11 Fashion Photographers Who Propelled the Industry

"Home Works #3" by Miles Aldridge, 2008, chromogenic print, numbered 2/3, Sotheby's (May 2015)

By: Fiona McKay & Xenia Capacete Caballero

In recent years, fashion photography has been recognized as an art form in its own right. “Fashion photography is among the most cutting edge of all photography,” says Sharon Phair Fortenbaugh, Director of Sales & Marketing at Chowaiki & Co. who has spent over 25 years in media and the arts. “It’s exciting, controversial, and something that is still of interest to all types of photography collectors.” Front-running photographers in the fashion industry have sparked and inspired art movements, techniques, and trends.

To celebrate this week’s kick off of New York Fashion Week (September 9-15), we’ve selected some of the best in fashion photography; from the early pioneers of the 1940s through the noteworthy contemporary image creators.

Erwin Blumenfeld (1897–1969)

1944 Vogue cover by Erwin Blumenfeld, signed & editioned by
Henry Blumenfeld, 2/30, printed in 1952, Lempertz (May 2015)

Arguably the most experimental of fashion photographers at the time, Erwin Blumenfeld continually drew inspiration from the Dadaists. This is evident in his use of photographic manipulation such as solarization, multiple exposures and photomontage. This seemingly playful image aims to represent something profoundly deeper; evoking the absence of the woman’s male counterpart in times of war.

Richard Avedon (1923–2004)

Dovima with Elephants” by Richard Avedon, 1955,
Phillips (November 2007)

Described by Fortenbaugh as a “classic fashion photographer,” Avedon contributed significantly to establishing photography as an art form, with work appearing in a diverse range of publications from Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, to Life and Look. “Dovima with Elephants” was amongst the first images to take fashion photography out of the studio and on location, initiating a practice that is still adopted today.

Norman Parkinson (1913-1990)

After Van Dongen” by Norman Parkinson, Vogue, 1959, cibachrome,
printed c. 1972, Dreweatts & Bloomsbury (November 2013)

Another pioneer of fashion photography, Norman Parkinson injected a relaxed and casual elegance into his work, which set him apart from his contemporaries and made him one of Vogue’s star contributors. Inspired by the painter Kees Van Dongen, Parkinson plays with texture, color, and focus in this image, capturing the model’s gaze to convey the power of suggestion.

Guy Bourdin (1928-1991)

Charles Jourdan, Autumn” by Guy Bourdin, 1977, chromogenic print, signed by Samuel Bourdin,
edition 9/18, Sotheby’s (May 2016)

Not one to shy away from controversy, Guy Bourdin was one of the most radical fashion photographers of the 20th century. Taken for one of many Charles Jourdan campaigns in the 1970s, this image shows his signature combination of the surreal and erotic; designed to ignite curiosity, whilst provoking issues such as class and gender.

Helmut Newton (1920-2004)

Rue au Britot” by Helmut Newton, offset lithograph,
signed by artist, Lots Road Auctions (May 2011)

In contrast to fashion images that came before, the Helmut Newton woman was strong and in control. Shot for French Vogue in 1975 and showcasing the slick silhouette of the YSL tuxedo, “Rue au Britot” set the tone for a new type of femininity; playing on the notion of androgyny, which continues to influence fashion culture today.

Bruce Weber (b. 1946)

Boys from Red Cloud, Nebraska” by Bruce Weber, 1981,
gelatin silver print, 2/15, Christie’s (April 2011)

From the “waspish chic” of Ralph Lauren campaigns to his somewhat controversial depiction of youth for Abercrombie & Fitch, Bruce Weber is known for re-inventing the American dream for modern times. Rising to prominence during the 1980s, Weber was an early champion of the cult of the male model, here choosing his signature backdrop of the wild American landscape.

Peter Lindberg (b. 1944)

Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington
and Cindy Crawford
” by Peter Lindberg, British Vogue Cover,
January 1990, gelatin silver print, 12/25, Phillips (May 2016)

Taking a more documentary approach, Peter Lindbergh introduced a new realism to fashion photography; redefining the standards of beauty with a modern elegance which set the tone for the era. The iconic status of this image is undeniable; it heralded the age of the supermodel and kick-started their trajectory to fashion world takeover.

Steven Meisel (b. 1954)

Linda” by Steven Miesel, Vogue Paris August 1989,
gelatin silver print, Phillips (March 2012)

Cited by Fortenbaugh as “the benchmark for the coolest, most cutting edge photography in fashion”, Steven Meisel has created some of fashion’s most powerful images, particularly for Italian Vogue. Having previously discovered Linda Evangelista (as well as other 90’s supermodels), this is one of his first portraits of the supermodel; inadvertently capturing the spirit of the time.

Nick Knight (b. 1958)

Devon” by Nick Knight, 1997, from an edition of 3 plus 2 artist’s proofs,
hand-coated pigment print, printed 2009, Phillips (May 2010)

Throughout his career, Nick Knight has continually challenged conventional ideals of beauty; forging a reputation for pushing the boundaries in creative technique and being at the forefront of innovation. In collaboration with designer Alexander McQueen, this image for Visionnaire 20, shows model Devon Aoki transformed into a cyborg geisha, in turn, exploring McQueen’s signature themes of orientalism and science-fiction.

Miles Aldridge (b. 1964)

Home Works #3” by Miles Aldridge, 2008, chromogenic print,
numbered 2/3, Sotheby’s (May 2015)

Through a very distinctive aesthetic, Aldridge sets himself apart from the conventions of fashion photography, establishing him as a key player in the 2000s thanks to his work for numerous influential publications. “Home Works #3” represents Aldridge’s signature style: a unique blend of artificial glamour and luxury with the surreal; lying somewhere between cinema and photography.

Viviane Sassen (b. 1972)

Kathleen” by Viviane Sassen, 2000, chromogenic print,
edition 5/5, Christie’s (November 2008)

With a refreshing approach to fashion photography, it’s not hard to see why the work of Viviane Sassen is widely published and exhibited internationally. In her book “Flamboya,” which includes the above pictured “Kathleen,” Sassen experiments with shadows and cut-outs to explore the complexities of representation and identity. For those interested in investing in future icons, this fashion photographer is one to watch.

About Fiona McKay & Xenia Capacete
Fiona and Xenia are fashion curators and exhibit makers, and founders of White Line Projects, a curatorial and creative studio based in London. White Line Projects curates, designs, and produces a diverse range of outcomes including exhibitions, installations and digital experiences, and websites for a wide range of clients in the fashion and cultural sectors. Fiona, Xenia, and the team at White Line Projects bring a diverse combination of skills and background experience ranging from visual communications and 3D technologies to architecture, art history, and exhibition design to theatre design and performing arts.