Fashion photography: Constructing artistic and realistic beauty

Aena Cho

Following the contemporary movement in photography to establish photography as a form of art rather the mere reflection of reality, many photographers in the fashion industry also have tried to shed the overly commercial image of fashion photography and shifted that towards art.  Pictorialism and impressionism has inspired many of them in the early 20th century; and then other more contemporary artistic approaches such as modernism and surrealism also influenced them.

Guy Bourdin was one of those who incorporated surrealism into fashion photography as a way to oppose dream-like fashion photographs which create visual fantasy to which women could aspire.  The French photographer who represents the 70s of fashion photography is known as the first to create a complex narrative in fashion photographs which is strange and mysterious; sometimes full of violence and sexuality and simply associate it with a fashion item and model. One of his surrealistic and artistic approaches is the use of the double-page spread of a magazine as a structure for displaying his photographs.  He aligned models and the human body in accordance to the fixed forms of the double-paged magazine spread.  The pictures below are some of the best examples in which the model’s legs are positioned in each side of the fold. This creates a surrealistic and artistic combination of the abstract human form and the rigid and precise geometric form of the magazine.  Each image is like a story or a set up of something; a dramatic event, or a dark narrative.

In the 90s, documentary photography, a new style of photography also has begun influencing fashion photography.   This style of realism rejected constructed, highly stylized image for “the artless, the unstaged, the semi-conscious”. Juergen Teller is one of those who take such a natural approach.  Like Corrine Day and Nan Goldin and the likes who represent art documentation, he also tried to depict a fashion model as an ordinary fashionable person.   He particularly emphasizes an intimate relationship with his subjects which is shown well in pictures above.   All of the models look very intimate, as if they were at a private unstaged moment.

<Works cited>

1. Park, Jeanne. The art of Guy Bourdin. PBS. Nov 2010. <>

2. Scaltizitti. Anthony. Fashion Photography Some history. PictureCorrect.   <>

3. Fashion Photography Timeline. XTimeline. <>