In high fashion photography, the aim is simple – to create desire. This is achievable because the photographer has complete control over the environment and is free to choose what to include or exclude.
Fashion photography began in 1913 with Adolphe de Meyer who made experimental photographs using a soft-focus lens and backlighting.
Next came Edward Steichen who started photographing fashion models in 1911. He used simple props combined with classical poses. Steichen’s photos replaced the illustrations used by fashion magazines since 1892.
George Hoyningen-Huene was another famous photographer from this era. He worked with Coco Chanel, Greta Garbo, Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau, Marlene Dietrich and Kurt Weill.
Cecil Beaton and Horst Paul Horst were next on the scene. Beaton’s images were influenced by his theatre designs while Horst’s leaned towards the surreal.
During World War II, the fashion photography industry in Europe suffered due to lack of materials and fashion photography was considered frivolous. When Hitler invaded Paris, photographers such as Horst fled to America where the industry was unaffected.
After the War, the American photographer Lillian Bassman (born 1917) created a new aesthetic in black and white fashion photography with pictures that were atmospheric and moody, mostly in black and white.
She was rediscovered in the 1990s when a bag containing hundreds of her photographs was discovered, photographs which she had thrown out 20 years prior. Today she has been fotografía de moda rediscovered and given the recognition she rightly deserves as a top fashion photographer.
In the 1940s and 1950s Alex Liberman influenced a whole generation of photographers, including Diane Arbus, Bruce Davidson, Robert Frank, Robert Klein and Lisette Model. Irving Penn is another fashion photographer from this era, whose compositions were daringly simple, often isolating his subjects from all props or backgrounds to create a feeling of emotional detachment.
1960s fashion photography was highly experimental and photographers such as Bob Richardson took their inspiration from film directors particularly with respect to camera angle and lighting. Richard Avedon is well-known particularly for his work with Twiggy, the great icon of fashion of the 1960s. Meanwhile, Diane Arbus worked for Harper’s Bazaar in 1962 on a series of photographs of children fashions and also for the New York Times in 1967, 1968 and 1970. David Bailey is another well-known 60s fashion photographer who photographed actors, musicians and royalty as well as fashion models. He captured, and helped to create, the Swinging London of the 1960s