The Decline of Fashion Photography

On the left is an image by Irving Penn shot in 1951 for Vogue. On the right is an image from a recent issue of Paper. What happened? In a compelling, troche easy-to-follow “argument in pictures” on, viagra Karen Lehrman delineates the decline of fashion photography through the past half-century, arguing that modern fashion photography forgets to create art in favor of commerce (hence the sterile, cataloge-looking images you see in American Vogue), or alternately forgets commerce in favor of attempts at art (above, right). Walking you through 60 years of fashion photography with compelling examples to support her various points, Lerhman discusses how focus groups, misogyny, the changing role of the fashion photographer and other factors have all done their part in bringing about the downfall of the craft.

8 Responses to “The Decline of Fashion Photography”

  1. Alysa Says:

    This is fascinating, yet I can’t help but feel that Lerhman’s argument (at least, as you’ve presented it here) applies *specifically* to America. One might say that this country does, in a variety of areas if not all, favor commerce over art, whereas Europe for example does not. And fashion photography is like a little microcosmic example of this. European fashion photography is far FAR more arty than American, often completely blurring the line with Art Photography.

    This often carries over into retail as well, with American stores mostly buying the tamest possible pieces from designers (even designers known for their wilder and more conceptual collections), to sell to their American customers. And then in Europe you have stores and shoppers with a more refined sense of art, and how it relates to function, and to what they put on their bodies.

    Mainstream American fashion magazines also tend to have more content about things other than fashion, such as celebrity gossip and articles about sex. It’s just a different view of the world – one that does not allow for nearly as much Art of aesthetic experimentation.

  2. Tequila Says:

    Simple and to the point. I may not agree on all written but it did open up a lot of topics for debate. In an age when so many want to be in or connect to the fashion industry on all levels…you’ve quite a bit to drown in for better or worse. That glut has to eventually cause some problems at the top…all the more accelerated by how everyone loves to pin the downfall on any craft on those currently getting the most attention for it…though the bit about the “Notice ME! shock tactics” is dead on. That’s far more to blame than some of the more reaching elements having to do with feminism and misogyny. The Testino comments could have been a feature all their own…that “style” also has its part in changing how some photographers schooled or not see the craft…

    The Fashion Illustration comment seemed way out of place though…more so given it kinda ignores the elements that borrows heavy from now more than ever.

  3. lauren Says:

    One thing I would like to applaud Coilhouse for is it’s focus on photography. As an aspiring photographer myself, it’s great to see articles like this here. Also, you bring attention to inspiring photographers, such as in Dolls of Libya, Exactitudes. Even more fun articles, like the Top 5 Alt Photo Cliches, are a must read. Keep up the great work Coilhouse!

  4. zoetica Says:

    She had me until “Fashion photography isn’t obligated to take readers into an elegant fantasyland, though that certainly was nice. But it should be different from photojournalism, and especially photojournalism concentrating on society’s dark side.”

  5. D Says:

    ‘If photographers and editors really cared about the role of women in society, they would use models above the age of 20, who look like they could complete a sentence.’

    Fashion… Marco Polo had some amazing catalogues out. Didn’t notice them til -88 (and a few years later they got boring) but they were very nice, with whippets, dalmatians and tall, pale, freckled women framed by dark woods. Armani rarely fails to impress, early 90s had great black and white catalogues.

    I’m not sure there’s a big difference US/Europe. Agreed that the good fashion images I see are few and further apart than they used to me (admittedly, there was a couple of years when everything I saw was Hilfigerized and I stopped shopping that kind of magazine).

  6. Dysphem Says:

    Oh, no! Not fashion photography, too!

    It would seem that one of the objectives of the surrealist movement is in the process of coming to fruition: total dissolution of the element of taste with regards to the human viewer’s experience of art.

    Make that all art.

  7. Steve Cooper » Blog Archive » The Rise And Fall of Art Forms Says:

    […] things you should read; this coilhouse post introducing “The Decline of Fashion […]

  8. souleye cisse Says:

    I read the article myself but being an artist and a photographer, I was somewhat critical of her bias. you cannot judge the political views of an artist before you grant them status. a decadent artist can be a great artist. I have also some reason to wonder if that lady really understands photography, because writing an article about photography without a single mention of steven meisel is bordering on ignorance. that said, I don’t subscribe to the notion that old is great and contemporary is mediocre. who knows, today’s photographers may be hailed by future generations as geniuses. as the theory goes, humanity is decadent because creators of the past are always greater than those of the present. hmmm!