On the walls of the Shanghai Centre of Photography (SCoP) hang images from fashion photography legends like Paolo Riversi, Nick Knight, the late Peter Lindbergh, Ellen von Unwerth and Marino Testino. Their recognisable signature aesthetics and decades-spanning careers with campaigns, style magazines and hundreds of celebrities are testament to the cultural power of the fashion image. The fashion narrative, done well, can be a compelling insight into the aesthetic aspirations within a certain social order.
‘Beyond Fashion’, curated by Nathalie Herschdorfer, director of the Swiss Museum of Fine Arts Le Locle, showcases nearly a hundred works from industry’s biggest names to bright stars of a new generation. The exhibition charts the trajectory of fashion photography’s influence. We’ve moved from the ultra exclusive VIP couture salons into the golden age of reverence in pages of mass printed fashion magazines to the digital era, where images travel the globe in an instant, available to everyone on apps like Instagram.
Fashion photography created a new visual language beyond the clothing it originally served. There are some recognizable images that have worked their way into the modern creative consciousness – like Lindbergh’s classic black and whites of the supermodels du jour frolicking on a beach in white shirts, or Glen Luchford’s shot of a young Kate Moss playful in Times Square. Contemporary street style shots of Scott Schulman (the Facehunter) marked the moment when street style (and then fashion week street style) would really take off, the domino that would accidentally spawn the whole fashion influencer phenomenon.
Then there are other more artful works that came with more digital manipulation. Miles Aldridge’s saturated colours, graphic shapes and whimsical compositions for Vogue Italia for example, or Koto Bofolo’s works showing luminosity of skin tones on bodies. You get the artful abstraction of Vivienne Asssen and Ina Jang’s pieces which read more like contemporary art than fashion photography. And then there’s Elaine Constantine’s photos that verge towards anthropological, sociological and documentary style.
Playing with the gendered nature of traditional fashion imagery has thrown up many questions of masculinity and femininity also – highlighting the male or female gaze. Whilst many of the top industry names in ‘Beyond Fashion’ are predictably male, there are the likes of Olivia Bee, Coco Capitan and Ina Jang representing a generation of female voices and lenses impacting the genre.
‘Beyond Fashion’ is at SCoP in Shanghai until 25th July.