History of Fashion Photography

Today here at Clapaham Studios, we will go back to the roots of Fashion Photography. We will make this a Fashion Month, due to the Fashion Weeks happening and purely because we like fashion.


The Birth of Fashion Photography:

Fashion Photography started to be known thanks to the rise of fashion magazines, such as Harper Bazar  (1867) and Vogue (1892) , which used photography to present clothes to the large public of readers.

Vogue , in particular , launched some of the greatest fashion photographers : first of all Adolphe De Meyer , who is also considered  the first fashion photographer. From this time till the end of the 30′ Paris remained the center of fashion and fashion photography. The French city attracted some of the most famous fashion photographers of the time , mostly coming from Germany , such as and George Hoyningen-Huene , both working at Vogue.

In the mid-1930s as World War II approached, the focus shifted to the United States, where Vogue and Harper’s continued their old rivalry. In 1936, Martin Munkacsi made the first photographs of models in sporty poses at the beach. Under the artistic direction of Alexey Brodovitch, Harper’s Bazaar quickly introduced this new style into its magazine.
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 revolutionised 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.

From 1939 and onward, what had previously been the flourishing and sizeable industry of fashion photography all but stopped due to the beginnings of World War II. The United States and Europe quickly diverged from one another. What had previously been a togetherness and inspired working relationship divulged as Paris was occupied and London under siege. Paris, the main fashion-power house of the time quickly became isolated from the United States—especially with French Vogue shutting down for a brief hiatus in 1940.With these changes, the photography based out of the USA gained a distinct Americana vibe—models often posed with flags, American brand cars, and generally just fulfilling the American ideal. What did remain of the French and British fashion photography on the other hand often had a wartime overlay to the content. Cecil Beaton’s ‘Fashion is Indestructible’ from 1945 displays a well-dressed woman viewing the rubble that once was Middle Temple in London. Similarly, Lee Miller began taking photos of women in Paris and London, modelling the latest designs for gas masks and bicycling with pin-curlers in their hair, as they did not have electricity with which to curl their hair. Images such as these remain scarred into the face of fashion photography of the time and display a common sentiment among the fashionable world and the public. Even fashion photographers worked to document the issues surrounding and work towards a documentation of the time—even if within the frame of fashion. These photos are an especially good indication of the fashionable emotions of the time. Many felt that fashion photography, during wartime especially, was frivolous and unnecessary. Yet, the few who worked to preserve the industry did so in new and inventive ways throughout the duration of the war.

Fashion photography
Dolores by Adolph De Meyer
Fashion photography
Vogue Cover by Horst P. Horst


The Rise of Fashion Photographers

In the early years there were appearing other important names in the world of fashion photography,such as Edward Steichen and Cecil Beaton.

Edward Steichen was born in Lussemburgo and emigrated in the United States , where he began to work, becoming the director of the MoMA in New York. In 1928 he also immortalised Greta Garbo , making one of his most famous photographs , which appeared in the 1955 cover of the magazine ”Life”. Cecil Beaton was born in London, but he also moved to New York , where he worked for magazines such as Vanity Fair and Vogue. In 1964 he also won an Oscar for Audrey Hepburn’s costumes of the movie ”My fair lady”. As noticed , more and more fashion photographers were moving to New York so that the centre of fashion moved from Paris to the American city. Big names found their fame in the big apple : for example the Hungarian photographer Martin Mukancsi. He is reminded because he was the first to introduce movement in fashion photography which , till that time , was made up of stereotyped poses.

Fashion photography
Audrey Hepburn by Cecil Beaton
Fashion photography
Marlene Dietrich by Edward Steichen



After the second world war, fashion had a great recovery and in the world of fashion photography appeared names such Irving Penn , Richard Avedon ,Norman Parkinson and many others. Norman Parkinson worked in London for Vogue and was the first to shoot outdoors, in the streets of his city. He is attributed the sentence: “A photographer without a magazine behind him is like a farmer without fields ”. Irving Penn became famous for his portraits such as those of his wife, the model Lisa Fonssagrives. He portrayed her in many takes, which became icons. His photographs are simply recognisable because he had a really classic style, in contrast to the experimental one of the avant-gardes of that time.


Fashion photography
Vogue by Irving Penn
Fashion photography
Tilly Tizzani by Richard Avedon
Fashion photography
Fashion study in the doorway by Norman Parkinson

One of Brodovitch’s early students at the Design Laboratory was Richard Avedon, who started his career in 1944 as an advertising photographer. Avedon quickly found a fan in Brodovitch, who spotted his talent and sent him to Paris in 1946 to cover the latest collections from the premier fashion houses. Young and full of energy, the images Avedon captured for Harper’s Bazaar represented a new direction for fashion photography.

Avedon’s style was all about one thing: movement. He replaced the static, lifeless poses of the Steichen era with photographs full of verve and vitality. He shunned the studio, preferring to work outdoors or on location. Capturing lively street scenes and bustling parties, his models were photographed in the moment, showcasing their natural femininity; the flowing clothes seemed somehow to be an elegant extension of their own bodies.

Going on, between the 1970-1980 the pret-a-porter exploded. Fashion became a real industry for a wider public and we assist to the multiplication of magazines and advertisings. The history of these years was marked by the work of Herb Ritts. He photographed Ck , Versace and Armani collections and he was even famous for his Richard Gere’s portraits. Another famous name of this time was the Italian photographer Gian Paolo Barbieri, who signed the first Vogue cover of the Italian edition , in 1965 , and made numerous campaign for Valentino, Armani, Ferrè and Versace.

In the ’90 explodes the shabby and minimalistic style. In America appeared the term ” heroin chic ” , which referred to the phenomenon of photographing pale and emaciated models. An example could be the Ck campaign with Kate Moss as protagonist and Mario Sorrenti as photographer.

Today the world of fashion photography is too wide to try to make a synthesis. Maybe we could divide it in two eaves : one more oriented to the commercial side, and the other one more interested in the artistic side. However the borders between art,fashion photography and commercials are fading .

The most important present fashion photographers are: Mario Testino, Oliviero Toscani , Annie Leibowitz ,Peter Lindberg and David Lachapelle.


Fashion photography
Cara Delavigne by Mario Testino
Fashion photography
Lady Gaga by Annie Leibowitz
Fashion photography
Couture Clash by Peter Lindberg

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