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September 06, 2004

The Decline of Fashion Photography

The Decline of Fashion Photography is an argument in pictures.

What made Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue emblems of visual sophistication during the '40s and '50s was their visionary art directors, Alexey Brodowich and Alexander Liberman, respectively. Both used only exceptional photographers and then set their photographs off to maximum effect with a generous use of white space. Their goal was to turn the fashion magazine into a luscious exotic escape.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at September 6, 2004 08:11 AM

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One of the immediate differences I noticed between the old and new Vogue images presented was the lighting.

The old Vogue photographs were prepared like a sumptuous dish. First the main lighting was established, and then the various fills needed to season the recipe and give it a full-bodied flavour.

The newer Vogue work has all the appeal of a McFish sandwich. The lighting is hastily arranged, if at all. Instant gratification is the order of the day, and the photographer puts more time into marketing his image than making his images. It's fast food for the eyes.

You've inspired me to watch Casablanca again this evening. I'm going to spend an hour and a half drooling over Arthur Edeson's stunning cinematography.

Posted by: Sean at September 6, 2004 05:40 PM

I came to the conclusion this essay did a while ago, while watching the lovley work Fabien Baron did for Harper's dissolve into the ugly and dull.

I have books about Brodovitch at home, and everything I can lay my hands on by Penn and others. The 50s was truly the golden age of fashion photography, and it was my own naivete that led me to believe that it was possible to do work that beautiful again, simply because it was beautiful, and who wouldn't love that?

Silly me. I gave up on fashion photography a long time ago, like I gave up on seeing really probing portrait work. (No coincidence that Penn did both, beautifully.)

I'm not sure I even call myself a photographer these days. I'm a guy who makes some money taking pictures. The people who worked back then - Penn, Avedon, Horst, Dahl-Wolfe, Parkinson - they were photographers.

Mostly I just like taking pictures of old buildings.

Posted by: rick mcginnis at September 6, 2004 10:03 PM

Good Lord Rick, you most certainly ARE a photographer. I should be so lucky as to posess your skills. I can "see" the images in my mind, but I've yet to get them onto the print satisfactorily, as you seem to be able to do.

If you ever put down your talent like that again I may have to travel out east and tune you up with a 1000mm beast of a Quantaray lens that I'm not using these days.

Posted by: Sean at September 7, 2004 12:33 AM

You know, I'm not a devotee of Vogue fashion photography. Howver, I've noticed that '40's "cheesecake" pinups seem to look a lot more, er, "interesting" than some of the equivelant stuff nowadays, even if it was quite tame by today's standards.

Posted by: Demetrius at September 7, 2004 08:49 AM

Thanks for the kind words, Sean, but I stand by what I said - I've gone from reverence for the 50s generation of fashion and editorial photographers to outright awe - that they were lucky enough to work at such a propituous time for photography as an art, for magazines as an aesthetic object. What I'm doing - at my best, filling in the holes between the copy and the ads - is nothing like what Avedon did with Brodovitch, or Penn with Carmel Snow. Like I ever stood a chance.

Born too late, among other things, I guess.

What I'm saying is that it's not just the work - it's the context, the setting.

That and the fact that clothes today look like s***.

Posted by: rick mcginnis at September 7, 2004 11:19 AM