Monday, January 10, 2011

The History of Fashion Photography

Cover Image by Sarah Moon 1973

In the scheme of art history, photography is a relatively new art form, having only been in existence since 1839. And although photographs of fashionable dress have existed since then, the emergence of photographs to sell clothing and accessories took another half century to develop. It wasn't until after the invention and application of the halftone printing process that fashion photography took off.  The purpose of fashion photography is to sell clothes, but today many fashion photographs seem to be about creating a story, evoking a mood or expressing a concept. The lines between art and fashion have been blurred.

The names of the great fashion photographers like Edward Steichen, Richard Avendon, Irving Penn and Helmut Newton are well known but there are others: Horst, Bresson, Blumenfeld, David Bailey, Bert Stern, Hiro, William Klein. But, the ones that I was most influenced by are both women:  Sarah Moon and Deborah Turbeville.

Unseen Versailles series by Deborah Turbeville circa 1980
These two women were born around the same time and were both involved in fashion before becoming photographers. Sarah Moon is a former model-turned-photographer and Deborah Turbeville is a former fashion-editor-turned-photographer.  Both use colour in a monochromatic way and create personal visions that are like day dreams. And both women create photographs that are exquisitely  beautiful.

Sarah Moon was born in 1941 in France and often captures her subjects in motion. The faces of her models are often blurred or their eyes are closed, rarely making eye contact. She has taken photographs for Cacharel, Chanel, Dior, Lacroix and other designers. Some of her recent series have included Frocks in Fantasy and The Shadows of Style.

In a 2008 interview with the UK Independent, Moon said "For me, photography is pure fiction even if it comes from life. I photograph people, of course, as I do nature – trees, flowers, animals – but I charge it with something other than reality, with feeling, with a certain feeling depending on the day. I compare myself to reportage photographers, who make some sort of statement about life. I don't believe that I am making any defined statement. Instead, I am expressing something, an echo of the world maybe."

Jean Muir and Models by Deborah Turbeville 1973

Deborah Turbeville was born in Massachusetts and grew up in New England. At age 20, she moved to New York City to work with designer Claire McCardell and later became a fashion editor before becoming a photographer. She uses blurring and disintegration to great effect and is somewhat obsessed with decay and dream sequences. Her work has been compared to the Impressionist Edgar Degas. "Even Turbeville's color is close to that of the impressionist master. Her color is rather non-color, or color fields of limpid and palely monchromatic beauty. Her palette is based on white with hints of pastel hues which subtly create, like her choice of poses, affinities with Degas ballet studies." (page 217, The History of Fashion Photography)

Turbeville created the breathtaking photographs in the book called The Unseen Versailles (another rare and beautiful book). Now in her seventies, Turbeville continues to work as a photographer, dividing her time between New York and Mexico.

The History of Fashion Photography is one of those books that is worth looking for. While long out of print, it offers a comprehensive look back at the development of this art form from its infancy up to 1980.