History of Fashion Photography

A Scripted Freelance Writer Writing Sample

The Beginning of an Era Many may believe that the history of fashion photography began when a culture fascinated by clothing collided with the invention of the camera. The result? The first photos of individuals wearing the latest fashion emerged. But perhaps more contributed to the evolution of fashion photography. For instance, when did photographers begin to focus on the artistic beauty of fashion--the wearing and modeling of stylish beautiful clothes? By studying fashion photography's history, one can learn the photographers, magazines, designers, and models who created a cultural movement that still exists today. In the court of Napoleon Bonaparte in France in 1856, the concept of fashion photography originated when Adolphe Braun published a book that featured the photographs of Virginia Oldoini. Known as Countess di Castiglione, Oldoini was a Tuscan noblewoman who posed wearing the fashion of the day and became the first model of her time. But it was not until the 1880s that American fashion design blossomed. Magazine publishing and the retail industry grew, as the fashion business matured, spawning international exchange of ideas and ready-to-wear lines. Early 20th Century One photographer important in fashion photography's history was the well-known Edward Jean Steichen from Luxembourg. He popularized the practice of photographing the same model on a variety of sets. In 1911, Steichen took the job of fashion photographer for ~'Art and Decoration,~' a magazine. His images drew attention to his models' glamor. Moreover, he developed studio lighting by incorporating side lights on the photography sets and became known as the inventor of the modern fashion photo shoot. Due to the progress of printing processes during the early 20th century, fashion magazines such as 'Vogue' and 'Harper's Bazaar' became capable of combining fashion photos with print. Accordingly, fashion illustrators who drew clothing lines for the magazines were replaced by fashion photographers. It was during this period that photographer, Man Ray, created a style based on the surrealistic ideals made famous by the great painter Salvador Dali. Surrealism was a cultural movement spawned in the early 1920s that contrasted the dreams of the subconscious with reality in strange imagery. By altering the lighting used in his photo shoots with models, Ray explored the individual's subconscious. Another practitioner of early fashion photography was Baron de Meyer, who was known as the 'Debussy of the Camera.' De Meyer used unique soft backlighting and complemented each model's sensuousness with formality. Further, he experimented with Art Nouveau style by making each model reflect fantasy elements. Men's fashions were just as popular during this period; however, the male models were not photographed as often as their counterparts. Mid-20th Century Following World War II, fashion photographers left behind their passion for classic lines and developed photography that focused on themes of uninhibited spontaneity and glamor​. Working with designers, photographers began collaborating with designers seeking to launch successful clothing lines. For instance, designer Christian Dior created a new look for his models in which the curve of the hip was accentuated with clothing that was tight at the waist and voluminous below. His 'New Look' was extremely popular in North America and abroad. By the 1960s, fashion photographers began to focus on free-flowing women's fashion that symbolized a freer culture. Also, clothing was bolder and brighter due to exciting, contrasting patterns and colorful designs. Who can forget the photos of the English model Twiggy in her short dresses? This change from classic to trendy was an inspiration for the hippies' look. Through the 1970s, photography of women's fashions emphasized femininity and sexuality. Then, the consumerism, or the promotion of increased purchases by consumers, of the '80s prompted a change in the photography methods fashion photographers used. Due to the mass marketing of ready-to-wear clothing in print, photographers spent less time on shoots. By the '90s, another shift occurred. Fashion photographers rejected consumerism and moved toward art and composition depicting the influence of impressionism. Impressionism is an artistic movement that emphasizes capturing visually a feeling about a moment. In doing so, the results of most magazine shoots showed models' unique qualities, while highlighting their beauty. In the New Millennium Due to the political and cultural turmoil of the beginning of the 21st century, many changes occurred in the profession of fashion photography. First, the interest in surrealism revived and photo shoots were designed to stress escapism. Then, a return to the use of super models and well-established models took place. Next, an emergence of new fashion models, including Gisele Bundchen, Chanel Iman, Natalia Vodianova, and Lara Stone, occurred, allowing the public to see a variety of looks rather than just the ideal. Still considered an art form, the fashion photography of today blends commercial and aesthetic art. Ellen von Unwerth, a former model herself, and Annie Leibovitz are two famous fashion photographers of the new millennium who photograph celebrities and models in ways that capture their unique essences. Besides 'Vogue' and 'Harper's Bazaar,' the magazines 'Elle,' 'Cosmopolitan,' 'Seventeen,' 'GQ,' 'W,' and 'Vanity Fair' display the best of today's fashion elites. In summary, fashion photography begins in the late 19th century with the work of Adolphe Braun, an early fashion photographer whose book containing Virginia Oldoini's photographs began a cultural movement. Edward Jean Steichen , a follower of Braun, and Man Ray, a devotee of Dali's surrealism, were also pioneers in the art and style of fashion photography used in the early 20th century. By the mid-20th century, fashion photography had been inextricably linked to the art of fashion design and designers like Christian Dior. From 1980s' consumerism to 1990s' impressionism, fashion photography continues to flourish as it focuses on diverse beauty in the new millennium.

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