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Fashion Photographers Through The Years – How Social Media Has Changed Fashion Photography

Over the last 100 years the success of the fashion industry and prominent fashion houses such as Gucci, Versace, Louis Vuitton, and other luxury design brands have been largely dependent on the success of their marketing campaigns and their ability to reach their consumer market.   

Large-scale production within the fashion industry began to appear in the mid-19th century, when outfits were first produced at scale, rather than purpose-made for a specific client.  The inclusion of labels and brands had started and the consumer market was born and it began to identify and create a specific demand for one brand over another.  However, it wasn’t until the start of the 20th century that fashion photography really began to accelerate through the advances made in both camera technology and the mass creation and distribution of magazines. 

When magazines started to include models wearing designer ensembles, they began to influence what people wore.  Furthermore, the garment created a sense of value and worth, as opposed to simply illustrating an object. 

‘Fashion photography has existed almost as long as photography itself’ – London College of Contemporary Arts.  Understanding new trends, creating new ones, and using past ones as inspiration are important techniques to learn.  From circa 1950 the fashion magazine world, as well as fashion photography, really took off.  Demand for magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar with photographs of women and men fashioning a particular garment or product became more and more sought after and started to have an impact on the public taste and demand.

In the past two decades, public culture demands the need for instant gratification and the immediacy of gaining access to information.  Through technological developments the fashion industry has established new marketing strategies and avenues with rapid, albeit instant, consumer access via social media platforms and internet websites. 

I look at the journey of fashion photography from the early 20th century through to modern day and the different styles of photographers that work within the industry.  I can see the effect this has had on the consumer and how the fashion industry is led by these photographers and their styles.  It is my belief that we have already tipped the balance and the use of social media in fashion photography has become the main line of communication and advertising. 

Family friend and photographer, Ashton Keiditsch, told me that an agency will match a photographer with the client’s brief.  Fashion models are very particular about who takes their photos, Ashton said, and by selecting a photographer, the brand is also selecting the model(s) that will appear in the shoot and photograph.

Adolph de Meyer – Fashion Photographer

Adolph de Meyer is regarded as the earliest professional fashion photographer in the late 19th century.  Born in Paris, he grew up in some of Europe’s major fashion cities of that era and was exposed to the female fashion culture.   His photos are very elegant and sophisticated, unusual at the time as the female form wasn’t normally shown in photographs like this and was considered quite daring.  Looking at the photo of Helen Lyons, light is projected from behind her to outline her figure, also showing the fabric and garment being worn. 

Dolores, the Fortune Teller
Model – Helen Lyons

This picture of Helen Lyons was one of the first times the female form was shown in this way and was definitely considered risqué. 

Richard Avedon – Fashion Photographer

Richard Avedon is another photographer who took a lot of photos in black and white.  A portrait photographer, he was interested in the face and facial expression.  Richard was the son of a Russian-born immigrant, his parents owned a dress-manufacturing business, so he was surrounded by fashion and art from a young age.  It’s reported his sister had schizophrenia and these early influences of fashion and family would go on to shape his career. 

Avedon’s work is often described as capturing tragic beauty in photos.  He focusses on showing the movement of the garment or the scene and while his pictures feel busy, they also appear to be still. 

Harper’s BAZAAR – Dovima and the Elephants:  Aside from his portrait photographs, it is also noted that there is little brand placement or advertising in the photos, he is merely taking pictures whilst playing with the model(s) who are wearing the brand being fashioned.

Deborah Tuberville – Photographer

The photographer, Deborah Tuberville, often uses very muted colours.  There is a noticeable body shape that is repeated:  skinny.  Her style is in stark contrast to the style demonstrated by Richard Avedon; her pictures are static with very little movement with more emphasis on poses and positions.  Tuberville’s rise to popularity during the 1970’s was largely credited to her Avant-garde style where she rebelled against the brighter, surrealistic, positive view of mainstream fashion photography and pushed her darker, more brooding edgy style where she challenged the status quo refusing to fit into the expected norm.

Bath house, New York, VOGUE        
The inner life of the 70s woman, Soft Frustration

Deborah often brings a sadness and loneliness to her photos, she plays with the romanticisation of awkwardness.  Seldom is anyone looking at each other in her photos, rooms full of people who don’t seem to notice each other.  As a result, the garments are the most exciting object in the pictures.  The colours used in comparison to the model are very strong… the models almost fade away into the background. 

Tim Walker – Photographer

Tim Walker is a modern British photographer born in England in 1970.  His style is heavily influenced by his love of fairy tales.  He worked at the Condé Nast library in London before university and it was this experience that first opened his eyes to photography.   Once he left college, he went to America and became a full-time assistant to Richard Avedon.

Through his work, he alters not only the background but also the model whose picture is being taken.  He does this with makeup and props to give a more unrealistic image of reality.

Similar to the work of Annie Leibovitz, Walker creates characters out of people for the image.  Annie surrounds people with a character, whilst Tim creates the character, usually altering the person underneath.  In this way he has a similar style to that of Leibovitz as it edges into dreamlike and fantasy style of photos.

Tim has a profound impact on the viewer, he not only changed the way people view fashion, he also drew them into a fantasy world where he gave his garments a life.  Although very posed and unrealistic, they feel like fantasy has come to life in 3D.  He challenged the viewer by playing with scale and this can be seen in his photo ‘Primrose archer dressed in flowers’.

Primrose archer dressed in flowers

David LaChapelle – Photographer

David LaChapelle is another modern-day photographer, whose mother was a refugee from Lithuania.  His family lived in Hartford in England until he was 9 years old.  He was bullied in school for his sexuality and ran away from home at 15, going to live in New York.  It’s later claimed that he took inspiration from his mother from a young age as she was always there in his life offering him support.

LaChapelle uses a lot of bright and primary colours, a lot unnatural and heavily edited.  Through his photography he can take people to different worlds and places.  The colours he uses are strong, at times so strong the model can be lost in the picture.   LaChapelle was one of the first photographers to introduce celebrities into his photo shoots and in doing so, he started to change the view of fashion to the consumer.

Unlike the earlier 20th century photographers his photos are far more than just about the garment.

Lizzo: promised land
Visions of Paradise – letter to the world
Mythical Swans: New York, Rolling Stone
Album cover ‘Astroworld’ – Travis Scott

Angel Chen – Fashion Designer

Angel Chen is a Chinese fashion designer who moved to London to train in the last decade.  She is not a trained fashion photographer but has embraced social media, particularly Instagram [@angelchenstudio] to promote herself and her work, and this is her primary advertising route to market.

Chen uses photography and pictures that aren’t always about her work [@angelchenwig], a key marketing strategy used by Chen and other social media brands, letting the consumer identify directly with the designer in their everyday life environments.

Constant updates of photos and videos on social media makes the consumer feel like we are going on her journey with her, getting to see the inspiration and the development of her ideas all the way through into the final product; a great example of how fashion photography has adapted to fit into the modern world and all of its digital platforms. 

Chen recently launched a collaboration with Canada Goose, using AI (Artificial Intelligence) and VR (Virtual Reality).  She employs digital realty to release a collection, which I believe contributes to her success. 

Emma Chamberlain – Social Media Influencer

Emma Chamberlain is a renowned social media influencer at the forefront of new age fashion photography.  She has circa 30 million followers across Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.  Chamberlain is not a trained photographer; however, she has a big interest in fashion, and she started off by taking photos of herself on her phone.  On one hand she promotes her work herself, as she styles, edits, and posts her own pictures of garments she has thrifted and on the other hand, she has opportunities to work with the likes of Louis Vuitton where they will send her a handpicked selection of garments and she will then model and photograph herself and release the images on social media.  This strategy is very different to the classic Louis Vuitton approach, as the way the garments are photographed and arranged is a far cry from the traditional set up of a studio or set, as this is tailored to a new current day audience.  This approach by Louis Vuitton ensures that its new range of garments are seen and marketed to the current generation of consumers. 

Whilst she is not changing the world of fashion, she has become a fashion trend setter for street wear clothing and with instant access to over 30 million followers, her photos can directly influence products and garments. 

Charli D’Amelio – Social Media Influencer

Unlike Emma, she is not overly interested in fashion or photography. However, with 160 million followers across social media platforms, she has connections to exclusive brands who look to engage with her and gets invited to events such as Prada fashion week.  Exclusive interviews with Vogue Magazine about her views on fashion have created controversy on social media as a lot of people feel she is taking these opportunities from genuine designers.

As you can evidence from the photos above, whilst it is not strictly fashion photography, it could be considered the almost opposite to traditional fashion photography with no set, little structure, and a minimal amount of fashion.   She is not a model, and this is a different type of photography.  It’s not about the garment or brand, its about the publicity that she can bring to any garment or brand that is associated with her. 

Ashton Keiditsch says “it’s about the face and the name, it’s about getting THAT FACE next to THAT NAME” and this a great example of how this has been adapted for use in the fashion world. 

Offline readership vs Digital and Social

The number of Elle Magazine copies sold by year

Year2010201120122013201420152016201720182019
Circulation404,037402,989401,332384,704352,390342,981333,141340,690342,453339,151

Vogue magazine tells us that they have

  • 22.5million monthly readers of the magazine
  • 86.2million digital readers
  • and 167.5million social followers.

From these statistics the evidence suggests that digital and online social followers have by far the larger contribution to the consumed publications.  It should also be noted that the digital version of the magazine may also be influenced by the readers who are eco conscious and rather than buy a magazine, that uses materials to produce it, they are more comfortable purchasing and reading the magazine online where there is a very limited to zero carbon footprint created.  This could also be another example of society changing its behaviour and through evolution and education there is a demand on the fashion industry to be environmentally friendly.

Conclusion

I have researched two main types of photography in the fashion industry: 

  1. Traditional fashion photography on a set or location where the photographer takes control and employs models to showcase a garment. The photographer’s skill, experience and style would produce a set of photos to be used in advertising campaigns.  Some photographers place the brand and garment at the forefront of the picture, whilst others (Rankin) would look to get the best possible picture of the model and then place an image of the brand within the photo. 
  2. Images and photos taken by social media influencers. The settings for the photographs are far less constructed, with many covering everyday life, giving the public access to that life.

This sense of change is supported by famous photographer Nick Knight, interviewed by BBC Culture about the changing dynamics within the fashion industry and that of fashion photography: Is traditional fashion photography finished?

Social media platforms and influencers, models or not, are the powerbrokers in the industry now.  With immediate access to millions of people, fashion houses want access to those followers.  Knight adds to his views that ‘There’s a new medium called image-making which behaves in a completely different way, is done by completely different equipment and is expressed in completely different chemicals and minerals.’  This concept of image-making is aligned to the work of Angel Chen and other social media influencers such as Emma Chamberlain.

Writer Sean O’Hagan wrote an article in the Guardian in 2018 called What next for photography in the age of Instagram?, in which he gave insight into the mass production, the volume and availability of photographs and digital content:  “the numbers have become even more mind-boggling: 350m photographs a day uploaded on Facebook; 95m photographs and videos shared on Instagram daily. The combined number of images shared uploaded on both platforms now exceeds 290bn.’ 

But are they any good?

O’ Hagan raises an interesting point worthy of discussion “No amount of camera technology will turn a mediocre photographer into a great one, nor, in conceptual terms, will it transform a bad idea into a good one. For that, you would still need to possess a rare set of creative gifts that are to do with seeing, with deep looking.”  The key point being raised is that even with these millions, if not billions of photographs being taken, are they any good?  Do they convey the fine style and reflect the value you can get from a genuine fashion photograph? 

There is no comparison in the quality of the images …

As per my research on social influencers – and by their own admittance, they are not trained photographers – when comparing the images of Richard Avedon with those of Emma Chamberlain, there is no comparison in the quality of the images.  Richard is a skilled and experienced photographer who has taken time to build a set with props and he positions the garment and model so as to capture the essence of what the client is wanting it to portray.  Conversely, the images posted by Emma Chamberlain are very much aligned to the image that you or I can take.  There is little or no set or props, it is merely a pose or a selfie.


Poppy Davenport

Poppy Davenport is a 6.2 student studying at Bedales School in Petersfield.  She is studying 3 – A levels, Fashion, Photography and Art and she is applying to further her studies at Central St Martins in London. 

“Being dyslexic I have always been drawn to the arts and my creative side, I have always loved fashion and have been influenced by many fashion designers, Alexander McQueen being one who also studied at CSM.  One day I hope to have my own fashion brand and label, I am very interested in upcycling, and sustainable fashion.  A fact not known by many is the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters and creators of waste product…. I want to change that.”

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