Fashion photography, in one form or another, has existed for thousands of years. Before the invention of the photographic process, it took a great deal of time and money to have one's image preserved by a painter or sculptor. Only the elite could afford a portrait.
The advent of photography in the mid-1800s in New York brought the process of recordings one's image to the masses. Now anyone could afford a portrait. All that was required was a couple of minutes of sitting absolutely still and a couple of days to get the image back. Because photography was still in its infancy, the process was extremely slow. In fact, special tools for fashion photography included a chair with a head clamp to keep the sitter still.People flocked to the portrait photographer to have their images recorded. For the first time, an image of oneself was affordable. Low cost portraits, aided by competition, were priced as low as 25 cents.
Each of these images was actually just a photographic record of the particular person seated in front of the camera and little more. Rarely was any effort made to bring out the attitude of the sitter. In fact, the length of time needed to make an exposure all but prohibited anything but a stiff expression on the part of the subject. Despite this, family albums became the vogue and no Victorian home was complete without one. As time went on, the photographic process became faster and more flexible, and with this advance in technology, the parameters of the photographic portrait also grew. Artists became drawn to this new medium, and they began to investigate New York photography in terms of its interpretive power.
The Victorian era did have expressive fashion photographers, such as Nadar, Mathew Brady, and Julia Margaret Cameron, but it was not until the turn of the century that photographic fashion photography as we know it today began to develop. Edward Steichen brought the portrait into the realm of commercial photography as his work began to appear in such magazines as Vanity Fair as well as in numerous advertising campaigns. Steichen's work, along with that of Cecil Beaton's for Vogue, brought new meaning to the photographic portrait as a commercial art form. Their photographs set the groundwork for such photographers as Halsman and Richard Avedon and many other generations of portraitists to come.
New York Style
Today in New York, the image conjured by the term 'photographic portrait" can be as far-ranging as the studio on the corner that specializes in high-school graduates and wedding parties to the startling realism of a Diane Arbus or the fascinating character studies created by various new york photographers. Whether a portrait is created for private use or for a celebrity endorsement of a commercial product, people remain one of the camera's most interesting subjects.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this is the individuality of each sitter, which allows the photographer the freedom to work with a never-ending variety of subject matter. The ability to develop a unique interpretation of each new personality is essential to truly creative New york style fashion photography.