The Women Building the History of Fashion Photography

2016-03-09

There are two things a woman can do with the camera: be on front of it, or behind it. Join Lomography’s celebration of International Women’s Month by learning more about ladies in fashion photography.

Illustration to photograph: the rise of fashion magazines

Illustration from early Vogue and an illustrated cover of the early Harper’s Bazaar (then Bazar). Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Before fashion magazines used photographs to sell and feature catalogs of famous designers, they used illustrations. These artworks were deemed luxurious. It was only until the invention of the camera that people started to experiment and ‘invent’ fashion photography—but it was a different concept from what everyone knows today.

Fashion photography dates back to Victorian society: the purpose of a fashion photo shoot was to simply document one’s gown or dress. Victoria & Albert Museum quotes photographer David Bailey: “It [fashion photography] was a portrait of someone wearing a dress.”

Girlie Cashell in an evening gown from The State Library of Queensland, and Anna Held in a dress. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The concept did not change until 1911, when Edward Streichen treated fashion photography as an art form. With Condé Nast recently purchasing the then social magazine Vogue, many photographers took the opportunity to reinvent fashion photography. Vogue’s competitor, Harper’s Bazaar, followed the trend.

From then on it became a rivalry of commercial creativity, with each magazine outdoing the other by hiring talented photographers. It was an equal stage for both men and women.

An outburst of feminine talent

For the first years, Vogue Magazine had the edge, and Harper’s Bazaar was just following its footsteps. History books would focus more on the names Irving Penn, Richard Avedon or Horst P. Horst, but one American gentlewoman was highly influential to these men. Enter Louise Dahl-Wolfe, who is recognized to be a pioneer of fashion photography. Dahl was famous for shooting outdoors and using natural light. She also preferred distant locations in South America and Africa, hence dubbed as an environmental fashion photographer.

Her photography influenced other renowned artists such as Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. Along with the works of Alexey Brodovitch, Dahl’s photographs and stylish composition for portraiture kept Harper’s Bazaar afloat.

Portraits of Toni Frissell and Lee Miller from Wikimedia Commons

The feminine touch does not stop with Wolfe. Lee Miller, a fashion model, photographer and war correspondent for Vogue, was credited for her versatility and creative vision. Ilse Bing, another versatile fashion photographer, is renowned for her avant garde taste and quirky compositions. British photographer Elsbeth Ruth Juda was also a pioneer in modern fashion photography. Lillian Bassman was another photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. Toni Frissell’s name may be unfamilar to some, but she is credited for shaping post-war fashion photography.

Photographs of Toni Frissell, one of the influential fashion photographers in the post-war era from Wikimedia Commons

Women: the fashion industry and the world

It is not just in the realm of fashion photography where women become accomplished. The whole fashion industry is full of talented and capable women, from models and designers, to editors and photographers. The names Coco Chanel, Anna Wintour, Kate Moss, Annie Leibovitz and Diana Vreeland may ring a bell, but there are several others shadowed by history’s bias for men.

Here’s to the accomplished women; let it be known that many of their names are yet to be heard and revered.


Feeling empowered? Learn more about the history of women photographers or browse through our International Women's Day series.

written by Ciel Hernandez on 2016-03-09 #lifestyle #fashion #international-women-s-day #fashion-photography #women-photographers #art-lesson

More Interesting Articles