For many people, fashion is a part of life, a way of life, and even a basis of life itself. The importance of the fashion industry is noted in culture and evident in films like The Devil Wears Prada and primetime television events like the Victoria Secret runway show. Fashion also graces the pages of every notable fashion magazine for men and women from Harper’s Bazaar and GQ to Red Book and Maxim. It is through photography that the essence of fashion is captured, displayed and viewed by millions of people.
For over a century, photographers have been behind the lens bringing the visions of designers to life and giving their designs a concrete, visual meaning. The evolution of fashion photography shares much of the same time line as all other photography genres but fashion photography is quite possibly the most notable of all genres.
Photography has existed since the 1830s but it wasn’t until the mid-1850s that any sort of photographic technology was available that made photographs suitable for mass printing. There are several photographs in existence from the early 1860s that depict countesses and other noble women in their court garb which reflects the early concepts of fashion photography; however, it wasn’t until 1892 that a platform for distributing fashion images first emerged.
Known worldwide as possibly the most notable source of fashion photography, Vogue magazine is iconic in its representation of the fashion industry. Founded by Arthur Baldwin Turnure in 1892 and then globalized by Conde Nast who took over in 1909, Vogue unites the fashion industry and has been home to hundreds of fashion photographers. Oddly enough, Vogue utilized illustrated covers for four decades until the first photographed cover appeared in 1932 featuring a woman in a red bathing suit holding a beach ball. After this debut, the magazine reverted back to primarily illustrated covers until 1940 when photographs became the norm.
Throughout the 1950s, fashion photography began to grow and more platforms became available to showcase fashion. This brought fashion to the masses and it became a matter of importance for not just the wealthy or well-to-do; it began to grow the fashion conscience of the average woman. Fashion photographers like Helmut Neustadter, also known as Newton, and Richard Avedon were in their prime.
As the times changed, so did fashion. Women began to gain a sense of purpose and independence and the 1970s was an era of the “every woman” who sought to keep up with the latest fashion trends. Reserved as a concern and interest primarily of women, men’s fashion photography began to grow during this time as well. Since then, fashion photography has provided a medium for everyone to catch glimpses of styles for men and women from around the globe.
With the growing acceptance and evolution of fashion, photographic technology also advanced, making it possible for photographers to capture the very essence of a design and quickly bring it to the public. Today’s digital photography methods and features make it possible for a designer to have hundreds of images from a single photo shoot instantly ready to view and use. This has also allowed for creativity to exceed the imagination of photographers from only a few decades past. When the creativity of the designer melds with the creativity of the photographer, a true piece of art is created as evidenced today on hundreds of different fashion magazine covers, billboards, catalogs and ads.
Having come a long way from mere illustrations and stoic, black and white photographs, today’s fashion photography images are vibrant, colorful, no holds barred depictions of designers’ visions and their photographers’ interpretations. Images are created that inspire, provocate, and seduce the mind and senses. Fashion and art photographers must learn to push the boundaries to keep ideas fresh and achieve what has never been done before. After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words, who wants to hear the same words over and over?
Once reserved for select parts of the world like Europe and America, now no one is immune to the power of fashion and photography is the catalyst for people everywhere to be inspired to express themselves. As the industry continues to grow, niche markets open up, and trends evolve to span the current social, economic and political gaps, fashion photography is poised to create a different kind of evolution.