Continually shifting in the face of social, political and economic change, fashion photographers are chroniclers of our times. A new exhibition at J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, entitled Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography, 1911-2011, exemplifies this, featuring over 160 images from the likes of Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Guy Bourdin, Man Ray, Helmut Newton, Lillian Bassman, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon and Gordon Parks.
Displayed alongside costumes, illustrations, magazine covers, videos and advertisements, the works on display unearth a variety of innovative aesthetic and technological changes, showcasing how the genre functions as a reflector of the ever-changing present. As Timothy Potts, Director of the museum, notes: “Once overlooked by collectors and museums because of its commercial origins, fashion photography is now recognised as having produced some of the most creative work of the 20th century, transcending its illustrative function to yield images of great artistic quality and sophistication.”
Offering a strong visual narrative, the show tracks the history of the medium from a key moment in 1911, when French publisher Lucien Vogel (b. 1886) commissioned Edward Steichen (b. 1979) to create the first series of editorial images. Following on from this, the display traverses the political and financial landscapes of Great Depression and WWII, highlighting changing clothing styles through artists including Dahl-Wolfe (b. 1895). Icons of Style then visits the Golden Age of the genre in the 1950s, as demonstrated by Penn (b. 1917) and Avedon (b. 1923), whilst illustrating the new artistic possibilities granted by the latter half of the 20th century through William Klein (b. 1928), Neal Barr (b. 1932) and Newton (b. 1920).
Contributions by Herb Ritts (b. 1952) and Bruce Weber (b. 1946) embody the 1980s and 1990s, raising questions about notions of power, sexuality and the rise of the “supermodel”, whilst providing new perspectives on the human body. Concluding with a selection of works revealing the ongoing development of the genre, the exhibition offers reflection on photography in the digital age. As new arenas including Instagram, Snapchat and blogging platforms allow the industry to evolve, the exhibition celebrates the power of new media to provide global outlets for emerging talent.
An accompanying book, published by Getty Publications, will be available from mid-July, and will explore this influential history through images featured in the exhibition.
From 26 June. Find out more here.
1. George Hoyningen-Huene, Swimwear by Izod (Divers), 1930.