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Robert Farber: The Evolution Of Fashion Photography

What is fashion photography? In general terms, it is a photograph that is done to specifically display or depict clothing and/or accessories as visual advertising. The majority of the times the purposes of photographs are to document or sell the prevailing style or custom of dress of the time. What the term fashion photography stands for has changed and evolved over time, and there are key photographers who have influenced this change. Even though the main component of a fashion photograph is to emanate a fashion or fashionable lifestyle, the techniques and approaches used have changed and are much more complex.

Magazine publications such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue have done a superb job of staying on trend and relevant by consistently reinventing themselves to capture the attention of their readers, and by using the best fashion photographers. Some great fashion photographers that have been a part of this movement are Robert Farber, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Martin Munkacsi, Richard Avedon, and Man Ray. They all played an important role in the fashion photography world, and their individual styles helped influence fashion photography into what it is today.

During the postwar years, some fashion photographers were subject to specific movements in art. Farber was influential with impressionistic style and Man Ray had a huge impact on the Dada and Surrealist movements. Fashion photographs at this time, wanted to combine those concepts with the new aspect of luxury, all while creating specific and unique styles. Fashion images started to be made largely in color for viewers, to make up for wartime strictness (Rosenblum 501). As stated in The Fashion Photographer by Robert Farber, “Striking fashion photography is an integral part of the billion-dollar fashion industry.

The images that spring from the cameras and studios of fashion photographers help create-and sell-the latest ‘look,’ clothes, and beauty products across the world. ” What this means is that the purpose of fashion photography is to create images that make consumers want to buy specific products, and that the way photographers capture these images is significant as well. Farber is best known for his work of nudes, fashion, landscapes, and even still life’s. He displayed such expertise when it came to understanding studio as well as natural lighting.

There was a particular photograph done for Ann Taylor that clearly shows how he was able to make use of the lighting coming from the window on the left side of the image (Figure 1). Farber ingeniously created this effect by using a filter coated with petroleum jelly to create light streaks (Farber 35). Farber had a vision and instinct when it came to knowing his lighting, and making the most use of his locations. For example, when shooting in Morocco, he told his assistant to create an evocative shadow, which reflects beautifully on the model (Figure 2).

This shows how he was able to use lighting to the best of his ability, and gave clear directions when he had a vision. His inspiration from impressionism is clear in his use of directional lighting. It showcases how he uses elegant and architectural compositions when it comes to the female form. Farber’s photographs capture the essence of painterly, affectionate, and emotional. Louise Dahl-Wolfe’s career started in 1933 and kept evolving up until 1960, which was part of a rough time in American history, spanning from the Depression to the WWII to the start of The Cold War.

Her passion for clear and pleasing lighting schemes allowed her to capture the model and garment at its best, and made her popular with women’s magazine readers and advertisers. Dahl worked mostly for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. However, her photographs did not usually refer to current events, but rather represented feminine identities, that gave off the feeling of the myths of America. She revolutionized Harper’s Bazaar in 1936, by creating a visually astounding magazine of fashion and culture.

She was able to give viewers a new perspective, by showing them the European avant-garde lifestyle from an American standpoint (Arnold 46). Because she was influenced by a contemporary documentary aesthetic, her photographs represent images that are honest and pure. Dahl’s photography was key in capturing American femininity, and her warm color schemes gave a sense of stability during a time of turmoil. One of Louise Dahl-Wolfe’s recognizable works is The Covert Look shot in 1949 (Figure 3). It allows you to see how through her previous painting experience she uses richly patterned decor and colors.

The introduction of traveling around the world made her role as a fashion photographer limitless during this time period, as it allowed photographers to capture their models almost anywhere around the globe (Rosenblum 501). The Hungarian photographer Martin Munkacsi was among the first to apply candid techniques to fashion photography, by taking his camera outside. His shot of a model in a bathing suit running on a beach, made in 1934, prompted the aesthetic of active and athletic models being photographed outdoors using natural light (Figure 4). His work for Harper’s Bazaar created a new sense of informality.

During the 1930’s, photographs that related to the Surrealist art movement were more prominent. Munkacsi’s new technique of shooting outside was different, and quite shocking for that time period, and drew photographers everywhere out of the studio. This style of photography using his snapshot effect of women in motion, and his relationship to realism influenced many photographers, including Richard Avedon. Avedon’s style and aesthetic of photography came from naturalism, and was also inspired by Munkacsi, artificial poses, lighting, and camera angle.

Which is seen in his image Donyale Luna in Dress by Paco Rabanne (Figure 5). This particular work was a gelatin silver print and was made in January of 1966 and was featured in Vogue. The way that the female form and dress was executed in this photograph shows the sexual and social changes of this decade (Rosenblum 502). Richard Avedon was a prominent fashion photographer beginning in the 1950’s, and his early work was shot outdoors using natural light. Later in his career, he experimented with models running in front of white backgrounds, this was to become his signature style.

An image that showcases this well would be the image taken of Marilyn Monroe; it shows how he was able to capture the personality of his subjects (Figure 6). Even though Monroe was a sex symbol of the 1950’s, you see a different side of her, a more vulnerable side. Many Ray was a photographer as well as a painter, and was very influential as well. He did a piece for Harper’s Bazaar in 1936 that used the arrangement of a beach robe shot against a backdrop of his own painting, called Observatory Time-The Lovers (Figure 7).

It captured a combination of luxury and some aspects of Dadaism (Rosenblum 500). As stated in Man Ray’s Photographs, “Man Ray did not care whether he stepped on forbidden artistic ground; he used all kinds of materials and techniques in his art…Man Ray did not conceive of one art form as being more noble than any other; nor did he indulge in such ‘refined’ cultural discourse. He set out as a pioneer, aware that his adventure was a solitary one, wanting to break new ground at all costs…he invented and reinvented everything” (Photographs 11).

What this means is that he was not afraid to push the boundaries, and try something new and different from what the norm was. Man Ray also understood just how important lighting was, and the recording of light was very important to him. As stated in Man Ray’s Photographs, “His rayographs represent a kind of quintessence of the photographic process, recording the passage of light through translucent objects or the shadows of solid tones…Man Ray was not a photographer. He was an avant-garde artist who used photography as a means of research” (Photographs 12).

The concepts that deal with Dadaism and Surrealism are what inspired the climate of photo-collage, montage, cameraless images, and experimentation. Man Ray’s rayographs came about through experimentation, and used his name and the light source to come up with the title. They were cameraless images that used translucent and opaque materials on photographic paper (Rosenblum 393-394). Each one of these influential photographers has revolutionized what fashion photography means today in their own unique way. Just one change from an average idea can make a huge difference in the fashion photography business.

What these photographers have done for publications such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar has truly changed the industry. As we take a look back in history, it is clear that fashion photography has taken many turns even though the core objective has always been to capture the garment or accessories trying to be sold and sell it. The evolution has been gradual, but always continues. The photographer must always be willing to adapt to keep up with the ever-changing world of fashion, but maintain his or her individual style. Great fashion photographer’s posses the qualities needed to make lasting images.

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