Seductive, provocative, commonplace, eccentric and above all powerful—for some time now fashion photography has no longer merely been contract work or aestheticising documentation. It has become a unique opportunity for experimentation, between commerce and creativity, mainstream and subculture, industry and art. Although its essence and the way it is implemented may seem paradoxical, since the beginnings of photography it has been an important part of our visual culture. Like no other genre, fashion photography not only records the zeitgeist of the respective decades, as well as individual desires and social dreams but it also influences, inspires and calls for participation and emulation. What scope for a sociological approach! The legendary publisher Condé Nast recognised this tremendous effective force very early on and created a style for magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair that still has an impact today. It is his publications that first elevated haute couture to the level of art. With his keen sense for discovering new talents he found the best photographers and promoted the careers of the most renowned fashion photographers and in this way had a long-term influence on a whole artistic genre.
No other segment of photography has constantly generated new images to such an extent, continuously reinventing itself. In fashion photography, a new pictorial language and aesthetic was often tried and tested for the first time, closely linked to the further development of technology. Interestingly, since the beginnings of fashion photography, the object itself, fashion, has increasingly shifted out of the focus. Instead, the visual language of the photographer has become more and more dominant, opulently staged pictorial compositions and visual designs have become increasingly significant and the importance of the models has also greatly increased. Hence it was no longer sufficient to produce pure fashion photographs – there was also a need to develop innovative, distinctive styles, trends and images, introduce new themes and break with taboos. On the other hand, the boundaries between commercial photography and artistic practices have become much more blurred—and the works of classical fashion photographers are now being traded at high prices.