Fashion photography is a genre that can be followed way back through history. It is a vast genre with many areas that can be classified as “fashion photography”. Famous fashion magazines such as Vogue have existed since 1892, giving an educated guess of how long fashion has been a published genre. Fashion photography is described and interpreted in many different ways by the audience. Nancy Hall Duncan said that the history of fashion photography is ‘a record of those photographs made to show or sell clothing or accessories… it is important as a record not only of fashion description and photographic style, but also of artistic influence, commercial impact, and social and cultural customs’. This tells us that his interpretation is that fashion photography can help with the study of history where by you can see the loop of fashion trends, influences of traditional photographers against contemporary, and the modernistic views within society compared to historical society. The photographer David Bailey described a fashion photograph simply as ‘a portrait of someone wearing a dress’, showing a more literal and simple view of the genre. However Irving Penn, the photographer who has worked the longest for Vogue magazine, saw his role as ‘selling dreams, not clothes’, giving fashion photography a more sincere and aspiring interpretation.
Here is a brief look at the history of fashion photography. In 1856, Adolphe Braun published a book of photos of Virginia Oldoini. The photos depict her in her official court garb, making her the first fashion model. During this era, lots of gowns were worn by women, showing wealth and richness. This was popular in fashion photography to try and sell the lifestyle of the models in the garments along with the product itself. This is a technique still used heavily in fashion and advertising photography today.
In 1881, Frederic Eugene Ives put a patent on the halftone printing process meaning that photographs could appear on the same page as text. The first fashion photographs appeared in 1892 in the French periodical La Mode Pratique. In 1909, Condé Nast took over Vogue magazine and also contributed to the beginnings of fashion photography.
In 1911, photographer Edward Steichen promoted fashion as a fine art by the use of photography due to a “dare” he was set. 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 which is apparently now considered to be the first ever fashion photography shoot. However this doesn’t mean Steichen invented fashion photography, just that he arguably created the template for modern fashion photographers.
During the 1920’s and 1930’s Harper’s Bazaar was released, another fashion magazine leading in the field of fashion photography. House photographers such as Edward Steichen, George Hoyningen-Huene, Horst P. Horst and Cecil Beaton transformed the genre into an art form.
In the 1920s, Sir Cecil Beaton was hired as a staff photographer for Vanity Fair and Vogue, where he became noticed for his unique style of posing sitters with unusual backgrounds. Beaton later became an award winning costume designer for the stage and big screen. Cecil Beaton is thought to be one of the most famous fashion photographers of all time, and his career spanned years. Up to this point, you can see that the genre of fashion is heavily dominated by male photographers and is also dominated by male designers, which is a consistent feature to the present day.
During the 1930’s, Britain seen the beginning of the Second World War and British Vogue was shut for one year which meant that the focus shifted from Europe to the US and new, modern photographers such as Irving Penn, Martin Munkacsi, Richard Avedon, and Louise Dahl-Wolfe were welcomed. During this time Lee Miller rose to fame as one of Vogue magazine’s most beautiful fashion models in 1927 and eventually evolved into one of its leading photographers in late 1939.
The 1950’s and 1960’s brought a new era for fashion photography. Celebrity endorsement was being used more heavily and the photographers became just as famous as the celebrities being shot in the images. This particular era came just after the end of the war which meant there were a lot of changes. The introduction of the mini skirt by Mary Quant saw a new movement in fashion and a fresh look. This was influenced by the inventing of the contraceptive pill, making women feel more confident about their bodies and sexual attractions. This era was also heavily influenced by music by such artists as The Beatles, and saw the “hippy” movement, promoting freedom and peace. All of these factors influenced fashion photography and gave it a new dynamic.
In 1960, David Bailey began photographing for British Vogue, and his fashion work and celebrity portraiture helped to give fashion photography a new layer. His work reflects the 1960’s British cultural trend of breaking down of the class barriers by injecting a ‘punk’ look his work.
The 1970’s saw the work of Helmut Newton who used provocative aesthetics and the androgynous look, which was something fresh on the fashion scene. This is something that is very regularly used in modern day fashion photography, and shows the modern society’s acceptance of LGBT and other frowned upon ideas from before. Another artist, Guy Bourdin, was famous for his editorial and advertising imagery and became a highpoint in late twentieth century fashion photography. His work took the basic function of the fashion photograph but added the rich and surreal lifestyle of which the audience desired. His work was very vibrant and eye-catching, giving it the selling point.
The 1980’s showed photographers such as Herb Ritts emerge. Ritts’s images portayed an idea of life in and around Los Angeles, again selling a life style with his work. He was famous for his more regular use of outdoor shoots with natural light, which made him stand out from the more common artificially lit images by most other photographers.
In the late 1980’s and 1990’s, Patrick Demarchelier became a prominent photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. Demarchelier’s shoot for Harper’s Bazaar in March 1993 broke down the formality of the fashion shoot by showing the set of which the shoot was held, giving it more of a small budget look which worked well. He has created historic campaigns for Louis Vuitton to Ralph Lauren and is commonly known for his use of black and white mixed with colour. During the late 1990’s, Corinne Day photographed a 15 year old Kate Moss, a model still working heavily in the fashion industry today. This was also the era of which models started to become painfully thin and saw the model become a stereotype of “size 0” women.
During the 00’s, we saw the rise of Tim Walker. Upon graduation in 1994, Walker worked as a freelance photographic assistant in London before moving to New York City. He returned to England and concentrated on portrait and documentary work for British newspapers. At the age of 25 he shot his first fashion story for Vogue, and has photographed for the British, Italian, and American editions, as well as W Magazine and LOVE Magazine ever since. His work shows a lot of historical influences, mostly work by Richard Avedon for whom he worked as a full time assistant at the start of his career. There is also links to the work of Cecil Beaton evident in his work.
As you can see, fashion photography has been around for decades and has seen so many photographers who have become famous in their own ways. Nick Knight is one of these. He was born in London in 1958. He studied photography at Bournemouth & Poole College of Art and Design, graduating with a distinction in 1982. By 1985, he had produced his first book, Skinheads, which won him the Designers and Art Directors Award for Best Book Cover and is still sold in large quantities 20 years on. This essentially helped to really launch his name and career. Knight quickly become known for his innovative photographic techniques and, in 1990, became Commissioning Picture Editor for i-D. In November 1993, Knight adapted techniques seen during the 1970’s, including ringflash photography. He was one of the first fashion photographers to use digital images and became famous for his style of photography as well as his photography itself. One of his experiments included the manipulation of Sophie Dahl’s body which appeared in i-D in 1997 explaining he ‘wanted to make her more curvy’. In 1998, Knight won headlines for his photograph of amputee Aimee Mullins for Dazed & Confused, which also featured other disabled models and a broken Victorian doll. He also chose to work with elderly models in a campaign for Levi’s. The idea of these shoots was because he felt “People shouldn’t be made to feel excluded from society because of their values, shape, sexuality, race, politics, beliefs: it is wrong,” This shows us that Knight used his work not only for promotional purposes, but for helping to make people who are “different” be more accepted by society and bring back the idea of models being anyone and not the stereotype created in the 90’s. This is something that is used more regularly in the modern day, and this could be because of the work of Knight who influenced these ideas.
Another traditional photographer famous from the early days of fashion photography is George Hoyningen-Heune. Huene “is remembered as one of the finest fashion photographers of the 1920s and 1930s.” [Ewing, W. (no date) George Hoyningen-Huene. Available at: http://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/fashion-history-eras/george-hoyningen-huene (Accessed: 16 October 2015).] He was born in 1900, in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was through the connection of his mother and sister that Huene was able to secure work making fashion sketches. Huene first put his drawing talents to work for Yteb, his sister’s dressmaking business, and by 1925 he worked for the French editions of Vogue and ended up establishing himself as the Chief of Photography. He then worked for Harper’s Bazaar in 1935. In 1931, Hoyningen-Huene first met Horst P. Horst, who went on to become his model, collaborator, and partner, and contributed work to both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar also. Huene also worked with other photographers such as Man Ray and Edward Steichen. In the mid-1940s Huene abandoned fashion photography. He famously greeted the young Richard Avedon with the words, “Too bad, Too late!” Huene was set on travel and he wanted to try new ways of earning a living. He taught photography at the Art Center School in Pasadena, California, experimented briefly with drugs and served as a colour coordinator for several filmmakers such as George Cukor. This helped Huene to become personally involved with the direction, filming, make-up, costume, decor, and other aspects of film making. Huene also played bit roles in movies and even tried making three films, but they were lost.
Huene was seen to be “an influential figure in the early world of fashion photography.” [Klein, F. (2010) Hoyningen-Huene – press release: Photographs. Available at: http://www.faheykleingallery.com/photographers/hoyningen-huene/press/photographs/hoyningen-huene_pr_photographs_frames.htm (Accessed: 16 October 2015).] His own work reflected a fascination with light, shade and classical forms. His partner Horst P. Horst produced similar images, mixing surreal with classical interpretations. Huene used inspiration from Greek sculpture to try and portray an elusive feminine ideal. He did this by making the models look tranquil and
monumental, and used Greek columns, temples, and statuary commonly in his imagery to try and achieve this. He was also known for posing models in drapey garments to follow the Greek theme. This helped to make the images irresistible to the women audience, and allowing them to believe this could be their lifestyle if wearing the clothes in the images. He became a leading fashion photographer, noted for his extraordinary use of light and stylish studio compositions, using shadows. Hoyningen was also one of the first photographers to take pictures of models from above, giving his composition more flare and perspective for the audience. His work was largely characterised by precision, harmony and elegance.
A more contemporary fashion photographer who’s work I discovered is Madame Peripetie. Madame Peripetie, who is actually called Sylwana Zybura, is a photographer and linguist based in Germany, working internationally on diverse art projects for various clients including Adobe, Selfridges, Topshop, Canon, Swarovski , Stella Artois, Hunger Magazine, Glamour, Binboa Vodka and Schon. Alongside her BA studies in photography at the University of Applied Sciences and Art, Dortmund, Germany, Zybura also collaborates with up-and-coming fashion designers and is experimenting with short stop-motion films. Her alter ego name is derived from the French term péripétie, meaning an unexpected occurrence or a sudden turn of events, which is one way of describing Zybura’s work. In her work she focuses on character design and its influence
on modern fashion photography. Madame Peripetie’s work explores the boundaries between fashion, sculpture and the human body, experimenting with various fabrics and patterns. She mixes high-fashion elements with abstract ideas, creating explosion of colour and texture in the images. In her work she is focusing mainly on the interaction between body, language and new media. Her inspirations include surrealism, Dadaism,
the era of the 80s and the British post punk scene, and the avant-garde theater of Robert Wilson who is a director, playwright and designer.
‘Dream Sequence’ is a book created by Peripetie which contains a series of portraits of imaginary characters, whose features are replaced by flowers or other objects and are wearing colourful garments. They show the cross overs between fashion, photography, performance and art. The book has won several awards and has been compiled for
costume designers, fashion stylists and everyone who is interested in character design and image building in general. The main inspiration for this book has evolved from surrealism and film, and tries to convey the concept of the beautiful and sublime. All the
models were shot in-camera with minimal retouching involved, using a dominantly in-camera process, meaning that the body painting, prosthetics, wigs, and unusual 3D make-up techniques were used in order to create the
images seen. Madame Peripetie’s approach is contemporary and futuristic. Her models are often seen using vibrant props designed to look like extraterrestrial armor. Rather than focusing on cliché poses like pouty lips and exposure of the body, Peripetie uses the body and garments to turn her subjects into unique and alien characters. The images are open-ended enough to keep the viewer guessing. She is quoted to say “if it can be imagined, it exists” [‘If it can be imagined, it exists’: The surreal photography of Madame Peripetie (2014) Available at: https://www.yatzer.com/if-it-can-be-imagined-it-exists-surreal-photography-madame-peripetie (Accessed: 16 October 2015).] showing that her idea is almost to bring her mind to life in the form of a photograph. When asked about the vision behind her dramatic compositions, Zybura answered “My world consists of many surreal and bizarre elements that keep coming back… the escapism and interdisciplinary hybrid-thinking have always been fascinating me. Saturated colours and dark spaces, fabulous costumes, uncanny characters, quirky stories and unexplainable ideas– these are the elements that keep hypnotizing me whenever I plan a new photographic project. A tiny bit of mysteriousness and abstruseness is very important.” [Char (2012) Madame Péripétie – elements of surrealism. Available at: http://zouchmagazine.com/madame-peripetie-elements-of-surrealism/#.Vi6KALfhDIU (Accessed: 16 October 2015).] Her work almost consists of creating surreal stories which come alive through the photograph and allow the audience to create the story behind the character, essentially leading them to want the product as every viewer will subconsciously create a story that is ideal to them, giving it a powerful and persuasive link back to the image.
There are many evident influences within Peripetie’s work, although these may be down to personal interpretation and tenuous links with little things that are unlikely to be intentional. However, when researching her work I discovered that she was influenced by Robert Wilson, the designer and playwright who also directs. His work is very rough as it is sketches and uses a lot of heavy lines. This is an evident feature used in Peripeties work particularly within her backgrounds of images. You can see the lines of paint in the background the same as the lines of charcoal drawn in Wilson’s designs. Although this may not be intentional, Wilson’s drawing of the leg with a red block (supposedly blood) reminded me very much of the image by Peripetie of the females fighting and you can see their muscles without skin. The red of blood is evident in both images and both give a sense of stretch and tension of muscle. The concept of both images indicates pain and suffering due to the damage to the ligaments.
Another tenuous link is between Peripetie and Guy Bourdin. The only thing I picked up on was the heavy sense of weirdness and surrealism in both photographers work, alongside the vibrancy and creativity behind it. This was particularly strong between the image of the lips in Peripetie’s image and the legs by Bourdin. They both de-humanise the characters as neither character has a face which the audience can relate to. The scale of the lips and the amount of legs in the Bourdin image create a dynamic composition which really questions the audience’s view on what reality is. This gives me personally a sense of terror as it creates a creepy atmosphere.
A final link that I found was between Peripetie and Miguel Vallinas, a Madrid based advertising photographer. His work which was in the ‘Segundas Pieles’ selection shows characters with heads of animals modelling fashion on human bodies. Although the work of Peripetie isn’t making the model have the face or body of an animal, she makes the model BECOME the animal by dressing them in animal like clothes (eg. Feathers as seen in the image to make a bird), but both photographers are equally giving the animals human properties, or dehumanising the person to be an animal – whichever way you interpret it.