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Thoughts on the art of fashion photography

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As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but in the world of fashion, that picture costs thousands of dollars. Whether it’s an advertisement, a beauty shot or an editorial spread, images do more than dictate trends.

Part of the allure of the luxury brands and haute couture labels that beautifully grace the shiny pages of fashion magazines is the mystery behind them. It seems there are very few designers who truly let the world see them for who they are; they instead speak through their clothes.

When we see editorials, we are seeing a compilation of the designer’s work, the magazine editor’s interpretation of how to style the clothes and overall concept for the shoot, the model’s poses and, finally, the way the photographer melds these pieces together. What we see are layers of work that are presented to society in the hopes that we either buy the clothes or become inspired by the photograph or clothing within.

Kate Moss photographed for Vogue by Mario Testino (Image courtesy of Vogue.com).

The first thing I do when I buy a copy of Vogue, Elle or, if I really feel like spending money, W, is flip through the pages and indulge myself in the escape that these pictures provide. What I love most are editorial spreads with a common theme and photo stories focused on specific designers and models.

A good fashion photograph forces you to look at the artistic vision of the designer, model, photographer and stylist. They push the boundaries of general assignments because of the senses they indulge. Every type of artist has a particular style of work, which is why we have our favorites.

The allure of these “styles” is like a trigger finger on a gun or a nerve ending in the body. When that certain something hits the nerve or pulls the trigger that photograph has struck your fancy and made an impact.

A reinterpretation of “Dovima, New York” by Lillian Bassman (Image courtesy of NYTimes.com).

When I look at editorials and photo stories like the ones I mentioned earlier, I am immediately inspired. They make me want to emulate their style in some way. You can take whatever you want out of photography, especially in the fashion world because there are numerous elements to pique your senses.

A photograph for French Vogue by Helmut Newton (Image courtesy of Vogue.com, the Helmut Newton Estate).

Whether you are inspired to buy what you see, portray the mood of the image, create an alter ego based on the model or follow in the footsteps of the photographer, it is all up to you. There exist infinite possibilities. If the images you see do not affect you, fine, but at least respect them for the art that they are and the endless amount of work that it takes to produce them.

The best fashion photographers have the rare ability to make one desire not only the clothing, but the feeling the image is emitting from the page. It’s complex, it’s beautiful, it has countless interpretations and it’s unique.

Editorials are a reflection of life; a life desired, far from your own, that is dream worthy and aspirational.

Taylor Swift photographed for Vogue by Mario Testino (Image courtesy of FashionGoneRogue.com).

My favorite fashion photographers are Mario Testino, Lillian Bassman, Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber and of course Helmut Newton. Yes they are old, some are dead, but they are, in my eyes, the best. They are the forerunners of the world of fashion photography.  They are the tastemakers of good fashion photography.

An evening dress photographed by Richard Avedo in 1957 (Image courtesy of NYTimes.com, The Richard Avedo Foundation).

Don’t just glance at fashion photography — take a moment and soak it all in. Find out what feeling it gives you. See which ones inspire you. Enjoy them for the art form they are.

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