Can contemporary fashion photography merge into art and fashion? Essay

Can contemporary fashion contemporary fashion photography merge into art and fashion?


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Contemporary Fashion Photography is traditionally regarded positioned at the lightweight end of photographic practice and on the fringe of a true art-form - Can contemporary fashion photography merge into art and fashion? Essay introduction? “Its close relationship to the economic imperatives of turnover makes the fashion photograph the transitory image par excellence.” (JOBLING, Paul p. 1) However Contemporary fashion photography has emerged as a ubiquitous representational form, “with us from sunrise to sunset, in the privacy of our homes and on public streets, in a format we can hold in our hands and one that towers over us on billboards the size of buildings.” (SCHROEDER, Jonathan E. p. 15)  Early criticisms of Contemporary Fashion Photography as an art form described the new technique as one that directly reproduced reality. “However, the disparity between the photographic record and perceptual experience reveals the artistic, political, and representational potential of Contemporary Fashion Photography.  The photographic image maintains a privileged place in the pantheon of visual consumption.” (SCHROEDER, Jonathan E. p. 15)

The material under discussion in this study has been organized to present an open discussion format. Each point presented has its own position supported by opinion and research and diverse sources perspective.  Yet there is a relationship, in loose and un- constructed manner, to the opposing others in a wider argument concerning the construction of the body in word and image in contemporary fashion Contemporary Fashion Photography. “It takes as a ‘machine for making Fashion’ while examining the social, economic and aesthetic factors that have been instrumental in forging an identity for fashion Contemporary Fashion Photography since 1980.” (JOBLING, Paul, p. 9)

Chapter I

Historical Comparison

The argument is ever present that the entire history of contemporary fashion photography has been the chronology of a medium at the secondary border of art. Nineteenth-century amateur photographic societies and contemporary fashion photography journals were arenas for protracted debates between those committed to Contemporary Fashion Photography’s status.  As a scientific recording tool and those determined to establish Contemporary Fashion Photography as a fine-art form, the opportunity existed for accomplishment and establishment.   Certainly gender and sexuality have been implicated in fashion Contemporary Fashion Photography since the early twentieth century. But during the 1970s there was a marked shift of emphasis in the way that the female body was represented as a fetishistic object of desire in the work of photographers like Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, Chris von Wangenheim and Deborah Turbeville. “Nudity became more common, and fashion Contemporary Fashion Photography also took on connotations of lesbianism, as in Newton’s infamous image of two models smoking a cigarette in a hotel lobby for French Vogue.” (JOBLING, Paul p. 10)

The comparison of Victorian “pictorial photographers” to legitimate photographic art alongside painting, sculpture, and printmaking has been an ongoing debate.  “The continuing tussle in the twentieth century to position Contemporary fashion photography within the institutions of the fine-art world has constituted a central theme for photographic history.”  (Sieberling, 1986) Referred to this as “the aesthetic of the picturesque,” the unparalleled numbers of people engaged in some form of photographic production.  The long struggle to establish Contemporary fashion photography as a legitimate art form still continues today.  There is a clear and obvious tendency of the art establishment to exclude and to narrowly restrict the boundaries of admissible photographic art.   “The established arts have all contributed to the formation of peripheral spheres of photo activity on the margins of art.” (GROSS, Larry p.184)

Contemporary Fashion Photography is entering into the commercial galleries and, most recently, the fashion business is a growing source of economic aid for the arts. The burgeoning crossover between the worlds of fashion and art is increasingly apparent – contemporary work is instill with concerns about gender identity, Since the beginning of the “contemporary age,” there have been countless major Contemporary fashion photography exhibitions at New York City’s Guggenheim Museum alone, as well as other international events that interweave fashion and art.

Advertising agencies, Contemporary fashion photography studios, and design firms are full of people with art history training. Furthermore, the world of advertising represents a popular art form that is often represented in fine art museums. (Schroeder 1997). “Thus, it seems reasonable to turn to art history – a field that has been analyzing images for hundreds of years – to expand our knowledge of advertising images.” (SCHROEDER, Jonathan E. p.137)

The expansion of the new media has provided more space for arts and culture pages and programs and alongside this there has been enormous growth in both the production and the consumption of various forms of culture. Fashion design fits well into these developments in a number of different ways: the history of fashion, as well as the history of fashion contemporary fashion photography.  They all now are the position of it self as the central subject of gallery exhibitions and retrospectives.  “The young designers showing their work at degree shows are treated by the press and television companies in the same respectful tones as their counterparts in fine art; and knowledge of, and familiarity with fashion design culture has entered into a more popular vernacular and has become something that almost everybody knows something about.” (MCROBBIE, Angela p. 183)

In each stated or written position on the issue, an interesting point is elaborated between the form and content of the photographs and the pieces of writing cited that has implications for the meaning of authorship and originality. In addition, with their nostalgic emphasis, contemporary photographs envision an artistic attempt in which the past and present appears to collapse into each other.  “It is not surprising, therefore, to find that several critics have drawn historical parallels between the classical, statue men of contemporary fashion Contemporary fashion photography and earlier manifestations of muscularity in terms of what has come to be commonly known as body fascism.” (JOBLING, p. 147)  Contemporary fashion photography’s ambivalent status as both scientific record and a new art form generated an uncertainty as to what has been described by the established as “legitimate Contemporary fashion photography,” and equally important to those in the industry, who had the right to practice it.  For example, reviewing the controversy over the portrait photographs by Antoine Samuel Adam (1818 – 1881), as the debated started over a century ago.

Chapter II

International Perspective

Antoine Samuel Adam’s portraits, such as that of the French writer and journalist, Alphonse Karr, described as “the finest photographic portraits in the world” However, some found Antoine Samuel Adam’s achievement suspicious and asserted that they must have been retouched by the artist. Needless to say, painted portraits were continually reworked so as to flatter the sitter but retouching seemed to contradict the very nature of Contemporary fashion photography as the record of a particular instant.

In direct opposition to traditional art and design history and literary criticism methods, cultural studies offers a way of studying objects as systems rather than as the simple product of authorship. Borrowed from European structuralism, the theory of language “loom as the most essential of cultural studies concepts, either in its own right, or through being appropriated as a model for understanding other cultural systems” (Turner 1996).   The structures of language, deployed through speech or text, have been shown to reveal those mechanisms through which individuals make sense of the world: “Culture, as the site where that sense or meaning is generated and experienced, becomes a determining, productive field through which social realities are constructed, experienced and interpreted” (Turner 1996).

Saussure and later Roland Barthes,  offered a more refined mechanism for applying the structural model of language across the wider range of cultural signifying systems, allowing the scholar to examine the social specificity of representations and their meaning across different cultural practices: gesture, literature, drama, conversation, contemporary fashion photography, film, television and, of course, dress. (BARTHES, Roland 1973.)  Punk anti-fashion was an unstable constellation of various signifying elements and insignia derived from the repertoire of postwar British street styles. It was also decisively influenced by art school experimentation in fashion and design. Punk stylists like Johnny Rotten selected specific motifs and garments from the wardrobes of teds, rockers, mods, skinheads and glam rockers and combined them into iconoclastic and anarchic sartorial assemblages.  By the 1980s models had become household names, often better known than the designers of the clothes they wore on the catwalk. “Each supermodel had a particular look which concurred with the fashion moment and epitomized the dominant characteristics of the contemporary western feminine ideal.

Accordingly, “…the influence of the supermodel in the formation of gender identity was fiercely debated; never more so in the 1990s with the introduction of the waif look through the new realist contemporary fashion photography.” (CHILDS, Peter p. 514)   “One enduring feature of glamour is its identification with fashion. In a recent analysis of contemporary fashion photography, Clive Scott contrasted ‘glamour’ with ‘sophistication’. Even though he found that in the fashion press glamour was still considered down-market, the low scale of the retail market while just as pronounced was found on the side the sophistication was seen as up-market or up scale.” (SCOTT, Clive p. 156)  Fashion journalism and contemporary fashion photography are unique in the field of mass communications and traditional art.

The fashion pages show clothes available for consumption and list or they talk about designers and retailers and report on the new collections, but these pages do not have to sell the clothes. Because they are neither advertisements nor reviews in the traditional sense, nor simply consumer information, they occupy a vague and of art form. “It is precisely this that licenses the move into the field of fantasy and sexuality. The photographers and stylists welcome the creative freedom provided on the fashion pages.” (MCROBBIE, Angela p.164)  These constructions of identities through the body of art and its affiliation often carry powerful political and economic implications. Papers demonstrated that in contemporary Western contexts, allusions to other influences, i.e. Africa, through adornments and images such as those found in colonial-era postcards and contemporary fashion photography still carry the weight of colonization and its aftermath. The African body has for centuries been an object of much fascination to Western observers, who framed it to fuel many misconceptions about the continent’s peoples and cultures. The colonialist image of the “naked savage” long poisoned the relationship between African and Western peoples; the forced or coerced abandonment of indigenous attire in favor of Western dress was for much of the past two centuries a symbol of the “civilizing” process. Throughout Africa today, deliberate revivals of “traditional” forms serve as symbols of political and cultural movements, often coexisting with Western styles that have been modified to suit local tastes.” ADAMS Sarah, p. 1

Creativity and commerce in contemporary fashion photography,” accordingly, a great deal of what “Fashioning Fiction” attempts to demonstrate in its mix and match of art and fashion Contemporary fashion photography has already been demonstrated, if largely unanalyzed. “Generally speaking, the exhibition catalogue proposes a decisive change in the look and content of fashion and style Contemporary Fashion Photography occurred in the 1990s, during this period art and fashion Contemporary fashion photography increasingly suggested narratives of greater or lesser ambiguity, alluded to various film genres and even documentary Contemporary fashion photography, and evoked “personal” or “lifestyle” projects from the art side and from the fashion side, and this cross-fertilization between artistic and commercial Contemporary fashion photography affirms the vitality and creativity of both practices.” (SOLOMON-GODEAU Abigail, p, 192)  This genre emphasizes the contradictions inherent in contemporary fashion photography, which hinge upon the coincidence of seemingly inconsistent terms such as ‘street’ Contemporary fashion photography and high fashion; spectacle and activity; provocation and commercialism.

Unlike art, fashion obviously functions primarily within a marketplace that serves to sell clothes. Only belatedly does contemporary fashion photography sell itself as art, almost as an afterthought. The boundaries between art Contemporary fashion photography and contemporary fashion photography have always been blurred – photographers themselves crossing easily between genres. “Institutions such as Condé Nast, a major publishing house that specializes in magazines and women’s fashion magazines in particular, were among the first to promote art Contemporary fashion photography as such in the twentieth century.”  (ENTWISTLE, Joanne p.187)  Although a great deal of work has been undertaken in recent years on consumerism, fashion, contemporary fashion photography and the media, there is not as yet any theory of glamour. Contribution, by fashion sociologist and historians, is important because they were writing about luxury, fashion, conspicuous consumption and cinema towards the end of the moment that has been identified here as having witnessed the birth of glamour. “Perhaps the most important starting point, however, is the concept of the decline of the aura of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.” (BENJAMIN, Walter 1973)  Contemporary Fashion Photography’s fascination with the ordinary is nothing new, but the crystallization of this fascination into a curatorial and editorial aesthetic is a relatively recent development.

However, with all these advantages the fashion media remain none the less unadventurous and trapped in a format which came into being when fashion was an exclusively female and ‘society’, or upper-class, interest. The history of Vogue magazine reveals a lineage of grande dame editors most of whom were unashamedly elitist in their desire to create a luxury magazine for well-to-do readers. These editors did a great deal to bring fashion design into prominence as an art. “They achieved this partly by treating key fashion designers as creative geniuses; they also provided the space in which contemporary fashion photography was able to establish itself and this, too, was celebrated as a branch of modern art. Since then this tradition has been taken as the canon of fashion journalism.” (MCROBBIE, Angela p.173)

Chapter III

The Science of the Art

If advertising is not an official or state art, it is nonetheless clearly art. The development of painting, Contemporary Fashion Photography, and prints in the fine arts has been intimately intertwined with the development of commercial art for over a century. “While few American writers have joined Malcolm Cowley in exclaiming that literature should borrow a little punch and confidence from American business,” (SHI, David E p. 172.  Artists and photographers from Toulouse-Lautrec on have frequently done commercial art or been influenced by it. The difference between contemporary fashion photography and Contemporary Fashion Photography as art is subtle, if it exists at all, and certainly the techniques and innovations in contemporary fashion photography influence Contemporary Fashion Photography as fine art as often as the other way around. In recent years, television commercial techniques have influenced film and commercial directors have become makers of feature films. (BARNICOAT, John, p. VI-I)  The photographic print, of course, could be treated as a precious work of art, whereas the printed page could not, but for Penn, art was not the main point: “The modern photographer does not think of contemporary fashion photography as an art form or of his photograph as an art object . . . . In modern contemporary fashion photography that which is art, is so as the by-product of a serious and useful job, soundly and lovingly done.” Penn is quoted in “What Is Modern Contemporary Fashion Photography?” (EISINGER, Joel p.117)

Needless to say, most advertising is dull and conventional, as creative workers in the business are the first to point out. “But there is no question that advertising shapes aesthetic tastes, and at least occasionally educates the eye in ways serious artists can applaud. Critics quick to attack the “desires” advertising promotes are apt not to notice, or having noticed, to reject, the visual tastes advertising shapes. One can gaze, as literary historian Leo Spitzer observed, “with disinterested enjoyment” at an advertisement whose claims for its product do not seem the least bit credible.” (SCHUDSON, Michael p. 222)

One enduring feature of glamour is its identification with fashion. In a recent analysis of contemporary fashion photography, artists contrasted ‘glamour’ with ‘sophistication’. This format found that in the fashion press glamour was described as youthful, dynamic and pleasure-seeking, On the other hand sophistication is seen as: mature, poised, restrained and introvert. (GRIFFITHS, Ian p. 37)  “It is no accident that they have coincided with the revival of figurative painting and the rise of conceptual art, of what is called photography as a high art forms, of video, alternative film practices, performance art – all of which have worked to challenge both the humanist notion of the artist as romantic individual ‘genius’ (and therefore of art as the expression of universal meaning by a transcendent human subject) and the modernist domination of two particular art forms, painting and sculpture.” (HUTCHEON, Linda p. 139)

As a comparative method, one can study other art forms that feature the observation of body language and motion and also how the camera presented them to the spectator. The movement arts, i.e. ballet include among its characters a cinematographer who directs the others in their poses. Current studies are deliberately selective, and do not make any claim providing an exhaustive chronological survey or history of fashion contemporary fashion photography.


As in any theoretical disposition that sees history as progressing toward a particular point or goal as a matter of necessity is called a study of causes or teleology. “In the history and criticism of art, a particularly good example of teleology can be found in Clement Greenberg’s understanding of art history, which he presents as gradually progressing toward “pure” modernist painting. The development and eventual dominance of abstract painting, then, is not simply a choice or preference of artists, but is seen by Greenberg and others as a matter of historical necessity.” (MCLERRAN, Jennifer p. 91)

When the public first encountered Contemporary Fashion Photography in 1839, they were not at all certain what kind of neither invention it was nor how it was to be used. Was it to be a source of scientific information, an aid to artists, an art form in its own right, or a medium of totally unforeseen consequences? To many people, Contemporary Fashion Photography appeared to be a nearly miraculous, automatic, and literal system for recording appearances. Photographers were simply operators of the system, and photographs were pure traces of nature. “Early commentators described Contemporary Fashion Photography as “a chemical and physical process which gives Nature the ability to reproduce herself,” as “Nature herself reflecting her own face,” “perfect transcripts of the thing itself,” or simply “Nature herself.”

This view of Contemporary Fashion Photography as a purely natural and automatic phenomenon was not, especially in the nineteenth century, conducive to the development of theory and criticism of Contemporary Fashion Photography as art. “Photographic art theory and criticism could only arise from a vision of Contemporary Fashion Photography as a process that transforms the world rather than one that merely traces it directly, and this process of transformation had to be seen as subject to the deliberate and expressive control of the photographer.” (EISINGER, Joel p.13)

“By 1943, the art direction of American Vogue was taken up by Alexander Liberman, who continued to occupy the post until 1961, and the work of a new school of indigenous photographers, including chiefly Irving Penn, Jerry Schatzberg and William Klein, began to appear in its pages. In Britain also, the post-war period witnessed the revitalisation of contemporary fashion photography in Vogue by a younger generation of photographers.” (JOBLING, Paul, p. 21)  Moreover, in reworking the idea of the turn of the century the piece appears to correspond to ‘Veiled Threats’ from The Face, but in many respects the links between them are superficial.

As we have seen, although the latter has historicist connotations, it does not simply romanticize the past as a fashion statement or as an ideologically safe haven, but rather uses the past as a masquerade to suggest what is wrong with the present. (JOBLING, Paul, p. 54)  Many artists never constructed a rigorous critical theory, but many practice a form criticism toward the art form. The rejection of academic, as was put during the time, didactic criticism that is concerned with laying down universal rules for an art form, there was no open objection to such criticism in principle, but the prevailing thought of the day was contemporary fashion photography too young an art for such universal laws to be apparent. (EISINGER, Joel p.44)

Since 1964, Britain has been a hugely influential force in global popular music. Being a small country with a centralized music and the tendency to experiment and innovate in the areas of youth interest particularly music fashion has resulted in a large number of sub-cultural developments of a specifically British nature achieving widespread attention to the Bristol-based ‘trip hop’ culture of the early 1990s. (CHILDS, Peter, p. 411)

Fashion photographers capitalized on the 1960s spirit. The photographers who were intent on creating social statements that rejected the structures of contemporary fashion photography and reflected women in these ‘disturbing times’ Some  incorporated ‘a range of poses and gestures’ from the American Ballet Theatre into his Contemporary Fashion Photography which created new conventions of gesture and display. (CRAIK, Jennifer, p. 106)  Art historian Martin Harrison made the observation contemporary fashion photography undergoes a transformation during the 1960s in terms of both its subject and its style.

Chapter IV

Impact of a Generation

Like many phenomena associated with the 1960s, these changes do not occur without transforming social discourse; they are symptomatic of larger and gradual mutations in culture during the post WWII era. ‘New wave’ Contemporary Fashion Photography freed the women from a domestic position from the studio. It emphasized fluidity and movement, a certain style rather than a set of commodities. Harrison refers to this photographic mode as ‘outside fashion’, a mode that he sees as a representation of a new feminine ideal grounded in activity. These aesthetic and social issues were associated with economic changes in major consumer industries, clothing in particular, as well as such diverse events such as the shifts in Hollywood that resulted in a fragmentation of the film industry and the rise of the independent film. This new cinema, characterized by young European film-makers, for example, had a marked influence on contemporary fashion photography and its reception. (ENTWISTLE, Joanne p. 185)

Contemporary fashion photography in the 1960s offered a new ideal for women, one in which she is represented as autonomous and as democratic. Models were no longer anonymous and as household names were able to assume control of their careers. Nonetheless, the body that these photographs privileged was that of an adolescent. The adolescent body was freed from the constraints of previous fashions that controlled the feminine body through external means; however, these external constraints were replaced by strict regimes of diet and exercise.

This paradox should lead us to question our notions of ‘freedom’ and its possibilities. “The development of contemporary fashion photography in the 1960s as a means of embodying a new mode of femininity illustrates the problems posed by the representations of freedom and action in consumer culture.” (ENTWISTLE, Joanne p. 183)  It was in the 1980s when many mainstream fashion magazines supported the crossover activities of artists and art photographers. Yet the redundant and simplistic terms in which the fashion catalogues referred to the art work or pictures, whether those produced by art photographers or those produced by fashion photographers, fail to address the substantive issues raised by the photographs themselves. For surely contemporary fashion photography’s various plays with sex and gender, race and difference, are among its most significant elements.

And surely another significant aspect of the genre is its ideological address, its complex orchestrations of spectator desire, projection, identification, fetishism, voyeurism, and all the other psychic mechanisms that account for the power, the influence, and indeed the pleasure such pictures produce. Last, but hardly least, there is the question of how such photographs–paradigms of the simulacra–impact on social reality, including the self-images of actual women, men, and adolescents.   (SOLOMON-GODEAU Abigail, p. 192)

Because the phenomenon of fashion Contemporary Fashion Photography in the museum virtually by definition celebrates the photographer/author, it produces the illusion that his or her imagery is individually rather than culturally generated and often collectively produced. While this authorial emphasis obviously elides the role of the stylist (a professional routinely credited in editorial style Contemporary Fashion Photography who often scripts the shoot, scouts locations, and dresses the models), so too does it obscure the web of visual influence of all forms of visual culture. Although MOMA credits fashion editors and stylists in the catalogue checklist, few outside the professional field of fashion Contemporary Fashion Photography will likely be aware of their central role in producing the exhibited photographs. Accordingly, the act of de-constructing photographs by isolating, framing, and mounting them on walls effectively flattens their specificity, their instrumentality, and their original mode of address, and thus the consumer or audience targeted by the photographic work is obscured. (SOLOMON-GODEAU Abigail, p. 192)

The fashion magazine and the fashion photograph tend to be regarded by many historians and critics as ephemeral and exiguous forms of cultural production. Hence, in 1979 Nancy Hall-Duncan commented that, ‘Fashion photographs are ostensibly as transitory as last year’s style or this month’s magazine issue.’  While in 1991 Eamonn Mc Cabe, picture editor of The Guardian, declared in somewhat parallel terms: ‘contemporary fashion photography is like its models, nobody wants it for very long.’ However, such statements tend to sound overly analyzed, and although we all wear clothing or fashion on our bodies, there are significant differences between how actual garments and representations of them are both produced and consumed.

Indeed, the fashion magazine is a prime motivator in helping us to assess the meaning of clothing, of determining what is in fashion and what is out.   Fashion Contemporary Fashion Photography is in the company of a long history of colonial civilizing projects. The link between local and transnational images of objects, events, and discourses of dress and adornment is evident. Women’s circulation practices are critical to these linkages. Like fashion, Contemporary Fashion Photography has been amenable to women’s strategies of self-representation, diversification of wealth forms, and status advancement. Rather than assimilating Africans to Europe, Contemporary Fashion Photography reinvigorated long-standing local contests for prestige and respectability. To be worthwhile, the dress and conduct of the civilized must be recognized in collective efforts such as social events, visual records, and gossip. (KASPIN, Deborah D. p 178)

Recognized in the museum’s canon of Contemporary Fashion Photography, the question is raised of what makes a photograph a work of art. Artists acknowledged explicitly that John Szarkowski, (influential photography curator, historian, and critic former Director of Photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art) inclusiveness, and the inclusiveness he wished to promote on behalf of mass media Contemporary Fashion Photography, ignored the photographer’s intention as the factor that determines which photographs are art. Contemporaries had no qualms about this, “Obviously art is in need of a new definition that will bypass the question of the artist’s intention.” If the artist’s intention is not the factor that determines which photographs are art, then what is? Art and Fashions contemporaries grappled with the question in a review of Szarkowski’s Looking at photographs.

The foundation for the world-wide quest of art and fashion in merchandise has been transformed stores into museums and expositions freely open to the enjoyment and education of the people.  Here an example of the step ahead of retail merchants who were still buying from importers, or through foreign commissionaires.


“As a result, the elements were taken as seriously as the photographs, and fully integrated with them to produce a holistic piece of design. In addition, the idea of creatively styling each fashion feature according to a particular theme so as to optimize the types of fashion represented was also increasing in importance, and with the advent of Ray Petri in the summer of 1983 seemed to become an art form in its own right.” (JOBLING, Paul, p. 38)  With regard to its fashion content, photographers who had already contributed to The Face graduated to Arena, include Juergen Teller. (JOBLING, Paul, p. 53)  There have been an elaborate number of the identifiable themes and chief ideas that have emerged in fashion Contemporary Fashion Photography since 1980. This has entailed making certain strategic choices – which kinds of fashion magazines to include, for instance, and how many of each type. Traditional or high-fashion magazines whose readership is predominantly female, style periodicals for youth culture and, finally, magazines designated for men who are interested in fashion. (JOBLING, Paul, p. 6)

Colored photographs occupy an undeservedly questionable situation: the artist curls his lip at them, and the photographer regards them with a sneer. The one says they are no paintings, the other that they are no photographs; thus the art of photographic coloring, unrecognized by either, must seek consolation in the fact that it is embraced none the less eagerly by both. At exhibitions of paintings colored photographs are peremptorily refused, and it is very frequently advised that they should not be received for photographic exhibitions.   An example of normalizing discourse is contemporary fashion photography, which “…operates through images of women that produce a normative femininity to which subjects feel constrained to conform.” (PATIN Thomas, p. 91)

There are fashions and fashions. While western elite designer fashion constitutes one system, it is by no means exclusive nor does it determine all other systems. Just as fashion systems may be parodied from the late Middle Ages until the present (rather than assuming an unfolding teleology), so too contemporary fashion systems may be recast as an array of competing and inter-meshing systems cutting across western and non-western cultures. (CRAIK, Jennifer, p. 6)  It is not only through the costumes worn during her operation-performances that cross over from the art world to the world of fashion and style. The blurring of boundaries between these two domains has recently begun to stimulate a lot of debate, and in this case, the visual artist has begun to demonstrate many of the complexities typical of the new crossovers between art and fashion.

In many cases museum curators justify their position on photography and art claiming that the “fashion world has turned to current trends in art Contemporary Fashion Photography,” despite their talk of the multiple cultural intersections running through ’90s fashion Contemporary Fashion Photography. Almost every detail of the exhibition colludes to support this view, especially their inclusion of six “art photographers” as half of the show. Perhaps this should be expected at the Museum of Modern Art, which is, after all, an institution devoted to the legitimacy and importance of art as a cultural practice. Yet since its founding in the ’30s, MOMA has promoted broadening the self-conscious criticality of modern art to include practices previously considered degraded by their commercial economies, such as Contemporary Fashion Photography and design. The Modern was the first institution to propose that Contemporary Fashion Photography need not reference painting for legitimacy and that design could be viewed in terms of its own formal and functional conditions.  “Fashion education, for example (and fashion designers themselves) sometimes displays a remarkably imperialistic attitude in their uncritical plundering and eroticization of other cultures in search of new fashion ideas. Geography is as rich a resource in this respect as history, contemporary fashion photography as a genre is steeped in notions of ‘exotic locations’.  But the significance of fashion oriental requires much more work than a simple reference can do justice to in this context.” (MCROBBIE, Angela, p.11)  The representation of clothing produces a contemporary image of ‘what looks natural’: ‘In order that the look of the body might always be beautiful, significant, and comprehensible to the eye, ways developed of reshaping and presenting it anew by means of clothing’ contemporary fashion photography introduced new codes of ‘naturalism’ and new ways of thinking about fashion. Previously, conventions of portraiture structured the depiction of fashion. “Mirrors were often used as props to show the face of the sitter while the rest of the painting showed the details of the clothing and toilette.” (CRAIK, Jennifer, p. 93)

Chapter V

Technique and Style

As already noted, techniques of dress and decoration in non-western cultures are distinguished from fashion. They are regarded as traditional and unchanging reflections of social hierarchies, beliefs and customs. Non-western dress embodies meanings of spirituality, religiosity and fertility while also encoding power relations. Occasionally, dress is also acknowledged as an art form with aesthetic meanings. For western observers, the idea that non-western dress does not change is central to establishing its difference from western fashion, which is predicated on regular and arbitrary changes. (CRAIK, Jennifer, p. 18)

The involvement of connections between bodies and clothes and between clothed bodies and their social impact, have inflected changing conventions of fashion Contemporary Fashion Photography over the years.  From the classic formal poses of early Contemporary Fashion Photography; to the use of gestures and location shooting and indiscernible clothing in ‘a pleasing blur. “In the 1980s, fashion Contemporary Fashion Photography dispensed with tableaux (formalized settings and possibly implied narratives) replaced them with the imperatives of video through the use of moving images Fashion Contemporary Fashion Photography faces another cross-roads.

On the one hand, fashion Contemporary Fashion Photography has become a respectable art -form, represented in galleries and museums and celebrated in retrospective exhibitions which: invite us to look in a different, more thoughtful, more abstracting way. Time has changed them, too. “Seen in this retrospective form (compiled in a book, on the walls of a museum), images that started out as fashion photographs become a commentary on the idea of the fashionable.” (SONTAG, S. p. 174)  The images might be designed to shock, but the text remains culturally reassuring. On these pages fashion reporting and writing conform to a pattern wherein no real offence is ever spoken and no rules appear to be broken.

The ‘shock of the new’ remains carefully contained within the legitimate avant-gardism of contemporary fashion photography (for example, the ‘dirty realism’ of grunge) and the fashion media regulates itself with a system of informal censorship. Of all forms of the consumer culture, fashion seems to be the least open to self scrutiny and political debate. This is because the editors deem that fashion must steer well clear of politics, and fashion journalists are expected to go along with this. With Vouge acting more or less as a universal benchmark of quality, fashion-as-politics is only conceivable as a catchy idea for a ‘fashion story’. (MCROBBIE, Angela, p.153)

Another way to understand this fragmentation and reconstruction all forms of Contemporary Fashion Photography as conventional and rule governed and who argued that values and attitudes held by different types of photographers are socially determined. Part of a sociological study done in late 1980’s of Contemporary Fashion Photography claims to have established how each group or class regulates and organizes the individual practice by conferring upon it functions attuned to its own interests.

The interests of middle-class amateurs are served by legitimizing Contemporary Fashion Photography as an art form, thus distinguishing their practice from “ordinary” Contemporary Fashion Photography. “That the meaning Contemporary Fashion Photography has to the middle class “conveys or betrays” its relationship to culture; “that is, to the upper class (bourgeoisie) who retain the privilege of cultural practices which are held to be superior, and to the working classes from whom they wish to distinguish themselves at all costs by manifesting, through the practices which are accessible to them, their cultural goodwill.

It is in this way that members of photographic clubs seek to ennoble themselves culturally by attempting to ennoble Contemporary Fashion Photography, a substitute within their range and grasp for the higher arts. (GROSS, Larry p. 178)  The most obvious procedure for this art that plumbs the dark secrets of the photographic question, the public trace of a submerged memory, would be to make use of the photographic media themselves, isolating pieces of information, repeating them, changing their scale, altering or highlighting color, and in so doing revealing the hidden structures of desire that persuade our thoughts.

And indeed, it has been this kind of practice, the practice of such artists working with video, film, and contemporary fashion photography, And yet despite the success of this approach, it remains, in the end, too straightforwardly declarative. What ambiguity there exists in the work is a given of its own inner workings, and can do little to stimulate the growth of a really troubling doubt. (WALLIS Brian, p. 163)

After contemporary fashion photography had served its function of selling clothes, it remained a delightful and charming evocation of a world of dreams. Photographers are indignant that fashion photographs and mass media photographs in general were treated as second-class work and not given the serious attention that art Contemporary Fashion Photography received; just because commercial Contemporary Fashion Photography is made for money and to satisfy a client rather than the artist’s personal interests does not mean it cannot be art. (EISINGER, Joel p. 240)

“If such results could be obtained by retouching, I should be disposed to exclaim, Let it be as lawful as eating.” (JANET, E. 1989) The confession that most are a little amused, in common with correspondents and how deeply injured photographers have felt because contemporary fashion photography has been denied the recognition of a fine art, and yet when results beyond challenge, on art grounds, are produced, photographers are the first to exclaim that such results are due to extraneous means, and not to legitimate contemporary fashion photography. (MIRZOEFF, Nicholas p. 67)  This all seems to be compatible with the fact that contemporary Fashion Photography is indeed examples of mass and fine art.

That we treat such specimens as so-called high art due to their scarcity and/or their beauty does not preclude their status as early mass art. “Maybe some of our contemporary fashion photography will be treated with the same esteem in the twenty-fourth century. And, in any case, where I invoke the notion of ‘high art’ in the sense of contemporary high art, I mean it to be understood primarily in terms of the avant-garde. So even if we honorifically treat some popular, pre-industrial, Japanese woodcuts as high art today in the somewhat dubious, honorific sense of high art.” (CARROLL, Noël p. 208)

One obvious feature of the approach to the philosophy of art is that it is historical. Certain art-forms exemplify certain stages in the development of consciousness for a time, and then things change. Consciousness changes the art that externalizes or embodies it changes in concert. Thus, art that is appropriate for one epoch is not necessarily appropriate to another. Art evolves over time. So, the criteria for art (and, presumably, even art status) that are fitting at one point in history, may not be appropriate at a later point in history.

Chapter VI

The Innovations

The matron of all arts, dance drew upon contemporary fashion photography and illustration. Boris Kochno, who oversaw this ballet about a competition between tailors, was a confidant of Coco Chanel. Even though the ballet was set in provincial France of the late 1890s, it really reflected urbane fashion feuds of the early 1930s, calling to mind the battles we now witness between designers like Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace. (ADSHEAD-LANSDALE, Janet, p. 113)  Where Vogue Italia used gangster-style cross-dressing in an all-male ensemble, a few months later British Vogue featured a gangster spread (top left) by the same photographer (Peter Lindbergh) that involved a clearly gendered couple: Bonnie and Clyde. “However, while the theme of criminality remains, the loss of the sexualized Italianate cultural influence and gritty, sweaty realism leaves these images clearly framed (literally) and containable as innocent charades. That the same photographer produced two so very different gangster spreads may be in part explained by the different editorial policy of the two magazines: Vogue Italia is widely recognized as being at the cutting edge of contemporary fashion photography, while British Vogue has undergone a transformation to (safer) American standards (Coleridge 1988).” (HORNE Peter, p. 185)

The (post)modern destruction of reality is accomplished in everyday life, not in the studios of the avant-garde. Just as the artists who lean toward “situation” art collected examples of the bizarre happenings that pass as normality from the newspapers, so can one now see the collapse of reality in everyday life from the mass visual media? In the early 1980s, postmodern photographers like Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince sought to question the authenticity of contemporary fashion photography by appropriating photographs taken by other people. This dismissal of contemporary fashion photography’s claim to represent the truth is now a staple of popular culture. (MIRZOEFF, Nicholas p. 17)

The important figures from the fashion world Orlan, (French multimedia/performance artist, the creator of Carnal Art, and a first person who used plastic surgery as a medium of artistic expression) has worked with, in addition to Issey Miyake and Paco Rabanne, are the photographer Jurgen Teller and the designers Jeremy Scott and W<. The working aesthetics of each of these figures reveal different dimensions of Orlan’s 1990s artistic productions particularly well. Teller, for example, is best known for his aesthetic of ‘imperfect beauty’ – black and white images, ill-fitting forms, and the cultivation of a ‘flawed’ look – a style obviously in sympathy with Orlan’s distorting reshaping of her facial features. Jeremy Scott, the young American designer who arrived in Paris in 1995 after training in New York and catching the attention of Donatella Versace, produced a first collection in October 1996 that included medical imagery – silhouettes made of hospital sheets – and a second in March 1997 called ‘Body Modification’ (INCE, Kate p.22)

The work examined reflects a more prosaic approach to photographic seeing–a fascination with the everyday, a preoccupation with the vernacular, an “ordinary,” rather than an “extraordinary” vision. Rather than simply dismissing this as “bad Contemporary Fashion Photography,” however, to examine the banal as an aesthetic category, as a motif and a mode of reception, and to look critically at the embodiment of the ordinary that lies at its heart.

Such recent exhibitions as Reality Check at the Photographer’s Gallery and Cruel and Tender at the Tate Modern introduce to a larger public a number of aesthetic preoccupations that have been visible in exhibition practice for the past decade. Grounded in the allied motifs of boredom, repetition, and inertia, these concerns are also evident in current critical writing on Contemporary Fashion Photography. “Banality” and “the banal” show up frequently in accounts of the work of Thomas Ruff, Martin Parr, Richard Billingham, and others; they also feature thematically in the retrospective attention paid to photographers like Robert Adams, William Eggleston, and Stephen Shore.

Fashion and advertising have been quick to take up the mass appeal of the banal image, it surfaces in the “snapshot aesthethic” of photographers like Terry Richardson and Jeurgen Teller, and to push its boundaries; arguably, heroin chic was born out of the morbid allure of drug culture as seen through the eyes of photographers like Corrine Day, Davide Sorrenti, and Nan Goldin. (SHINKLE, Eugenie p. 165)

Popular critics advanced a simplified mixture of the values of documentary and straight Contemporary Fashion Photography. These critics were at the service of the photographic industry, both the equipment industry and the picture magazines, and their aim was to convince a mass audience to consume Contemporary Fashion Photography. One of their strategies was to glamorize the medium through the creation of stars: fashion photographers or photojournalists wrapped in cults of personality. Edward Steichen and Margaret Bourke-White are notable examples. Another strategy was to engage the amateur audience in photographic practice by selling the illusion of empowerment through the command of fancy technology.

The popular press also sold comfort and distraction from turmoil through the promise of a facile engagement with social and psychic reality–formulas for understanding the world and the self through Contemporary Fashion Photography. As more serious criticism emerged in the fifties, popular critics either scoffed, thus revealing the intensity of their anti-intellectualism, or they attempted to assimilate simplistic versions of the new critical ideas.

Chapter VII

Commentary from the Field

In general, they reacted with fear to what they perceived as a threat to their hegemony. (EISINGER, Joel p. 8)  It is fairly standard to regard works of film art as types. But if the preceding comparison with theatre is persuasive, then we can characterize films in a more fine-grained way, namely: a film is a type whose token performances are generated by templates that are themselves tokens. Our next question, then, is whether this pattern of analysis can be generalized to other forms of mass art, including contemporary fashion photography, radio, telecommunications, music recordings, and best-selling pulp fiction. (CARROLL, Noël p. 214)

In this moment, it is becoming clear that a new pixelated mode of global individuality is being formed that is distinct from the cinematic assembly line image and from the simulacrum of 1980s postmodern culture. In the nineteenth century, contemporary fashion photography transformed the human memory into a visual archive. By the early twentieth century, Georges Duhamel, (French author, born in Paris, trained as a doctor, and during World War I was attached to the French army) complained that: “I can no longer think what I want to think, the moving images are substituted for my own thoughts.”

Confronted with the question of whether contemporary fashion photography was art, Marcel Duchamp said that he hoped contemporary fashion photography would “make people despise painting until something else will make contemporary fashion photography unbearable.” The pixilated image has made contemporary fashion photography unbearable, both literally as Princess Diana’s relationship to the paparazzi attests, but also metaphorically. In the work of contemporary photographers like Cindy Sherman, David Wojnarowicz and Christian Boltanski, contemporary fashion photography is unbearable in the sense that it is sublime. (MIRZOEFF, Nicholas p.30)

“Orlan’s involvement with these major figures from fashion and design is entirely in keeping with the appeal she has begun to have for the style magazine that can be seen as an area ‘where the cultures of art and fashion appear to be most inextricably interfused.” (Radford, p.153). The mutual cross-fertilization of art and fashion is observable throughout the twentieth century and particularly strongly at certain moments, such as in the Surrealist movement, but as a phenomenon it has begun to gather pace in the 1980s and 1990s.

Amidst highly significant acknowledgements from art critics about art’s gradual ‘retreat’ from the values of endurance, permanence, and transcendence, and the observations by both art and fashion writers of the increasing interpenetration of their respective domains, clear differences can still be identified between art and fashion art and fashion.

Considering Orlan’s recent art practice in the light of these two enduring differences between the fields of art and fashion shows yet again how difficult it is becoming, in contemporary postmodern culture, to arrive at hard-and-fast ‘essential’ distinctions of quality between different cultural domains. Orlan is not bashful about the financial viability of her artistic projects, and a 1991 article in the French medical journal declared that money was a ‘major preoccupation’ of hers.

Chapter VIII

Final Impressions

There have, of course, always been relationships between art and fashion, as there have been between other fields in design, architecture, literature and music. Where such links have existed, it has often been in the economic interests of fashion to make them visible, and the original motives for such associations may occasionally or often have been calculated to this end. As Radford writes: ‘Certainly a cadre of designers have had their work exhibited in specific contexts that identify their products as art rather than designed commodities … recent cases of using artists for modeling or engaging them to design the fashion show may be taken as instances of an attempt to procure the potency of status by this magical association’. Despite the obvious and frequently cited arguments placing fashion in a different sphere from art on grounds of its economic motives and its persistent denial of recently past styles, there appears to be confusion in academic circles, amongst designers, and in style magazines, where art and fashion have become ‘inextricably interfused’, according to Radford.   Art or the sake of it has been argued for many decades. Since then, and following endless discussion and debate, a ‘critical’ dimension has found its way into other forms. There are many who wish to challenge this judgement.

The word “art” has many different meanings. Sometimes people tell you about their philosophy on art. They usually mean something like their deepest and most abiding description ob f beauty. This is certainly an acceptable usage of the word in ordinary language but it is a broader conception of art. Hence the art form has generally referred to a certain discipline.   This is still not yet an adequate definition of art for an obvious reason. Suppose that a painter receives an eviction notice while you are visiting his studio. He takes a can of red paint and splatters it on the wall, cursing profusely while he hurls it. He’s angry, and his anger is pretty specific— he’s defacing the wall, which is a well-chosen tactic for hurting his landlord, and the expletives he’s shouting about the landlord’s weight, sexual proclivities, ethnic background and so on are all tailored to the landlord, and not just anyone. Imagine that we are infected with the painter’s ire toward his landlord. Is this episode one of the painter’s artworks?

Over the course of this paper, An attempt was made to outline and develop a perspective on the debate in American and European philosophy and position regarding the issue of contemporary fashion photography and its relation so status in traditional art forms. In effort to demonstrate that this perspective is fundamental and insightful, the debate reveals a division between two approaches to the question of art’s definition—the functional and the procedural.


The functionalist believes that, necessarily, an artwork performs a function or functions (usually, that of providing a rewarding aesthetic experience) distinctive to art. By contrast, the traditional procedural types beliefs that an artwork necessarily is created in accordance with certain rules and procedures. At first sight these views appear to be complementary rather than exclusive. Where something is manufactured in response to some particular need, will it not be both (and inseparably) functional and procedural in its nature? Nevertheless, it is believed that there are circumstances under which this question is to be answered in the negative, and that the argument that the concept of art operates under just such circumstances. The relevant circumstances arise where the procedures under which a thing is created part company from the point of our having such things, from the functionality of the thing in question. I take this to be precisely the state of affairs with respect to much of the art (so-called) of the present era. When such a separation occurs, one might expect that the function, rather than the procedures designed originally to serve that function, would carry the day in determining the extension of the concept. Nevertheless, the traditional argument taken that this is by no means inevitable and that some of the accepted ideas are essentially procedural, rather than essentially functional.   The question becomes, then, whether art is to be defined functionally or procedurally. Further, what differences are revealed by a commitment to the one view rather than the other?

The fashion magazine and the fashion photograph tend to be regarded by many historians and critics of cultural production.  In short, it can be argued that photography is not necessarily for people who want to know what clothes really look like, for example the fashion buyers of large stores and their customers which supports the notion of the art form less than true to the discipline.  Rather, much photography beckons viewer into a world of fantasies by placing fashion and the body in any number of unrelated to the issue contexts. Thus it would be narrow to argue that such imagery is innocent or without deeper ideological signification. Indeed, on many occasions fashion photography has either little or nothing to do with clothing, or else clothing itself seems to become an alibi for the representation of other contemporaneous issues and ideas.  Clearly, the expression of a popular position taken such as this bears witness to support that fashion photography can both make a profound impact on the social and cultural scene, and have the potential to make a lasting rather than fleeting impression on the consciousness of any individual.

The aesthetic theme of Art and contemporary fashion photography has constructed a history of the creative genius of photographers/artisans and of a shift towards conventions of ‘naturalism’ and explicitness in technique. Decisive moments and turning points in art have been identified as successive styles reflecting new techniques. Fashion photographs have been celebrated as capturing the spirit of an era. The relationship between successive techniques of contemporary fashion photography and techniques of traditional has been integral to the ways in which the contemporary fashionable body as an art form has been shaped through the 30 years and well into the 21st century.


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