Fashion photography has never been my favourite genre, but I have warmed to it over the years as several outstanding photographers’ have been brought to my attention through both the editorial and art world. When the mark is set high the pickings are good.
For me the ultimate fashion photographer has been and I suspect will always be Guy Bourdin. His work combines surrealist sensibilities with stylish flare and always with a dry wit so often lacking in the glossies today. There are, of course, exceptions to this flippant statement, notably by the likes of photographers such as Tim Walker and Miles Aldridge, both of whose work reflects their respect for Bourdin, the grand master.
Tim Walker plays with the surreal undertaking physical imaginings that transpose his ideas through real-life constructions resisting the temptations of Photoshop and building magical sets with playful references to art and literature. A model lies on a bed of multiple mattresses, like the Princess and the Pea, dresses hang from a tree in the dark illuminated from inside to become exquisite lanterns and a the cable release of a giant camera is depressed by a model dwarfed by it like Alice in Wonderland. This fantasy world sits perfectly against the beauty myths that fashion can create.
Fashion always looks back as well as forward. Great photography embraces this with both hands. Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf in his recent self titled book takes us back to the 1950’s with perfectly manicured sets of subtle tones of beige, browns and mint green. He procures the loneliness and need for perfection that society seems to demand whilst feeding our thirst to look at the unattainable. His work lies in a pivotal space between fashion and art that dispels the borders of both. In 2005, Miles Aldridge rendered Lilly Cole as an iridescent Pre Raphaelite for Vogue Italia. Her skin is as pale as porcelain; her body is decorated with butterflies as she stands amongst the intricately entwined coils of ivy behind her, aptly titled Like a Painting.
The blurring of these lines is the true success of fashion photography. By embracing one form to invoke the other, commercial concerns - such as the selling of clothes - can exhibit the artistry needed to produce the clothing by enhancing the way in which they are portrayed. The costume becomes the character to which a model must step into and the photographer becomes a director whose job it is to draw out their best possible performance. We are the audience waiting to be wowed and wanting to part of it. I want to skip through these worlds, the sun in my hair wearing clothes to die for. Although we know it is not real, I suppose the closest we may get to such a place is to just keep looking...