Fashion photography is a genre of photography devoted
to displaying clothing and other fashion items. Fashion photography
is most often conducted for advertisements or fashionmagazines such
as Vogue, Vanity Fair, or Allure. Over time, fashion photography has
developed its own aesthetic in which the clothes and fashions are
enhanced by the presence of exotic locations or accessories.
Photography was developed in the 1830s, but the earliest popular technique, the
daguerreotype, was unsuitable for mass printing. In 1856, Adolphe Braun
published a book containing 288 photographs of Virginia Oldoini, Countess di Castiglione,
a Tuscan noblewoman at the court of Napoleon III. The photos depict her in her
official court garb, making her the first fashion model.
In the first decade of the 20th century, advances in
halftone printing allowed fashion photographs to be featured
in magazines. Fashion photography made its first appearance in
French magazines such as La mode practique. In 1909, Condé Nast took
over Vogue magazine and also contributed to the beginnings of fashion
photography. In 1911, photographer Edward Steichen was “dared” by
Lucien Vogel, the publisher of Jardin des Modes and La Gazette du Bon Ton,
to promote fashion as a fine art by the use of photography. Steichen
then took photos of gowns designed by couturier Paul Poiret.
These photographs were published in the April 1911 issue of
the magazine Art et Décoration. According to Jesse Alexander,
This is “…now considered to be the first ever modern fashion
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.”
At this time, special emphasis was placed on staging the shots, a process
first developed by Baron Adolf de Meyer, who shot his models in natural
environments and poses. Vogue was followed by its rival, Harper’s Bazaar, and
the two companies were leaders in the field of fashion photography throughout
the 1920s and 1930s. House photographers such as Edward Steichen,
George Hoyningen-Huene, Horst P. Horst and Cecil Beaton transformed
the genre into an outstanding art form. Europe, and especially
Germany, was for a short time the leader
in fashion photography.
But now with that change in time every country has taken
considerable measures to promote the field of photography.
In the mid 1940s as World War II approached, the focus
shifted to the United States, where Vogue and Harper’s continued
their old rivalry. House photographers such as Irving Penn,
Martin Munkacsi, Richard Avedon, and Louise Dahl-Wolfe would
shape the look of fashion photography for the following decades.
Richard Avedon revolutionized fashion photography — and redefined
the role of the fashion photographer — in the post-World War II era
with his imaginative images of the modern woman. Today, his work is being
exhibited in the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, FL. This exhibition features
more than 200 works and spans Avedon’s entire career, including vintage
prints, contact sheets, and original magazines from Harper’s Bazaar,
Vogue and The New Yorker.
The artists abandoned their rigid forms for a much freer style. In 1936,
Martin Munkacsi made the first photographs of models in sporty poses at the beach.
Under the artistic direction of Alexey Brodovitch, the Harper’s
Bazaar quickly introduced this new style into its magazine.
In postwar London, John French pioneered a new form
of fashion photography suited to reproduction in
newsprint, involving where possible reflected
natural light and low contrast.
After the deaths of Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and Herb Ritts,
some of today’s most famous fashion photographers are Patrick Demarchelier, Steven Meisel,
Mario Testino, Peter Lindbergh and Annie Leibovitz.