Fashion photography is a genre of photography which is devoted to displaying clothing and other fashion items. Fashion photography is most often conducted for advertisements or fashion magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, or Elle. Over time, fashion photography has developed its own aesthetic in which the clothes and fashions are enhanced by the presence of exotic locations or accessories.
Fashion photography has been in existence since the earliest days of photography. In 1856, Adolphe Braun published a book containing 288 photographs of Virginia Oldoini, Countess di Castiglione, a Tuscan noblewoman at the court of Napoleon III. The photos depict her in her official court garb, making her the first fashion model.
In the first decade of the 20th century, advances in halftone printing allowed fashion photographs to be featured in magazines. Fashion photography made its first appearance in French magazines such as La mode pratique. In 1909, Condé Nast took over Vogue magazine and also contributed to the beginnings of fashion photography. In 1911, photographer Edward Steichen was “dared” by Lucien Vogel, the publisher of Jardin des Modes and La Gazette du Bon Ton, to promote fashion as a fine art by the use of photography. Steichen then took photos of gowns designed by couturier Paul Poiret. These photographs were published in the April 1911 issue of the magazine Art et Décoration. According to Jesse Alexander, This is “…now considered to be the first ever modern fashion photography shoot. That is, photographing the garments in such a way as to convey a sense of their physical quality as well as their formal appearance, as opposed to simply illustrating the object.
A modern fashion photograph by Inez van Lamsweerde
Vogue was followed by its rival, Harper’s Bazaar, and the two companies were leaders in the field of fashion photography throughout the 1920s and 1930s. House photographers such as Edward Steichen, George Hoyningen-Huene, Horst P. Horst and Cecil Beaton transformed the genre into an outstanding art form.