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Tag : female photographer

Left: Dianne Newman, 1966, Neal Barr. Gelatin silver print, 17 x 13 7/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council. © Neal Barr. Right: Black Evening Dress, New York, negative 1963; print 1994, Hiro. Dye imbibition print, 19 1/4 x 15 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council. © Hiro

Groundbreaking Fashion Photographers: Part 2

To anyone in the fashion and publication industry, Diana Vreeland is a household name. She was the fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and she established herself as a highly influential industry icon. In a documentary about her life and career, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, she says,

“Fashion is part of the daily air and it changes all the time, with all the events. You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes. You can see and feel everything in clothes.”

In such few words, Vreeland articulates the significance of fashion reporting and artistic appreciation. The art form is an expression of identity as well as social and cultural moments. Fashion photographers are the documentarians of both, exactly the way photojournalists are as they capture events and stories. Through the creative expression of this visual medium, we understand the role fashion plays in reflecting culture and society. The four photographers below have been integral to shaping the very nature of that medium. They forged lasting images and established new perspectives that document how we live our lives at any moment in time through what we wear.

Regina Relang (1906-1989)

“Masterly composed, poetic, and extraordinarily elegant photos from the world of fashion were Regina Relang’s hallmark.”

Before fashion photography could be revolutionized, it needed to be established as its own medium. Few photographic artists did that with as much influence as Relang.
With her body of work, she epitomized the feminine ideal with glamorous haute couture images that featured the likes of Yves Saint-Laurent, Pierre Cardin and Christian Dior. She was self-taught as both a fashion photographer and photojournalist, forging a career that began in 1938 when she published photos in the French, American and British editions of Vogue.  

Relang held a unique position in the world of fashion: She was embedded in the world before, during and after the 1950s. The decade marks the turning point in women’s fashion as couture clothing and fashion publications began trickling down to middle-class consumers, paving the way towards accessible glamour. Relang documented the evolution yet stayed true to her photographic approach of a high-end sartorial aesthetic.

With undeniable elegance, Relang captured images of haute couture femininity with a feeling of whimsy. The evening gowns, cocktail dresses, daytime ensembles and accessories were the priorities in her photographs — and the women who adorned them seem to have fallen in love with the garments, emanating sheer delight while wearing them. More often than not, Relang’s photos carried a happy and joyous mood presented with a cheeky and understated power.

Considered the go-to photographer of Parisian haute couture, Relang’s work was regularly featured in American and European publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Die Dame, Madame, Film und Frau and Constanze

David Bailey, CBE (b. 1938)

“You treat each person as an individual…You adapt to who you’re photographing. It’s their personality, not mine I want.”

Bailey is thought of today as one of the greatest living portrait photographers. Pop-cultural history at large recognizes him as one of the most revolutionary fashion photographers who not only captured the spirit of “Swinging London” in the 1960s but influenced its very existence. He began his career in 1959 when he assisted photographers at the John French Studio, and before long, he was contracted as a freelance fashion photographer for British Vogue.

With an eccentric personality and a stripped-down portrait aesthetic, Bailey skyrocketed to relevance. He photographed the upper echelon of celebrity and style, from actors to musicians to supermodels, embracing a wildly wonderful time period of cultural rebellion. Based on his candid photography and immersion in the celebrity world, he popularized the figure of the paparazzi photographer who documents the social lives of famous folks. His lifestyle directly influenced the seminal film Blow-Up.

Artsy remarks that Bailey’s signature style “broke down barriers of class and race” with a “youthful, punk aesthetic.” This can easily be seen in the way Bailey captured his subjects as larger than life — and more significant than what they were wearing. Before he made his mark on the industry, fashion photography hardly favored close-up framing in the style of portraiture. Bailey, however, changed that. Look no further than his 1964 portrait of Mick Jagger: With its tight framing and command of the camera, the viewer is drawn first to Jagger’s eyes and facial expression. The fur of his hood, which actually dominates the image, is secondary.

Without a doubt, Bailey has reimagined the way photographers capture fashion, culture and individuality at the same time. His decades-long career includes work with leading magazines and fashion publications, and he co-founded the U.K.’s stylish Ritz Newspaper. He’s published several photo books, earned a Lifetime Achievement award from the International Center of Photography and received the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II.

Irving Penn (1917-2009)

“Many photographers feel their client is the subject. My client is a woman in Kansas who reads Vogue. I’m trying to intrigue, stimulate, feed her.”

If photography is documentation, then Penn’s work elevated it to a fine art form for the fashion world. He dreamed of being a painter while growing up, and he translated his artistic techniques to photography when he began studying under photographer and art director Alexey Brodovitch at Harper’s Bazaar. A short while later, he began working for Vogue as an art director while nurturing his interest in fashion photography.

Penn’s career took off in the early 1950s. He carved a niche for himself in the fashion world for sophisticated and astonishingly clear portraiture. The studio was always the ideal place for Penn to capture models, as he favored sparse backgrounds over props and decor, and sleek minimalism over grandeur scenery. When traveling for Vogue, he preferred to capture his subjects outdoors and in natural light, capturing the essence of the models.

In 1950, Penn photographed model Jean Patchett for the cover of Vogue in a style that’s true to his visually striking aesthetic. It features a clean, blank background that’s free of any distractions. The deep contrast between black and white is overwhelmingly noticeable, grabbing the viewer’s attention immediately. Because of the way Penn framed and arranged the shot, the details and textures of Patchett’s garments and accessories are all the more noticeable and visually appealing, which is most certainly the goal of fashion photography.

Penn didn’t limit his photography to the realm of fashion. He regularly shot portraits of celebrities and still life photographs. In the 1960s and ‘70s, he revived an old photographic printing process (platinum printing) which had been used in the 19th century. This revival led to a renaissance of sorts for artistic photography, and his influence rippled across the art world. Penn published numerous photo books and worked for several publications through photo shoots and advertising. 
He also published such books as Inventive Paris Clothes, 1909-1939: A Photographic Essay by Irving Penn; Flowers; Passage: A Work Record; Moments Preserved: Eight Essays in Photographs and Words; and Still Life: Irving Penn Photographs, 1938-2000.

Bill Cunningham (1929-2016)

“I don’t decide anything. I let the street speak to me, and in order for the street to speak to you, you’ve got to stay out there and see what it is.”

The ever-observant and unassuming Cunningham was a fashion photographer unlike any other. He turned the everyday New Yorker into a prospective model, a sartorial inspiration and an artistic muse. As a fashion photographer for The New York Times for 40 years, he documented runway shows, high-society events and, most notably, the everyday individual on the streets of the city.

Cunningham was a unique sort of documentarian. He was best known throughout the city as the man on his bike (film camera in one hand and the handlebars in the other), keeping pace with city traffic while snapping photographs of anyone who caught his eye.

The Times wrote in his obituary,

“At the Pierre hotel on the East Side of Manhattan, he pointed his camera at tweed-wearing blue-blood New Yorkers with names like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt. Downtown, by the piers, he clicked away at crop-top-wearing Voguers. Up in Harlem, he jumped off his bicycle — he rode more than 30 over the years, replacing one after another as they were wrecked or stolen — for B-boys in low-slung jeans.”

To select his most iconic images would be a rather difficult feat — over the course of his career, the negatives from all of his events piled up to probably an unfathomable number. He documented people exactly as they were, viewing them through a lens of admiration and curiosity. He revolutionized fashion photography as a whole by pointing his camera in a different direction, ushering the influence of the industry up from the streets themselves.

A 2010 documentary titled Bill Cunningham New York is perhaps the closest portrait of the photographer that exists. He was known and appreciated by countless entities in the worlds of fashion, photography and New York society. During his career, he oversaw the columns “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” for The Times for decades.


While photography is a technical skill, there are many ways to infuse the practice with artistic perspectives and individual aesthetic styles. The careers of the photographers above all vary greatly by these qualities. As you can also gather, there are many ways into the profession and industry — whether you’re an artist, you’re self-taught, you work as an assistant, or you’re a journalist. Each of these paths have been walked by iconic and successful photographers. What separated them and made them unforgettable was creating an image that left a truly lasting impression.

Want to read about more groundbreaking fashion photographers? Check out part one!

Groundbreaking Fashion Photographers: Part 1

In an interview for the 2021 documentary In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye, the iconic Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour describes the sartorial medium as follows:

“Fashion can tell you everything about what’s going on in the world — with a strong fashion image.”

Photographs of models dressed in designer clothing convey far more than just a garment. They’re an emotive reflection of a social and cultural moment in time, offering a dreamlike portal to the period of its creation. Like all art forms, fashion photography at its core is about storytelling. Flipping through the pages of Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar can stir the same exploratory wonder of visiting an art gallery.

Women’s fashion experienced a key moment of change after World War II. Models in the first half of the century embodied classic beauty and style on par with elite society, and photography itself was more in line with portraiture. During the 1950s, the luxury of women’s fashion expanded its reach and became more attainable for magazine readers in different facets of society.

This glamorous new era launched the careers of the industry’s most iconic photographers, and their work continues to inspire today.

Richard Avedon (1923-2004)

“If each photograph steals a bit of the soul, isn’t it possible that I give up pieces of mine every time I take a picture?”

Richard Lee/New York Post Archives

Born and raised in New York City, Avedon forged a groundbreaking career in fashion and portrait photography. He began his freelance career as a photographer for Harper’s Bazaar at the age of 22. He captured images of models in candid motion at uncommon locations like the streets, the beach and even the circus. Inspired deeply by the person in front of the lens, Avedon aimed to portray subjects’ personal characteristics as they revealed themselves in real time.

The Avedon Foundation writes of Avedon in a biography:

“He was fascinated by photography’s capacity for suggesting the personality and evoking the life of his subjects. He registered poses, attitudes, hairstyles, clothing and accessories as vital, revelatory elements of an image. He had complete confidence in the two-dimensional nature of photography, the rules of which he bent to his stylistic and narrative purposes.”

Dovima with Elephants, Evening Dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris August 1955
© 2021 The Richard Avedon Foundation

One of Avedon’s most prolific photographs reflects the transition of fashion in the 1950s. He photographed Dovima, an American model, interacting with live elephants. Taken in 1955, the image reveals the intersection of two fashion worlds: the era of classic haute couture and the era of the everyday glamorous woman.

The Independent Photographer describes the impact of the image:

“By juxtaposing the strength of the elephants with the delicacy of Dovima’s body and gown — the first dress by Dior that was designed by Yves Saint Laurent — the picture also brings movement to a medium which had, until that point, been typified by stillness.”

Avedon’s point of view revealed how portrait photography can deepen the emotive impact of a fashion photograph, elevating it from an advertisement of apparel to an image of a model who evokes more than the brand or design but the feelings within it. His work was published in such Life, Look, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone and many others.

Ellen von Unwerth (b. 1954)

“I like to photograph anyone before they know what their best angles are.”

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, von Unwerth entered the entertainment industry after high school when she joined a circus. She performed stunts and assisted in magic shows. A photographer at this time spotted her and asked if she would be a mode, and she moved to Paris when she was 20 to begin her career. For 10 years, she was immersed in the fashion industry.

While von Unwerth was a successful model, it wasn’t until she received a camera as a gift that she began exploring life behind the lens. She had already felt that models needed more freedom and consideration while being photographed, and this led to her doing an impromptu photo shoot of her own while working in Africa. She captured the models on the shoot from her own perspective and discovered she had a talent for achieving the creative atmosphere she’d been desiring as a model.

It was in 1989 that von Unwerth catapulted herself into the fashion photography industry with a single image. She shot an ad for Guess that featured a then-unknown model, Claudia Schiffer, outfitted in jeans, a Western-style belt and scarf, while a man in a cowboy hat watches her. Schiffer almost seems caught off-guard in the image, her eyes gazing slightly off-camera, but she stands bold and confident in foreground — a feminine sexual appeal that became von Unwerth’s signature style.

Both Schiffer and von Unwerth skyrocketed to the top of the industry, with Schiffer becoming one of her generation’s most successful supermodels, and with von Unwerth carving a creative niche that was characterized by empowered models and feminine sexuality. The photographer’s work has spanned leading publications like Vanity Fair, The Face, Vogue, i-D and others. She continues to work today, capturing models for major cosmetics and fashion brands.

Von Unwerth’s foundation as a model-turned-photographer brings a level of agency for the model to the forefront of the image. The subjects are not just bodies in front of her camera: they have an equally important role in bringing their emotive skills to the image. The model is just as important as the photographer.

Helmut Newton (1920-2004)

“I hate good taste. It’s the worst thing that can happen to a creative person.”

Newton’s work is practically synonymous with fashion photography. The German-Australian visionary has long been considered one of the most influential figures in the industry, contributing to British Vogue, Australian Vogue, French Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Playboy, Queen and other seminal publications. He was born as Helmut Neustädter in Berlin, his family fled to Singapore in 1938 before being interned by authorities and sent to Australia, and he served in the Australian army for five years. He changed his surname to Newton in 1946, and he opened a photography studio in Europe in the 1950s.

If there’s one word that describes Newton’s approach to fashion photography, it’s radical. He had a subversive preoccupation with nude figures, and he accentuated the mood of his photographs with dramatic lighting and sexually charged atmospheres. Much of his work portrayed women in provocative situations, capturing their movements with a voyeuristic lens that pushed the envelope, to say the least. His images were intentionally focused on gender and sexuality, and he often emphasized feelings of femininity and masculinity.

Woman Examining Man by Helmut Newton

Among his many iconic photographs is “Woman Examining Man, 1975.” It was a work that titillated the public for its portrayal of a woman’s sexual gaze. In the image, a woman sits on a couch dressed comfortably in a dress, her legs open in a masculine manner, gazing at a man in the foreground who wears only pants. The erotic nature of the scene stirred the masses considerably, as it reversed traditional assumptions of gender dominance. It’s quintessentially Newton-esque.

For his part, Newton didn’t shy away from the spectrum of sexuality that was often hidden from view. His work represents the way sexuality and gender play a role in the way we live our lives and the ways we express  private. Capturing those moments and emotions prompts inward consideration of how we do that ourselves. He published photography books titled White Women, Big Nudes and World Without Men. Throughout his career, he photographed the likes of Cindy Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Julia Roberts, Andy Warhol, David Bowie and Twiggy.

Deborah Turbeville (1932-2013)

“In my pictures, you never know, that’s the mystery. It’s just a suggestion and you leave it to the audience to put what they want on it. It’s fashion in disguise.”

American photographer Turbeville cut her teeth in the fashion industry in the 1950s as a designer’s assistant, sample model and magazine editor for Harper’s Bazaar and Mademoiselle. She was admittedly uninterested in editorial work, and in the 1960s, she trained herself in photography under the tutelage of Richard Avedon. She is widely remembered for capturing a more feminine perspective and introducing a dark aesthetic that unsettled and delighted viewers at the same time.

Until Turbeville’s breakthrough in the 1970s, fashion photography was relatively clean, polished and well-lit. Turbeville introduced an avant-garde approach that featured models with somber expressions, existing in sparse spaces and somewhat gloomy environments. Perhaps her most famous image (or infamous, depending on who you ask) is her 1975 photo of five women in an abandoned bath house. Dressed in white swimwear and attire, the subjects cast scattered gazes around the frame in a seemingly incongruous manner. Their expressions are deeply internal, and the scene itself implies the absence of a welcome onlooker.

From the Bath House Series, Vogue, 1975

Turbeville’s photography is often called haunting, dreamy, theatrical and gritty. The New Yorker describes her work as having “a visionary quality, as if these women, these places, were hallucinated, not documented.” Fashion designs, in Turbeville’s world, were ancillary to the subjects captured.

She almost exclusively shot in black and white or sepia tone, and she enjoyed turning traditional photo prints on their head by distressing the negatives. It wasn’t rebellion for the sake of rebellion — Turbeville worked from a deeply emotional place. “In what kind of mood would a woman be, wearing whatever? I go into a woman’s private world, where you never go,” she told The New York Times in 1977. In this way, Turbeville exposed the fashion world (and even the art world, the literary world and the readers of magazines) to a woman’s psyche. If male-driven photography favored how women look from the outside, Turbeville showed us how they feel on the inside and how fashion can embody that.

In the world of photography, fashion has become one of the most artistically charged forms of media. It renders a perspective of the world through more than clothing — it embodies a mood reflective of people and society at a certain point in time, and it relies on the marriage of narrative perspective and technical prowess on the part of the photographer. If fashion itself tells a story, then fashion photography is its much-anticipated sequel.


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Foto von kira schwarz von Pexels

Minding the Gender Gap in Photography

Photography Through the Woman’s POV

It’s a remarkable achievement to have something named after you, especially when it influences the industry in which you work. This is called an eponym, which is defined as “one for whom or which something is or is believed to be named.” In women’s gymnastics, the “Biles” is a floor exercise skill named after Simon Biles, who perfected a double layout half-out. Bloomers, a type of pantaloon introduced in women’s clothing in the mid-1800s, get their namesake from suffragist Amelia Bloomer who wore them as an alternative to heavy dresses. And in contemporary photography, there’s a technique called “the Jill Greenberg Look”, named for the groundbreaking portrait aesthetic that’s typified by warm lighting and heightened emotion.

Jill Greenberg’s Lens

Greenberg is a world-renowned photographer whose work has influenced a great deal of visual pop culture. In a 2018 TEDx Talk, she describes how the look originated from her 2001 series of portraits featuring monkeys — aptly named Monkey Portraits. When she pivoted from animal subjects to people, the approach was hugely influential. The commercial portrait of Michael C. Hall as the leading character of Showtime’s Dexter is perhaps her most recognizable image, but she shot dozens upon dozens of celebrities, magazine covers, advertisements and her own gallery works.

Yet after the Jill Greenberg Look made its first imprint, she noticed her influence had a limit: “After close to two decades in the business, I realized that I might have hit the glass ceiling when I noticed guys getting the jobs to shoot with my signature style.” She then reveals the various layers of gender bias and discrimination in the photography industry

“Commercial photography is still perceived to be a man’s job,” she states. “Now, let’s be clear: This is not a pipeline issue. There are far more women graduating from art and photography schools than men. Women make up about 80 percent of all students in these programs. And yet in the real world of commercial photography, women are not getting the same opportunities.” 

Greenberg revealed some additional, alarming proof points in her talk:

  • 85 percent of consumer purchases are made by women, but 92 percent of advertisements and 85 percent of magazine covers are shot by men.
  • In the New York Times Magazine’s 2015 cover story about gender discrimination and harassment in Hollywood, every portrait of the women featured was shot by a man
  • Between 2013 and 2017, Oprah only hired men to shoot O Magazine covers
  • Also between 2013 and 2017, only 7 of 59 Time Magazine covers of celebrities were shot by women.

The New York Times Magazine

“So, why should we all care? Because those who are paid to create the images that shape our culture have real power,” says Greenberg. She describes the range of executive choices that commercial photographers make, from casting to wardrobe to lighting to photo editing. She emphasizes, “Each subtle decision affects how powerful the picture is. It’s how we get you to see movies, buy products and believe the messaging, and it’s manipulation.” 

From outside of the industry, this may seem like a shocking revelation. But for those inside of it, it can be an everyday reality. Let’s take a closer look.

Women in Photography: By the Numbers

Creative industries are fueled by passionate makers who continuously level up their skill sets. The worlds of fine art, theater, filmmaking and writing are hugely competitive for this reason. Many of the decision makers and executives in these industries happen to be straight white men, so maneuvering these worlds as anyone other than this identity can be extraordinarily difficult.

For decades, women have been sidelined from institutional power — a reality that has formed a dreaded glass ceiling where you can see the next level but still face a barrier in getting there. Photography is no exception. Greenberg touches on this in her TEDx Talk by talking about the infamous “boys club” that’s often formed from disproportionate gender dynamics. Photographer Agender Liang echoes that in an article with The Guardian, explaining, “Many creative directors and producers will simply go back to the same photographers they’ve already worked with time and time again, who are more often than not male.”

In the photography industry, there are many types of specialties: photojournalism/news photography, fine art, sports, architectural, editorial, fashion and, of course, commercial/advertising. Each of these fields have their own unique data sets, but they all tell a similar story:

The statistics here prove more than a blatant gender disparity in photography. They raise questions of why and how these numbers are so polarized. Quantifying exact moments of sexism can be difficult, but women photographers across the industry have shared anecdotal evidence of discrimination. Recollections and experiences range from subtle to unmistakable displays of gender-based power dynamics that intimidate, prevent and limit women photographers from doing their job successfully. 

Women Photographers: In Their Own Words

In  a 2019 National Geographic article that spotlights women photographers (mostly photojournalists), Yana Paskova illustrates how far these power dynamics reach: 

“Overt and institutional sexism remains the most important issue to women photographers, as it affects much of our lives in an interconnected fashion: hiring practices (from frequency, to pay, to quality of assignments), personal and financial health and stability, attitudes toward reporting sexual harassment and assault, and the simple fact that the two continue to occur with frequency and harm to both professional and personal life, with rare action by individuals or media corporations to admit or fix the issue.”  

In another iteration of sexist behavior, Sydney-based photographer Cybele Malinowski told The Guardian in 2019 that at the start of her career in 2005, she was told to do 100 push-ups every day in order to “match the strength of a man.” The article also shares Malinowski’s experiences in which clients assumed her male assistant was the photographer and she was the makeup artist or stylist. What’s more, Malinowski found herself losing jobs once she became pregnant because her clients assumed she “wasn’t up to it.” 

Photo District News published an article about sexism in the photo industry in 2017 and revealed equally distressing firsthand accounts from women photographers: 

  • Chelsea Matiash says, “If you are that irritating, harpy feminist, editors might not call you [because you’re known] for calling them out for not hiring enough women.” 
  • Sara Macel describes, “Recently a book publisher told me that books by women don’t sell. And I’ve had a gallery director tell me that his audience isn’t as interested in ‘work about women.’”
  • Oriana Koren explains the added limitations of being a woman of color, “I want this industry to understand that the discrimination I face is different from the discrimination a white woman faces… People have very limiting ideas of the sort of work they imagine a black woman doing and I can tell you firsthand, being behind the camera is not one of those jobs they imagine.”
  • Natalie Keyssar describes a range of microaggressions that include “subjects asking where the photographer is when they’re looking right at her with a camera in hand; male colleagues explaining to a female photographer how her camera works; and male photographers pushing around female photographers at photo ops or in pool situations in ways they wouldn’t push other male photographers around.”

In recent years, a reckoning has taken place across the globe. Women, non-binary and professionals of color have been speaking up and making moves to correct imbalances that are rooted in institutional power. It offers a glimmer of hope that equality may finally be on its way.

Change on the Horizon?

If the statistics and true tales above offer a bleak perception of the photography industry, rest assured that women photographers have been galvanizing to make it better for everyone. Here’s a breakdown of organizations and collectives of photographers who are working to instigate equality in photography:

Recognizing the gender gap in the photography industry is just scratching the surface of a long-standing precedent. Women photographers each have their own stories and experiences to share from their unique points of view. Will you share yours? Tell us about your perspective in the comments!