention of color photography and its democratization at the end of the 19th century, the majority of fashion photographers worked in black and white.
Although color fashion photography developed throughout the 20th century, black and white photography continued to be adopted by many photographers. Nowadays, some photographers like Mario SORRENTI still juggle between monochrome photography and color photography. Indeed, the monochrome character of a photograph makes it timeless while refocusing the vision on the photographed model. In particular, it helps to highlight the skin texture of the models and to establish greater proximity with the viewer.
However, the monochrome photo has its limits since it does not allow to highlight the colors of the clothes.
Initially limited to a commercial vocation, fashion photography acquired its letters of nobility and can be found today in museums and art galleries. A fashion photograph, originally taken to sell a product, can therefore be considered a work of art. This consecration is due to several factors. The photographer must have acquired significant renown and the photography must be iconic.
The iconic character of a photograph can come from its historical value. Indeed, the first fashion photographs, taken by pioneers like Adolf de MEYER (1868-1946), were invaluable. These are the beginnings of this photographic genre which has grown steadily.
It can also come from the subversive nature of fashion photography. Indeed, the purpose of fashion photos is to sell a product. So photographers usually decide to portray current social trends in order to get audiences to buy into the brand image.
They can, however, choose a staging that goes against social expectations. This then allows photography to stand out and make people talk about it. Photographers can also choose provocation to provoke
Likewise, although the principle of fashion photography is commercial, photographers have the leisure to express an artistic vision. Thus, a photograph can become iconic because of its strong visual identity and its aesthetic power. These artistic photographs are constantly revolutionizing fashion photography. By telling stories in their staging, fashion photographers enable their photos to attain the status of work of art.
The models aim to enhance the product photographed. By wearing it, showing it off and highlighting it, they have to show it off.
The models chosen are generally models or well-known personalities. The latter intervene when they are the muses of a brand or a product. They must therefore take the stage in order to give better visibility to the current campaign.
Lisa Fonssagrives (1911-1992) is often cited as the first fashion photo model in history. During the 1930s major magazines and fashion photographers became involved in his services. Her most famous collaborations remain those made with Avedon, Parkinson or with her husband the photographer Irving Penn.
In the mid-1980s, the place of models in the fashion world was turned upside down by the arrival of the Supermodels. Indeed, a group of models composed of Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell gained unprecedented popularity that made them icons. To this group called “The Trinity” quickly joined other models such as Claudia Schiffer, Tatjana Patitz and Cindy Crawford. At this central Big Six was added at times Stephanie Seymour or Kate Moss. These supermodels then dominated magazine covers and photo shoots.
The novelty was that these models were practically better known than the fashion products for which they posed. They had acquired such fame that their mere presence in a fashion photograph gave international visibility to the garment photographed. Their poses then reached prices never before reached.
Several photographers like Steven MEISEL or Peter LINDBERGH (1944-2019) were the architects of this success.
This phenomenon faded at the end of the 90s. Indeed, the new models put forward had a more reserved and minimalist style. However, the starification of models will continue. Since then, models have acquired star status and fashion houses are breaking away from their presence in their campaigns.
Beyond their commercial strength, it is the influence of models and fashion designers on the public that has strengthened in recent years. By representing an aesthetic ideal, the body of the models is often seen as an absolute to be achieved. Fashion photography is the popular expression.