Walking the fine line between structure and spontaneity, early fashion photographers had the near-impossible task of at once engaging with their models and maintaining technical precision. Pre-digital retouching, lighting and exposure were determined solely at the click of a shutter; and an ill fitting garment or a hair out of place might result in an—otherwise, breathtaking—contact sheet marked with a giant red “X”.
Celebrated and replicated to this day, these early images captured the spirit of the early-mid 20th century and its upheavals in fashion, culture, and art. At the end of World War II, Europe was buzzing with a revival of nightlife, with artists and celebrities flocking to jazz clubs and cabarets—and magazines pages were filled with photographs of glamorous, decadent fashions.
It was a magical era for photography; artists like Richard Avedon brought a theatricality to their images, and with it a sense of intimacy, capturing not only the garments but the personalities of his models. “When the sitting is over, I feel kind of embarrassed about what we’ve shared,” he once said. “It’s so intense . . . obviously what I’m doing is trying to feel, actually physically feel, the way he or she feels at the moment I’m photographing them in order to deepen the sense of connection.”
This fashion week, no photo shoot or catwalk can escape the lasting legacy of Avedon and his contemporaries, a group of photographers who’ve informed every snap of the shutter since.