Fashion Photography as a Rising Art Form

One of my recent obsessions has been fashion photographers. I’m at the point where I need to begin establishing my fashion “favorites” ; designers, photographers, icons, etc, so I began to hunt. There are so many amazing fashion photographers that have passed through the 20th century, but some have stood out to me more than others. Fashion photography has become a rising art form in its attempts to build a bridge between fashion and art.

Fashion photography has been around ever since the start of photography itself, dating back to the middle of the 19th century. Back then, it was only used to photograph nobility in their court dress. In fact, the first fashion model was Virginia Oldoini, a Tuscan noblewoman. At the turn of the 20th century, the rise of halftone printing allowed for fashion photographs to be printed in magazines. Fashion photography first showed up in French fashion magazines. The first photographs of couture gowns were done by photographer Edward Steichen, who was challenged by Lucien Vogel, the publisher of two different French magazines, to promote fashion as a fine art form. He took the gowns of Paul Poiret and photographed then, showing the physical appearance and conveyed their quality. The photos were published in 1911, thus giving birth to what we know today as fashion photography.

Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar were the two competing magazines during the 1920s and 1930s, eliciting the use of “house photographers” who specifically worked for the magazine. A couple of these were Horst P. Horst and Cecil Beaton who shaped the photography genre into an amazing art form.

Horst P. Horst, or just Horst, was a German-American photographer who was known for his photography of the Mainbocher corset. The corset was a silhouette developed by French designer Mainbocher in the 1930s, showing off the nipped in waist, defining the undefined silhouette of the 1930s. Additionally, Horst’s work shows interest in surrealism and ancient Greek ideals of beauty.

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The Mainbocher Corset, 1939 (imtheitgirl.com)

Cecil Beaton was an English photographer best known for his fashion photography and society portraits. He collaborated with Horst and George Hoyningen-Huene, both of who were working for French Vogue at the time. This exchange of ideas gave rise to the sophistication of fashion photography in the 1930s. His photographs have an air of mystery and romanticism to them as well as uncharted sophistication.

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Charles James’ ball gowns, 1948 (photosister.com)

A few of my personal favorite photographers right now are Lillian Bassman and Deborah Turbeville. Lillian Bassman was an American photographer who was known for her use of high contrasts between light and dark, the graininess of her photos and the angles at which the camera was placed. Her work almost looks as if it was stamped on the paper with ink. Her work is very glamorous and beautiful, she photographed in the middle of the 20th century.

Lillian-Bassman-Fantasy-on-the-Dance-Floor-Barbara-Mullen-Paris-194911
Actress Barbara Mullen, 1949 (blog.netrobe.com)

Deborah Turbeville was known for her transformation of fashion photography into avant-garde art. Her work was featured in various magazines and ad campaigns for many designers such as Valentino.  Her photos have a very haunting quality to them, but to the viewer, they have a dreamlike, melancholy essence to them.

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Valentino haute couture 2012 (rosaspinavintage.com)

Fashion photography is a growing genre today mainly because people love viewing something glamorous that is opposite of their own day-to-day lives. With the rise of street style blogs, fashion photography is happening all the time. We, as a society, have moved from high art to an all inclusive visual culture which has allowed fashion photography to be accepted among the art world. There are more photography shows showing at prestigious art museums such as the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, who is showing an exhibition next October of Irving Penn’s work. It is expected to draw a large amount of numbers due to the growing interest in the subject.

Fashion photography is valued more than ever in our society today because of the Internet and websites needing attention-grabbing content. The rise of the visual web plays a part, where we are instantly drawn more to images over text. Once the image catches our attention, we are more likely to read the article that follows. Therefore, our society has become image driven.

I personally think that fashion photography is quite a unique genre in that it takes clothing and makes then have their own personality. No fashion photographer is alike, focusing on different aspects of the photograph and wanting to convey different themes. It’s something that is on the rise and is slowly bridging the gap between art and fashion.

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