Fashion Photographers Who Made History

Fashion Photography
Norman Parkinson, More taste than money, Vogue UK, 1950

Fashion photography originated in the years before the First World War, and developed from a small niche photography movement to a global business, with major centres in Paris, New York and Milan. The work from fashion photographers over the past century has provided a definitive answer to the question: is photography art

From Edward Steichen to David Lachapelle, Artsper presents 10 iconic fashion photographers who have each revolutionised fashion photography in their own way.

Edward Steichen (1879-1973)

Although Baron Adolphe De Meyer is considered historically as the first fashion photographer, the pictorialist Edward Steichen is considered one of the pioneers of modern fashion photography and one of the most important contributors to the history of 20th century photography.

Following a recommendation from Lucien Vogel, publisher of the Jardin des Modes and the Gazette du Bon Ton, and in order to promote fashion as an art through photography, Steichen produced a series of photographs of ball gowns designed by Paul Poiret. He then became chief photographer at Vogue and Vanity Fair.

Fashion Photography
Edward Steichen, Marion Morehouse, 1927

Norman Parkinson (1913 – 1920)

Norman Parkinson is “the most unknown of famous photographers”, as he liked to describe himself. Little known in France, this British photographer revolutionised fashion photography in the 1950s to 1970s. He is known for having taken fashion photography outdoors, a stark contrast to the studio shoots of contemporary fashion photographers. In his minimalist photographs, women, rather than being posed as simple clothes hangers for the fashion pieces, are active, sensual and magnified by spectacular scenery. Jerry Hall, Russia, Vogue (1975), one of his most famous works, shows a model on a plinth in a red swimsuit and high heels about to dive. His work appeared in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.

Fashion Photography
Norman Parkinson,
Jerry Hall, Russia, Vogue (diptych) , 1975

Irving Penn (1917 – 2009)

An American fashion photographer known for his fashion photographs and portraits, Irving Penn revolutionised American fashion photography after the Second World War. He joined the team of the iconic and famous Vogue magazine shortly before the fifties. He stood out from the crowd with his signature style. The photographer only shot in studios, with no other props or backgrounds other than the outfit he had to show off. He photographed the biggest names in the fashion and art world including Yves Saint Laurent, Picasso, Woody Allen … The secret to his success is his ability to portray a sense of intimacy with the model through his portraits. That is why Irving Penn is one of the most famous fashion photographers. 

Fashion Photography
Irving Penn, Black and White Vogue Cover (Jean Patchett), New York, 1950

Helmut Newton (1920 – 2004)

While fashion photography was still in its infancy, Helmut Newton is already celebrated for his black and white photographs of models depicted as feminine or masculine, or a blurring of the two. His deliberately sexual images illustrate the porosity of the gender frontier and address taboo themes such as sado-masochism and fetishism. Helmut Newton makes fashion photography an art object and an erotic one. In the fifties, he contributed to several fashion magazines including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Playboy and Elle.

Fashion Photography
Helmut Newton, Rue Aubriot, 1975

Richard Avedon (1923 – 2004)

American fashion photographer and portraitist, Richard Avedon says his photographs “have helped to define the image of America’s style, beauty and culture.” Working for Harper’s Bazaar magazine, he creates a photograph that would change his life: Dovima with elephants. In 2010, the work broke a record and sold for € 841,000 in Paris, making it the most expensive photography sold in France.

Fashion Photography
Richard Avedon, Dovima with elephants, Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, 1955

Guy Bourdin (1928 – 1991)

Over a career that lasted over 40 years, Guy Bourdin worked for the world’s biggest fashion houses and magazines. Originally a painter, he creates images that contain fascinating stories and compositions, in black and white and in colour. A fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Macguffin” technique, he builds “crime scenes”, getting rid of all the usual norms of beauty and morality.

In 1954 his destiny as a fashion photographer was sealed: an admirer of Man Ray, he asked the photographer to introduce him to Vogue’s French management team. The editor-in-chief of the time fell under his spell and immediately commissioned work from. The collaboration lasted more than 30 years.

Fashion Photography
Guy Bourdin, campagne Charles Jourdan, 1978

Peter Lindbergh (1944-2019)

Peter Lindbergh only photographs in black and white. He refuses excessive retouching in post-production, preferring the natural beauty of women to the use of Photoshop. This stance has meant he is known for the natural feel of his photographs. He was the first photographer to be asked three times to make the Pirelli calendar, and the first to shoot a cover for American Vogue under Anna Wintour. These extraordinary feats mean make him an important figure of the fashion and celebrity scenes.

Fashion Photography
Peter Lindbergh, Kate Moss pour Harper’s Bazaar, 1994

Mario Testino (1954)

The Peruvian fashion photographer is known for his advertising campaigns for Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana as well as his Vanity Fair cover photos of Princess Diana. He began his relationship with photography by settling in an abandoned hospital near Trafalgar Square in London. At that time, he was offering to help budding models with their portfolios for just a few pounds. His particularly keen photographic eye and his portrayal of models and their beauty quickly attract the attention of creators and magazines of all kinds. Now considered one of the greatest, he is particularly known for the nonchalance and the naturalness that emerge from his images.

Fashion Photography
Mario Testino, Diana, Princess of Whales, pour Vanity Fair, 1977

Steven Meisel (1954)

Steven Meisel began his career as an illustrator for stylist Roy Halston Frowick, drawing inspiration from Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar visuals for his drawings. After a few tries as a fashion editor, he became a photographer and was recruited by Seventeen magazine. He then went on to collaborate with some of the greatest names in fashion before becoming the exclusive photographer to shoot the covers of Vogue Italy since 1988. His photographs stand out for the way in which he communicates his love of feminine beauty and the sensuality that emerges from them.

Fashion Photography
Steven Meisel, Vogue, 1990

David Lachapelle (1963)

The American David LaChapelle’s passion for photography passion started during his youth, after taking a photography of his mother. It was the great Andy Warhol who spotted his talent and gave him his first job as a photographer for the Interview Magazine. The magazine profoundly changes his conception of photography. LaChapelle then decided that he wanted to work for fashion magazines. With this in mind, he embraced on the Porno-chic style, very fashionable at the time. Luxury magazines loved it and LaChapelle’s work gained in popularity. His photographs stand out for his use of bright colours, saturated to the extreme and a careful staging of models, backgrounds and props that draws inspiration from art history. In the early 2000s, he left the world of fashion to devote himself to art photography.  

Fashion Photography
David Lachapelle, Heaven to Hell, 2006

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