The Changing Face of Fashion Photography in Seven Images

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Launch Slideshow

It’s already been something of a landmark year for fashion photography with a major exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery celebrating the centenary of British Vogue. Many of the magazine’s most celebrated photographers feature in Sotheby’s upcoming Photographs auction (19 May). Click ahead to see seven sale highlights by the likes of Richard Avedon and Irving Penn plus the stories behind their famous images.

Photographs

19 May | London

The Changing Face of Fashion Photography in Seven Images

  • Irving Penn, Rochas Mermaid Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Paris, 1950. Estimate £40,000–60,000.
    In July 1950, Vogue sent Penn to Paris to cover the autumn couture collections. Clothes by the most important fashion houses were brought to Penn’s studio, where he photographed models against the backdrop of an old theatre curtain and in natural daylight. The Paris light, he said, was “as I imagined in, soft but defining.” His aesthetic marked a shift in fashion photography away from the staged to a pared-down elegance. This particular shot is notable as it features Penn’s soon-to-be wife, model Lisa Fonssagrives wearing a mermaid dress by designer Marcel Rochas.  Just weeks after this photo was taken the pair were married.

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  • Richard Avedon, Marilyn Monroe, Actress, New York City, 1957. Estimate £30,000–50,000.
    Avedon aimed to highlight the true character of his subjects in his portraits. Recalling photographing Monroe in his studio in May 1957, he said: “For hours she danced and sang and flirted and did this thing that’s - she did Marilyn Monroe. And then there was the inevitable drop. And when the night was over and the white wine was over and the dancing was over, she sat in the corner like a child, with everything gone. I saw her sitting quietly without expression on her face, and I walked towards her but I wouldn’t photograph her without her knowledge of it. And as I came with the camera, I saw that she was not saying no.”

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  • Helmut Newton, Woman into Man, Paris, 1979. Estimate £12,000–18,000.
    Aesthetic provocation connects fashion photographers who came to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s including Helmut Newton. In Woman into Man Newton flipped the subservient role of women often portrayed in fashion magazines and instead showed them as strong and dominating. To understand the turn in fashion photography that he pursued, Newton himself famously said: “Good taste is anti-fashion, anti-photo, anti-girl, anti-eroticism! Vulgarity is life, amusement, desire, extreme reactions.”

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  • Irving Penn, Mouth (For L'Oreal), New York, 1986. Estimate £180,000–230,000.
    Penn’s technical skill, combined with his conceptual approach to depicting beauty, made him one of the first fashion photographers to bring an artistic sensibility to the medium. This image of lipstick colours dabbed on a woman’s mouth evokes a painter's palette and the irregular smears suggest that Penn aimed to subvert the notion that beauty equals perfection. There are darker undercurrents – the model's ghostly makeup imparts a corpse-like palor.

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  • Peter Lindbergh, Mathilde, Paris, 1989. Estimate £100,000–150,000.
    Peter Lindbergh created fashion icons by presenting models in unusual locations and by photographing them in the nude he highlighted their ability to command the camera in a liberating strike for female-kind.  Mathilde is a perfect example of this.  The photograph is a tribute to Erwin Blumenfeld who half a century earlier photographed Lisa Fonssagrives in a white dress as she stood on the Eiffel Tower. But unlike Blumenfeld, Lindbergh offered a new modern interpretation of women with his approach being “not to violate the model’s personality by transforming them with makeup and hair, but to find their personality”.

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  • Albert Watson, Christy Turlington, New York, 1990. Estimate £3,000–5,000.
    Prior to becoming a fashion photographer, Albert Watson studied graphic design and we can see this expertise in the filmic quality and orchestrated lighting of his work. This image of Christy Turlington was part of a series of portraits that Watson took just as her career was taking off. Watson said of Christy at the time, “She was obviously a very good model... great to work with and was always thinking, always engaging and ready for the challenges of being before the camera”. Watson emphasises the formal and sculptural properties of his sitters’ bodies, and we can see this here in the manipulation of contrast and superior sense of composition. His portraits became symbols for desire, power and influence and although he was blind in one eye, this never affected his output and his images regularly graced the covers of fashion magazines and gallery walls.

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  • Peter Lindbergh, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington, Estelle Lefébure, Karen Alexander, Rachel Williams, Vogue US, Beach Los Angeles, 1990. Estimate £60,000–80,000.
    At a time when fashion photography meant meeting standards of beauty through retouching, Lindbergh felt it was the responsibility of photographers to “free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection.” This is an exceptional work that highlights Lindbergh’s ability to show effortless, natural beauty. The simplicity of the white shirts worn by the supermodels laughing on the beach encapsulates the essence of Lindbergh’s fresh, pioneering style. The work was so unexpected that American Vogue declined to publish the pictures. Lindbergh idealised women in their natural form, and aimed to show them “in all honesty”. 

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