Category: photo lessons
For the past 25 Years I have been asked over and over by models, photographers, fashion designers or simply fashion lovers, If I could ever share my inside and techniques with them.
Finally the time has come and I am honored and proud to announce the launch of my photography workshops worldwide
Private online classes are also available upon request
for more info please contact us at
or call us at 310 213 7700
I hope to see you soon
Haute Couture Photography high fashion photography conceptual photography
Fashion photography is an insidious profession. In art, it is what sex-appeal is to love. Artifice can be a dangerous thing; when misapplied, the results are vulgar and tawdry. Its correct use depends on instinct. It is up to the fashion photographer to create an illusion. In doing so, he is not behaving with dishonesty, but when properly invoked, the result is not merely an illusion; rather, it makes the observer see what he wishes to see. (C. Beaton and G. Buckland, The Magic Image, 1975)
Since its inception in the 1880s, the fashion photograph has generated criticism. Some photographers consider it too commercial, an impure application of the art form. It has sometimes been dismissed as frivolous and criticized for promoting negative stereotypes. Yet it has generated some of the most widely recognizable, provocative, and enduring imagery of our time.
The development of the half-tone printing process enabled photographs to be printed on the same page as text without affecting image clarity even when reproduced en masse. This new technology marked the birth of the modern fashion magazine aesthetic. Initially, perhaps surprisingly, it was the couturiers who found photographing their garments contentious: a photograph could be a gift for plagiarists. At the other extreme, applied photography was deemed too ‘real’ a means of documentation, unable to idealize the female form like the drawn fashion plate.
There was an initial overlap between late 19th-century celebrity portraiture and the fashion photograph: for example, the Parisian Reutlinger studio’s cabinet picture of Cléo de Mérode in an amazing hat, c. 1895, and the same firm’s haute couture photographs of a decade later. Already far more stylish, however, was the work of Adolphe de Meyer, who reinvented the staged formality and ornate settings of 19th-century fashion illustration. A member of the pictorialist Linked Ring Brotherhood, he used backlighting, soft focus, props, and painted backdrops to express a baroque sensibility that was perfectly articulated in his portrait of Helen Lee Worthing (1920). In 1914 he became chief fashion photographer for Vogue, then in 1922 for Harper’s Bazaar.
The models in early fashion photographs were most frequently society ladies and theatre and screen actresses rather than women working as living mannequins. After the First World War, de Meyer’s visual idiom fell out of favour as a modernist aesthetic took root. The influence was pervasive, introducing a greater emphasis on sleekness and line, epitomized by art deco’s streamlining effect. The advent of sportswear and dresses without foundation garments signalled more fluid and experimental poses and compositions. Associated primarily with Edward Steichen and Man Ray, the new style of fashion photography rejected rococo props for geometry, haughty froideur for character, and staid convention for avant-garde devices like solarization and multiple exposure. Steichen’s first fashion photographs—designs by Paul Poiret—had appeared in a 1911 edition of Art et décoration, among the first periodicals to feature fashion photography. In the late 1920s and 1930s the use of small, hand-held cameras allowed far greater compositional flexibility and work out of doors. (By this time, the major fashion magazines were shifting decisively towards photography and away from other forms of illustration.) An inspired decision by the new editor of Harper’s, Carmel Snow, in 1933 was to hire the Hungarian sports photographer Martin Munkácsi, who introduced a new style of dynamic outdoor sportiness that was to prove highly influential. A subsequent Harper’s acquisition was Louise Dahl-Wolfe, also a devotee of outdoor subjects who from 1937 began working in colour. (Later she joined Sports Illustrated.)
Photographers such as George Hoyningen-Huene and Horst P. Horst were influenced by Surrealism. The former’s early style owed much to Steichen’s use of light. He began his career making backdrops for Vogue’s Paris studio in 1925, where Steichen was then working. As his style evolved, it grew to encompass architectonic symbols of Greek classicism, not unlike the canvasses of the Surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico. Carefully structured compositions were of paramount importance for the photographer. The same was true of his colleague and friend Horst, who initially trained under the modernist architect Le Corbusier. Creator of one of Vogue’s best-known photographs, Mainbocher Corset (1939), Horst’s complex images appeared effortlessly graceful, often with a striking use of shadow. His signature style owed much to Hoyningen-Huene but was distinguished by inventive photomontage and trompe-l’œil effects.
Erwin Blumenfeld created a heretofore unseen type of visual intrigue in the fashion photograph. Techniques such as ‘bleaching’ and composite printing, which he personally refined in the darkroom, are much copied today. Blumenfeld also broke new ground in perspective by using a wide-angle lens on the new Hasselblad camera. The ubiquity of his work in fashion magazines of the 1940s and 1950s reflected a shift in fashion’s audience away from its former social exclusivity. However, although creative photography promoted high fashion through its increased visibility in magazines, it did not make the garments any more widely accessible. Instead, it generated what are now regarded as aspirational images. Blumenfeld said of the fashion photographer’s role, ‘we are responsible for the tastes of tomorrow. Our pictures are the essence of a page, and every page has to have its own face, its own spirit, to catch millions of eyes, as otherwise it is only a scrap of paper.’ Whereas earlier in the century fashion photography’s images of aristocratic and society ladies had largely circulated in the sitters’ own social milieu, mid-century work increasingly aimed to create visions of luxury and exclusiveness for a mass public.
In both his portraits of royalty and high society and his fashion photography, Cecil Beaton combined formality and fairy-tale glamour. He was first hired as a Vogue cartoonist in 1928. Influenced by the appeal of Hollywood films, he reinterpreted many of de Meyer’s rigid stylistic hallmarks for the mid-20th century with graceful, theatrical refinement. Another British master of the elegant, luxurious image, especially when his wife Wenda Rogerson was the model, was Norman Parkinson (like Beaton, also a successful society and royal portraitist). He often used outdoor locations, conveying pleasure and indulgence in faraway locales which epitomized the light-hearted fun and indulgence of fashion. In the 1950s elegance—even excess—revived with the end of wartime rationing and ‘make-do-and-mend’. Today, photographers like Elaine Constantine pay homage to the Parkinson vision with a signature style conveying visual delight.
In the USA, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon were the undisputed stars of 1950s fashion photography. They produced such iconic pictures as Avedon’s Dovima in an Evening Dress by Dior with Elephants of the Cirque d’Hiver (1959) and Penn’s 1947 Vogue cover of the twelve most photographed models. This latter image would later influence cover layouts of magazines like Vanity Fair by Annie Leibovitz, as well as signalling the beginning of the late 20th-century cult of the supermodel.
From the late 1950s, many fashion magazines broadened their editorial scope. Queen, for example, began publishing photojournalism and documentary work. A degree of social realism characterized the work of London’s ‘Terrible Three’, David Bailey, Brian Duffy, and Terence Donovan (all former assistants of the fashion photographer John French), who recorded the youthful and seemingly spontaneous essence of 1960s London with visions of accessible, girl-next-door models like Jean Shrimpton, Penelope Tree, and Twiggy. But in the 1960s Avedon travelled through the American South to photograph the Civil Rights Movement, and later documented the anti-war protests taking place across the USA. Penn was commissioned by Vogue in 1974 to produce a series of portraits entitled ‘Worlds in a Small Room’, representing various socio-economic and ethnic groups. This was a high-profile, if tokenistic, acknowledgement of global issues and the world outside the fashion industry. It was taken further in the 1980s by Oliviero Toscani, who used disturbing images (his own and other people’s) of war and AIDS to assault the consumer and promote Benetton. Often deliberately ambiguous, these pictures played on up-to-the-minute relevance and shock value rather than timeless associations of sophistication.
Helmut Newton’s confrontational image making was defined by androgyny and sexual titillation bordering at times on the pornographic. His images were particularly contentious because they often conflated representations of female empowerment and female objectification. In some ways, Newton continued the sex and death aesthetic perfected by Guy Bourdin in his campaigns for Charles Jourdan shoes. Though best remembered for his dark interpretations of sexuality, images frequently cropped to effectively sever the female body, Bourdin also created a portfolio of sublime and playful works such as ‘Santé’ (1970) during his tenure at Paris Vogue.
By the 1970s and 1980s, the growing interest in fitness and thus in beautifully toned bodies was increasingly exploited to sell clothing and cosmetics. Men’s fashion also became an increasingly lucrative branch of the business. Bruce Weber’s (b. 1946) voyeuristic, often homoerotic qualities, as seen in his Calvin Klein campaigns, were typical of the period. Herb Ritts began his career as a celebrity photographer in the early 1970s, later specializing in nudes. Also active during this period, Deborah Turbeville (b. 1938) consciously referenced the past, inspired by the landscape of her native New England as well as by the pointillistic, soft-focus approach of early 20th-century photographers.
Today many fashion photographers, such as Mario Testino (b. 1954), are as famous as the celebrities who pose for them. The cult of the star fashion photographer began in earnest in 1966 with Antonioni’s cult film Blowup; Avedon had already inspired Funny Face (1957). Steven Meisel, known for his trademark stylistic versatility, came to attention in 1992 for Madonna’s book Sex. Nick Knight’s (b. 1958) innovative digital work explores the limits of post-production and new media, and confronts issues of racism, ageism, and size-ism in fashion image making. Corinne Day tapped into the 1990s generation of disaffected youth and music cultures in London-based magazines like i-D, The Face, and Dazed & Confused. By photographing so-called ‘waif’ models like Kate Moss, Day was applauded for rupturing the cult of unattainable beauty, but criticized for allegedly glamorizing ‘heroin chic’ and eating disorders. David LaChapelle (b. 1969) was first hired by Andy Warhol to photograph for Interview magazine. His hyperreal and kitsch pictures of models and celebrities, in highly saturated colours, often challenge conventional notions of taste and decency. Yet his images point up the true purpose of a fashion photograph: to present an idealized, illusionistic vision that the viewer, literally, wishes to buy into.