Friday, May 1, 2009


Untitled, San Francisco, April 2009.

The street is a stage but it's also a runway for street fashion. In big cities around the world, young people make bold, personal statements with the way they dress themselves everyday; unwittingly they influence the direction of couture and mainstream fashion itself (consider the candy-colored denizens of Tokyo's Harajuku station or skateboard culture, which single-handedly rescued Vans from sneaker oblivion). Perhaps no other photographer has documented street fashion longer than New York Times contributor Bill Cunningham. Since the 1950s, Cunningham has been documenting real fashion in uptown and downtown New York City, first for the Daily News and later in the 70s for the Times.

Irving Penn said that "a fashion picture is a portrait; just as a portrait is a fashion picture." Fashion photographers are to our century the way studio painters like Van Eyck, Goya, Rembrandt or Sargent were to theirs, image makers of celebrity and high society. There is one difference: unlike portrait paintings of yore, the fashion portrait is not elitist. It is not created for the satisfaction of the model; it is made for us, the masses, to fuel our desire and entice us to consume.

Fashion has attracted the world's best image makers. The fashion portfolios of Avedon, Scavullo, Horst, Guy Bourdin, and Irving Penn contain their most memorable work. Documentary photographers like Lartigue, Jeanloup Sieff, Antonin Kratochvil, Bruce Gilden, and Mary Ellen Mark have stepped out of their comfort zones to work for fashion magazines. Even art photographers like Nan Goldin, Phillip-Lorca di Corsia, Juergen Teller, and Sam Taylor-Wood have shot for W and Vogue.

The most sought after photographers of today
all have distinct signature styles and are as famous as the designers they work for: Mert & Marcus, Corinne Day, Mario Sorrenti, Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, Terry Richardson, Steven Klein, Paola Kudacki, Bruce Weber.They draw inspiration from many sources: the classicism of their predecessors, cinema, art, even pornography. They push the limits of technology and the buttons of public sensitivity, courting controversy with provocative imagery.

My personal favorite among them is Italian photographer Paolo Roversi, whose gossamer-light images recall the soft-focus portraiture of Victorian era studios. "I have a very mystical and spiritual approach to photography," he says, "which I can't explain, and I don't need to. I like to keep things unrevealed, I like sometimes to lose myself in the indefinite."

VIDEO: Paolo Roversi on his process (in French).

VIDEO: David Bowie, "Fashion".

Paolo Roversi, Kirsten, London, 1988.
Paolo Roversi, Guinevere, Paris, 1996.
Paolo Roversi, Tilda, Paris, 1996.
Paolo Roversi, Naomi, Paris, 1994.

Steven Meisel, CK One ad campaign, 1994.
Steven Klein, Larry Clark and the cast of Kids, 2002.
Mert & Marcus, Malgosia in McQueen, London, 2006.
Corinne Day, Kate, 2001.
Mario Sorrenti, Kate Moss, 1993.

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