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Monday, 10 February 2014


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So, Mike, you assume that people read your blog at work and/or at school?! Tsts...

Viviane sassen´s ´´In and out of fashion`` is one of the best books on fashion i have seen sofar. I don´t care much about fashion photography. I bought this book because i knew her other book she made in Africa: ´´Flamboya`` i think she is one of the best photograhers working right now.

Fashion photography has found me, rather than me pursue it. perhaps it is difficult to avoid, as photographers in the past earned a wage via fashion photography: Leiter, Avedon, et. al. but recently, the work from Lillian Bassman and Deborah Turbeville (both stumbled upon a few weeks after their death, and not because of obituaries) has me seeking out more work from the fashion world. there is others such as Jonvelle and Sieff, with glorious "simple" B&W work, and more recently Olaf's Own (discovered at a bookstore).

as for Sassen's book: I loved Roxane, but the last one, while in many Top 10 lists did not elicit a purchase. Sassen is less in the vein of the older "liberated from fashion" and strikes me as a modern take on portraits that has the brightness, and other features, of The New Topographics: a colder and detached feeling from the subject — the opposite of what fashion photography in magazines would want.

I have not seen the Viviane Sassen book that Thomas references but I have seen some of her work in-person. She was among the annual "New Photography" crop at MoMA a few years ago.

I think some of her work is visually clever. She has one unforgettable (to me) image titled "DNA" featuring a black man standing at a sea shore with a black male child slung over his head and shoulders. Very arresting concept. The work she regards as part of her "fashion" work (a conceptual stretch) displays some sense of humor, a very rare quality for such MFA-thesis-style stuff these days.

But overall I personally don't find her type of work engaging. Much of it seems too self-referential, too contrived, too straining-to-be-important to me.

I generally don't care for fashion photography either, but I have enjoyed watching the documentaries that exist on a) Brian Duffy, and b) Bill Cunningham.

Both are unusual and interesting people. In terms of the work, Duffy's images have a special something.

Thomas, I suggest you check out what they call the 'style bibles.' These publications are meant to be less mainstream than the likes of Vogue, Elle, Harper's etc.

The only problem is that there are dozens and dozens of this kind of publication: i-D, V, Ten, Love, Pop, Purple, Tank, 125, Fantastic Man, Self-Service etc and none of them are cheap.

I think Thomas is trying to say don't judge the very broad term "fashion photography" by what you see in Harper's or Vogue. That's a little counter intuitive but there is more interesting "personal work" by all these people, and certainly the overseas magazines have a more fine art approach to what they show. From what I could see of the Viviane Sassen book, there were some interesting images there. From what Nick Knight had to say... well, whatever.

I have always looked at fashion as the Formula One of photography - that's where all the big R&D money goes, developing and testing the new concepts and technologies that eventually trickle down to our own cameras and workflows. Maybe not so much now but in the film days it certainly was.
Photo styles and trends start and end in fashion photography that eventually make it outside of its own rarefied world.

Fashion photography has its own history and its own canon, and following its timeline you can encounter some of the most interesting and transformational characters in photography.

As with any genre or school, there is enough boring or bad fashion photography out there to put off the casual investigator... "edgy" lighting that is just stupid, or days and days of girls with that "hit-over-the-head-with-a-frying-pan" look... with the digital democratization of the era, there is a lot of it to wade through. But sometimes you see something, and you think "yep, that's it." They brought it all together. Beauty for beauty's sake is an affirmation of its own.

Here's a resource worth perusing- I was surprised at the depth and seriousness of these writeups....


The problem with "fashion photography" is that most people think that there is some sort of agreed upon idea of what the word "fashion"* means. This is sort of like assuming Noam Chomsky and a sign painter both mean the same thing when they say the word "text"**

It helps if you think about fashion without thinking about clothing, models, and style.

*The word photography has the same problem to a lesser degree.

** unless you are John Baldessari

Check out Ari Seth Cohen's book "Advanced Style".....street fashion of the advanced age group.....very well done

There's nothing mysterious at all. Fashion is both meaningless and frivolous (sp). Having suffered thru numerous fashion weeks courtesy of the New York Times and pompous Ralph Lauren ads on public tv, I'm at a loss to understand how anyone could be "passionate" about fashion.

What had always wanted to know is: these freaky and extreme outfits that we always see in fashion shows, who buys them and who wears them? Where are they?

If nobody, as it seems, buys and wears these outlandish outfits, what does the fashion industry live on? Who is the customer?

And by the way, does anybody *like* to see a pretty girl clad in, say, parts of automobile tires? Or was The Emperors New Clothes written in vain?

Though I don't shoot fashion, to me the most interesting element of Ms. Sassen's pix is her unabashed use of the diagonal...if you look at her photos there's often a foot or other body element in the lower left or right corner that leads your eye into the picture. If it's not a body part it's a branch, or a shadow.
Why is that cool to me? Because it demonstrates the rules in old Kodak photo guides (like use natural frames, build triangles) really are used by great photographers.

Some fashion photography leaves me cold and I'm afraid I'd put Ms. Sassen in that camp. But oh, a good Testino (probably NSFW):


Or a Sarah Moon:


Or, best of all, Paolo Roversi - truly beautiful (some NSFW):


I don't know enough about fashion photography to know where these photographers sit within the canon, though of course they are all well known. They do inspire me though, and Testino in particular seems to push boundaries and to be interested in going to new photographic destinations.

The National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne, Australia) currently is showing "Edward Steichen and Art Deco Fashion". The exhibit showcases Steichen's fashion photography for Vogue and Vanity Fair from 1923 to 1939 along with designer fashion garments from the NGV's collection. The curator of the exhibit credits Steichen with the creation of modern fashion photography. Because Steichen was already a famous photographer when hired by Vogue, he was given the option of not having his name appear in the photo credits. He declined on the grounds that fashion photography was also art and his name should therefore appear. This exhibit is a touring exhibit of the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, Minneapolis, and is well worth seeing if it comes to a city near you. The link to the NGV's website is:

Eolake makes a good point; I think those crazy whacky runway looks are another aspect of fashion which makes it off-putting for people.

There is an assumption in the premise of your comment: that fashion is meant to make one look "good" or "attractive", but post-modernism kind of threw that to the dogs... The ready-to-wear runway shows are just tools to get department store "buyers" to place orders, and you probably never see those shows in the news. The shows you are likely referring to however are often more intellectual exercises (for young or boutique designers) to elevate their work. For established designers those shows are simply loss-leaders. There are maybe 15 people world-wide who might pay $25K to have a version of what they saw custom made, but generally none of that stuff is actually designed or produced for market. The real money comes from the resulting brand recognition, thats all.

I think of it this way: The runways are like the peer-reviewed journals of the fashion industry. Occasionally an idea is embraced by much of the industry, and slowly elements of those experiments trickle out to the rest of the fashion world in the same way that advanced theoretical physics research eventually finds its way into an article by Ctein for the rest of us to enjoy ;)

Your emperors new clothes comparison is difficult for me to accept, because I believe almost everything we do is a "fashion" of sorts - what car I drive, how I crop my hair, what colour I paint my house, what religion or moral beliefs I hold dear... what camera we choose - how many of us have bought a camera partially because of what we feel it projects about us??? The emperors new clothes syndrome is all pervasive, not exclusive to fashion.

I struggle to not mock people in my head when I go to the golf course and they have all the newest fancy gear, or spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a car - A CAR!!! - and yet I don't blush at spending hundreds of dollars on a plain white button up shirt, or hundreds more on a pair of completely blank black sneakers. I KNOW this is ridiculous, but we all have our thing don't we?

So maybe those models walking down the runway in car tyres is just the equivalent of the Ferrari Hasselblad - someone out there bought that thing, and I for one am stunned!

Fashion made very little sense to me until I saw September Issue, and it occurred to me that fashion is just medium of art and development.

In the same way that people make sculpture or graphic compositions to express how they feel, to make a statement or to extend the vernacular within their field, so it is with fashion. It's just that the materials happen to be clothes and models, and the galleries are runways.

In the same way that no-one can or would buy a concept or formula one car. They exist to ask 'what if?', 'could we?' and 'how far can we go?' In doing so they stretch and reset expectations of the onlookers and though the process might take years and most concepts will die and be forgotten, much of what we take for granted now began as an idea that was grappled with at the fringes of normality.

"Nude fashion" photography? The term seems like another oxymoron
doesn't it? Unless we're talking hair and makeup..

It's at least in the same league as George Carlin's "Jumbo Shrimp" if not up there with "congressional ethics" "judicial restraint" or "military justice" ;-)

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