Photography and Desire: Fashion, Glamour, and Pornography

Bruce Checefsky. Focal Encyclopedia of Photography: Digital Imaging, Theory and Applications, History, and Science. Editor: Michael R Peres. 4th edition. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2007.

The invention of photography in the 1830s brought voyeurism to the masses. It made public what was previously only imagined and secret.

The great early erotic-pornographic photographers proved that high shock value and intense sensuality compelled the reader to pay attention, willingly or otherwise. Nineteenth century fashion photographers learned this lesson quickly. Desire has always been the common objective of pornography and fashion photography.

Many 19th century photographers who shot nudes chose to remain anonymous, so it is virtually impossible to attribute their work. Among the few who are documented are William (Guglielmo) PlÜschow (1852-1930), Ernst Heinrich Landrock (1878-1966), Rudolf Franz Lehner (1878-1948), Vincenzo Galdi (active 1880-1910), Louis-Amédée Mante (1826-1913), Léopold-Emile Reutlinger (1863-1937), Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931), Paul Nada (1856-1939), Gaudenzio Guglielmo Marconi (1841-1885), and Stanislaus Julian Walery (1863-1935).

Pornography undermines the power dynamics between male and female, photographer and subject. It reinforces crude, restrictive sex-role stereotypes and standards of beauty. Despite its adverse social implications, the pornography industry in the United States earns revenues of more than $10 billion annually, with up to $2 billion spent on porn Web sites. Pornography ranges from profound explorations of desire to highly stereotyped sexual explicitness, and from soft-core images of attractive models to graphic depictions of kinky sex acts.

Glamour photography, on the other hand, generally stops short of showing explicit sex; it is intended to be erotic. Mainstream erotic-pornographic imagery is as polished as fashion photographs from publishers Condé Nast or the Hearst Corporation.

Fashion Photography Pioneers

Fashion photography started in the 1850s when couturier Charles Worth began using live, moving models to show his clothes. While the half-tone process for printing photographs revolutionized print culture, the invention of the sewing machine made possible the mass production of clothing. By 1900, the number of national magazines carrying apparel ads grew tenfold.

Commercial photographers proliferated at the turn of the century and learned to adapt to the needs of potential clients. Some concentrated on fashion photography, furniture, or food, while others concentrated on automobiles or heavy machinery. Their styles were influenced by the fledgling movie industry and companies such as the Jesse Lasky Feature Play Company, which designed detailed, convincing sets for film versions of Broadway hits. Photographers readily adapted the realistic style to their clients’ products.

The new approach to editorial photography in magazines was met by an increasingly sophisticated use of photography in advertisements. For some couturiers, this style conveyed too much information; they were concerned about keeping exclusive rights to their designs, so they did not trust fashion photographers immediately.

The first illustrated fashion magazine, Vogue, was launched in 1892, but fashion photography did not replace illustrations until Condé Nast hired Baron Adolphe de Meyer in 1913 and Edward Jean Steichen during the 1920s to take experimental pictures. De Meyer (1868-1946) is best known for his effective use of backlighting and the soft-focus lens. Though static, the pose was often natural, and the picture was arranged using a strong pattern of vertical elements, which gave a sense of authority and formality.

Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was born in Luxembourg, moved to the United States in 1881, and first photographed fashion models in 1911 for the magazine Art and Decoration. His use of very simple props was modernist, but his elegant arrangement of forms was classical in its order. Steichen did not have a studio of his own, and he wrote that his first fashion photographs were made in a Condé Nast apartment:

For the first sitting, we had a good-looking young woman wearing a handsome and rather elaborate gown covered down the front with rich embroidery. I had never made photographs with artificial light, but there was the Condé Nast electrician with a battery of about a dozen klieg arcs, wanting to know where he should put the lights. I said ‘Just wait,’ and went to work with the model in the natural daylight of the room…. Not knowing what to do I asked for a couple of bed sheets. No one at a photographic fashion sitting had ever asked for bed sheets, but Carmel Snoa, fashion editor of Vogue at that time, had a policy that a photographer should have whatever he required, no questions asked. When the sheets came in, I lined up the chairs in front of the electrician’s lights and over them draped a four-ply thickness of sheets, so that when he turned on the lights, they didn’t interfere with my model. The electrician was satisfied. I heard him say to one of the editors ‘That guy really knows his stuff.’ Applied to electric lights, this statement was as far from the truth as anything imaginable …”

Steichen realized that adding artificial light to natural light was his greatest ally in getting variety into fashion pictures, transforming advertising photography from straightforward pictures of a product to more natural, sensuous depictions. This innovation made Steichen the most highly paid photographer of the 1930s.

Like Steichen, Anton Bruehl, Nikolas Muray, George Hoyningen-Huene, Horst P. Horst, and Cecil Beaton successfully manufactured consumer desire in the face of the great economic uncertainty of the 1930s.

Born a baron in St. Petersburg in 1900, Hoyningen-Huene left his country soon after the Bolshevik Revolution, traveling in a rarified circle that included Coco Chanel, Greta Garbo, Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau, Cecil Beaton, Marlene Dietrich, and Kurt Weill. He began his career as a fashion draftsman publishing his drawings in Harper’s Bazaar and Fairchild’s Magazine. By 1925, he was the chief photographer for French Vogue. In 1935, he moved to New York and began working almost exclusively for Harper’s Bazaar. His photographs, best known for their sensuous formality and sophisticated use of lighting, were void of deceit; they presented the model not the photographer.

Cecil Beaton recognized at the start of his career that print and other mass media had the power to make reputations. In 1929, he contracted with Condé Nast to photograph the new stars of cinema. His charm gave him access to celebrities; his romantic vision of royalty was increasingly in demand.

Beaton juxtaposed elegant and common objects to convey a comical sense of play. The images were shocking to Vogue editors, who were used to Steichen’s formal, straightforward images. Beaton’s fashion photography was influenced by his set design work in theater; in 1958 he won an Oscar for his costume design in Gigi, and in 1964 for costume design and art direction/set direction in My Fair Lady.

Beaton was working for British Vogue in 1930 when he received a visit by Hoyningen-Huene and Horst P. Horst, who had met that year and traveled to England together that winter. The next year, Horst began his association with Vogue, publishing his first photograph in that November’s French edition.

Best known for his photographs of women and fashion, Horst also is recognized for his photographs of interior architecture. His work often reflects an interest in Surrealism. Most of his figurative work displays his regard for the ancient Greek ideal of physical beauty.

Horst carefully arranged the lighting and studio props before each shoot. He used lighting to pick out the subject; he frequently used four spotlights, often with one pointing down from the ceiling. Few of his photos contain background shadows. While most of his work is in black and white, much of his color photography uses monochromatic settings to set off a colorful fashion. A 1942 portrait of Marlene Dietrich is considered his most famous work.

Male nudes began to appear during the 1930s in the work of Herbert List, who made homoerotic photographs. By 1936, his pointed anti-Nazi opinions and homosexual friends forced his exile from Germany to London. He settled in Paris, where he worked as a fashion photographer for Vogue, LIFE, The Studio, Photographie, Arts et Métiers Graphiques, and Harper’s Bazaar.

List’s photographs featured young, healthy male bodies in strong sunlight, a significant contrast to the high-society fashion images of women from the same period. There is a feeling of voyeurism in work such as Amour II, taken on the beach at Hammamet, Tunisia, in 1934. His images are explicit without showing anything that would stir controversy. During the 1980s, Bruce Weber and Robert Mapplethorpe would follow List’s path, pushing the boundaries of decency while raising important issues of homosexuality and society.

World War II

The development of hand held cameras, faster film (the 1/1000 Leica), the Rolleiflex, and color film during the 1930s elevated fashion photography from ad illustration to fine art. The easy portability of the new cameras meant fashion photographers were less bound to the studio.

Fashion photography was considered frivolous during World War II, however. The fashion industry in France effectively closed because it lacked materials, models, and safe locations. Photographers still working in London often had to shoot during air raids to meet production deadlines. Studio photography, with its props and setups, became too costly. The French Vogue studio closed its doors in 1940 as Hitler entered Paris, and many photographers, including Horst and Man Ray, immigrated to New York. There they found a new type of fashion photography in the youthful exuberance of American culture. Back in Europe, material restrictions changed fashion photography from decadent aristocratic images to straightforward, no-nonsense magazine work. For Lee Miller in wartime Paris and Beaton in war-torn London, fashion photography recorded important historical and social events. Miller, a Vogue war correspondent, produced photographs that were compassionate but unsentimental, even while she was under combat on the front. While men either were drafted or fled Europe, women like Miller pictured models in the latest version of a gas mask or military-influenced utilitarian clothing. Magazine publishers viewed the resulting photographs as intriguing staging grounds for a new type of fashion photography that concentrated on the interests of women.

In New York, commercial photography continued unaffected by the war, and Louise Dahl-Wolf did her first fashion work for Harper’s Bazaar in 1936. She had trained at the California School of Design with noted colorist Rudolph Schaefer and had honed a flawless instinct for the psychological effect of luminosity. She had an eye for subtle change in tone, line, and color. A pioneer in large format photography, Dahl-Wolf brought high resolution and exact color to fashion photography with the new 8 × 10 Kodachrome sheet film. She influenced fashion photography for decades by depicting women as feminine rather than as objects of desire.

In 1943, the FSA disbanded, sending many talented documentary photographers looking for work elsewhere. Gordon Parks attempted to find a position with a fashion magazine, but the Hearst Organization, publisher of Harper’s Bazaar, would not hire a black man. Edward Steichen was so impressed with his work that he introduced Parks to Alexander Liberman, director of Vogue. Liberman, in turn, put Parks in touch with the senior editor of Glamour, and by the end of 1944 his photographs appeared in both magazines. Parks joined Life as a photojournalist in 1948, shooting a distinguished documentary series for Standard Oil on life in America. His work during the Civil Rights movement remains among the most compelling images of the 1960s.

Post-war Growth

The post-war increase in production of consumer goods shifted attention to mass-market, ready-to-wear clothing. Russian-born Alexey Brodovitch helped define the new market with unposed photographs and pioneering use of angular, Russian Constructivist influenced space, transcending the traditions of the fashion magazine.

Brodovitch was art director of Harper’s Bazaar from 1934 to 1958. He replaced the narrow vertical layout with a compositional structure using single rectangles spread over several pages. His experiments with white space and different type styles challenged photographers.

“Astonish me,” he often said to them. “When you look into the camera, if you see an image you have ever before, don’t click the shutter.” Among his students were photographers Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, and Art Cane as well as art directors Bob Cato, Otto Storch, and Henry Wolf.

Lillian Bassman, born in New York City, was a painter with the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s when Brodovitch discovered her. From the 1940s through the 1960s, she brought a new aesthetic to fashion photography with her dreamy, moody abstract images. Bassman experimented in the darkroom, blurring and bleaching areas of the photograph for dramatic effect. Her personal project from the 1970s, Men, is a series of large cibachrome prints of musclemen in which she distorted her subjects into monsters and heroes.

Alex Liberman lived through the revolution in Russia and war in Europe, moving first to London, where he attended school, then to Paris, where he studied painting with Andre Lhote and worked briefly at the photographic newsweekly Vu. In 1941, he moved to New York, where a prize he had won for magazine design at the 1937 Exposition Universelle in Paris earned him a foot in the door at Vogue. Liberman was named art director in 1943. In 1962 he became editorial director of all Condé Nast publications, a position he held until 1994.

A painter, sculptor, photographer, and graphic designer, Liberman crossed the imaginary boundary between the commercial and art worlds, much like Brodovitch. Liberman commissioned artists Joseph Cornell, Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns to work on projects for the magazine. An often difficult and demanding editor, his tenacity for change in the fashion magazine culture influenced a younger generation of photographers, including Diane Arbus, Bruce Davidson, Robert Frank, Robert Klein, and Lisette Model.

For photographer Irving Penn, the aim of fashion photography was the truthful depiction of a sociological subject, stripped of props, beautifully composed, where women were sensitive and intelligent. Penn enrolled in a four-year course at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art, where Alexey Brodovitch taught advertising design. Three years after Penn graduated, Brodovitch hired him as his assistant. In 1943, Penn took up photography professionally when a still life photograph he arranged—consisting of a leather bag, scarf, and gloves; several differently colored fruits; and a topaz—was published on the cover of Vogue.

Influenced by the simplicity and natural light of painters Giorgio di Chrico and Goya, Penn quickly developed an expressive formal vocabulary. He dispensed with the naturalism, spontaneity, and the theatrical lighting so much a part of the previous generation’s technique. He often posed his subjects in a blank white space, removing all references to their surroundings, keeping them emotionally detached. His elegant femininity was imitated in the work of Henry Clark, John Rawlings, and John French.

The 1960s as Reaction to the 1950s

Fashion photography at the start of the 1960s was revolutionary and futuristic. Photographers wielded considerable authority over magazine designers as experimental fashion rose to the forefront of design. Third-wave feminism, anti-war demonstrations, and Pop Art shook fashion photography out of its romantic retrospection. Photographers exposed the body with blatant sexuality; the playful and sometimes perverse eroticism between body and clothes promoted sexual liberation.

Bob Richardson emerged as one of the most influential fashion photographers during the 1960s. His work for Vogue anticipated the strategies of 1990s fashion photography by borrowing camera angles and lighting from experimental film directors like Antonioni and Goddard.

While Richardson’s highly original images caused anxiety among editors at Harper’s Bazaar, Richard Avedon quickly became recognized for his genius as a photographic dramatist. Avedon presented the model as pretty, but not glamorous. Gone were the goddesses of the 1930s and 1940s; Avedon’s early work was spontaneous, improvised, and accidental. His photographs of models were real, and his subjects were full of life and vitality. Avedon depicted women as astute and resourceful.

Influenced by novelist Marcel Proust, Avedon sought insight into societal behavior. He viewed individuals as isolated, and throughout his career he would remove his subjects from their surroundings and place them in a neutral studio environment.

By the late 1950s, Avedon worked only in the stark white space of his studio. He believed the studio would “isolate people from their environment … they become in a sense symbolic of themselves.” He developed his signature style: models set against a plain white background, often airborne, illuminated by the harsh light of the strobe.

Avedon’s great achievement as a fashion photographer was to become a barometer of the times, reflecting back to the viewer—sometimes brutally—the realities of social conditions. To refocus his fashion interest, Avedon photographed mental patients in the East Louisiana State Hospital in 1963. He continued to photograph while traveling through the South, and in 1964 he published a collection of photographs of white racists and civil rights workers in Nothing Personal, with text by James Baldwin.

Around the same time, Avedon began using Twiggy, a 16-year-old model from London. Twiggy shot to fame in the 1960s as the boyish rage of the London fashion scene. Her skinny, boyish look was a radical reversal from the voluptuous female of the 1940s and 1950s. In the late 1960s Newsweek described her as “four straight limbs in search of a body,” but her sex appeal captivated readers during the decade of the miniskirt and the birth control pill, a time when women asserted themselves as never before.

William Klein, by contrast, encouraged his models to act rather than pose. He photographed them on the street without regard for the background.

In 1954, Klein had returned to New York after six years in Paris when Alex Liberman unexpectedly hired him to photograph New York City for Vogue. Klein approached the city as an ethnographer. His snapshot-style aesthetic was crude, aggressive, and vulgar; his prints were grainy, blurred, bleached, or repainted. He experimented with wide-angle and long-focus lenses, long exposures combined with a flash, and multiple exposures.

The editors of Vogue were shocked by Klein’s view of the city. Consequently, he wasn’t able to find an American publisher for his book New York, New York (1956). In France, however, where the book was eventually published, he was a resounding success and won the Prix Nada.

Although not usually associated with fashion photography, Diane Arbus was hired by Harper’s Bazaar in 1962 to photograph children’s fashions. Her photographs made little distinction between fashion and the personal. She made three extensive series of remarkable photographs for the The New York Times in 1967, 1968, and 1970. The photographs show clumsy, outcast, and dejected children, making them the most disturbing fashion images ever published.

David Bailey, the prototype photographer-hero of the 1960s, was a young London-based member of the “Terrible Three,” which also included Terrence Donovan and Brian Duffy. Bailey’s fashion photographs were stark, streetwise, and spontaneous beyond anything done before. His images were sexually charged by his notorious personal and professional relationships. Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up exploited Bailey’s rapid-fire shooting, where the camera-as-penis was the only thing between the viewer and the female subject.

In New York, art director-turned-photographer Bert Stern rose and fell in the fashion photography hierarchy. Stern reversed the outer-directed approach of George Hoyningen-Huene; Stern’s photographs were about himself, not the model or the apparel. Pop culture defined Stern, and accordingly his contributions to fashion photography are best represented by his experiments with silk screening and off set printing. In 1971, Stern’s lavish lifestyle, million-dollar studio, and thousand dollar fees caused his empire to collapse.

Post-war Porn

The 1960s marked a turning point in sexually explicit photography. Fashion magazines explored the sexual and social codes in clothing and gesture; style, elegance, and social status gave way to overtly sexual narratives.

By the late 1960s, however, nudity in fashion magazines had lost its shock value; it had become common. Meanwhile, American pornography, still comparatively conventional in the 1960s, evolved from Playboy and Modern Man—photographs of nude or semi-nude women, their genitals and pubic hair hidden—to the more explicit Penthouse.

In the 1970s, Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin crossed boundaries with a style of fashion photography that was sexually aggressive and violent.

Berlin-born Newton fled Germany for Singapore in December 1938; a month after Nazi-led attacks on Jewish communities threatened his life. The experience had a profound effect on his photographs. He created an erotically charged world full of sexual predators and sexual prey. His unique mixture of sex and theater became his signature style. Newton’s images for American Vogue’s “Story of Ohh,” featuring a man, two women, and a dog, are considered uncompromising in their depiction of open, forceful lust. The piece caused a scandal when it first appeared. The title refers to the French pornographic novel The Story of O by Pauline Reage (a pen name for Anne Desclos), in which the masochistic heroine is a fashion photographer.

Newton’s fascination with photographing nude women led him to Playboy, where in the mid-1970s he photographed Debra Winger and Grace Jones. His edgy, erotic images changed not only fashion photography, but also fashion itself. He became a household name and the most copied fashion photographer of the 20th century. Newton later moved away from graphic violence to exploiting the relationship between sex and power: lovemaking without love.

Bourdin, however, increased the graphic display of horror. In a 1975 shoe advertisement for Charles Jourdan, Bourdin fabricated a car crash scene where a woman had been thrown from the car and killed. Her body had been removed from the scene, but a white chalk outline of her outstretched arms and legs remained. Bourdin strategically placed a red Jourdan shoe amid the wreckage.

The public response was outrage. Bourdin claimed to have taken his cue from another famous fashion photographer, Cecil Beaton. Beaton describes the scene forty years earlier: “… it would be gorgeous … to take the (same woman in a suit) in a motor accident, with gore all over everything and bits of car here and there.” (From “I am Gorged with Glamour Photography,” Popular Photography, April 1938.)

Some critics consider Bourdin’s soft-porn images sexually liberating. In his lingerie photographs, Bourdin’s subjects are lit softly and naturalistically. The clothing is sexualized; women stand next to a bed with their legs open. His concept of women as vulnerable is reinforced by his use of shadows to create a sense of mystery and threat. His images are painstakingly constructed. Clues are scattered throughout the image, but he puts the burden of interpretation on the viewer.

Despite Bourdin’s use of violence as spectacle, he has created some of the most compelling images ever published in fashion magazines. Some of his 1970s photographs would raise issues of censorship even today.

Chris von Wangenheim avoided Bourdin’s overt sexual violence. His photographs were published in the men’s magazines Playboy and Oui in addition to fashion magazines. His fashion images from the 1970s, however, involve voyeurism and sadomasochism taking him closer to Bourdin’s psycho-sexual images.

Post-1960s Fashion

The Vietnam War brought fashion down to earth. By the early 1970s clothes were more realistic and wearable and were depicted by women photographers like Eve Arnold, Deborah Tuberville, and Sarah Moon.

The style of French photographer Moon was grainy, out of focus, and mysterious. Subculture photographers revered her “moments of awakening” images. Moon was the first to photograph a bare-breasted young woman for the Italian tire company Pirelli’s popular cheesecake calendar.

Questioning the very basis of fashion photography, fashion-editor-turned-photographer Deborah Tuberville once asked hairdresser and makeup artist Jean Paul Troili to make the models ugly rather than beautiful. Images from Tuberville’s Public Bath House series from 1975 convey mystery and suggestion, but she was criticized for evoking a concentration camp.

During the early 1980s—the “Me” Decade—Ronald Regan won the presidency with a conservative agenda, AIDS appeared, and the freewheeling disco days ended. Women’s fashion reflected responsibility and restraint as newfound wealth gave birth to a Nouvelle Society.

By the late 1980s, however, supermodels emerged as icons of perfection and material success. Waif-like model Kate Moss became a symbol of 1980s excess. The female body depicted in mass media became increasingly thin; Playboy centerfolds’ bust and hip measurements increased while their waist measurements decreased significantly. At the same time, innovative fashion images spoke more about attitude than clothes. Images of prostitution, lesbianism, and transvestitism appeared in many fashion magazines.

Fashion photographer Herb Ritts became known for glamour photography, his black and white portraits of male and female nudes reflecting an interest in classical Greek sculpture. He first gained national attention with portraits of his friend Richard Gere, and often worked with Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and Vogue.

Newton and Bourdin continued to exert significant influence on young photographers. They made some of their best work during the 1980s.

1960s Fashion Precipitating 1980s Porn
Erotica and pornography looked more like fashion photography and pushed the boundary of high shock value further than before. Nude men, homoerotic images, and powerful, aggressive women challenged the conventions of erotic imagery.

The 1980s saw art photographers turn to fashion photography for inspiration. California photographer Jock Sturges best represents their use of erotica, which he claimed was unintentional.

Sturges introduced images of children and young people, some in full frontal nudity. In 1990, the FBI and the San Francisco Police Department raided his studio and they seized Sturges’ camera and film negatives. The following year, a grand jury declined to indict him on charges of child pornography on constitutional free speech ground. The controversy over his pictures continues today. Sturges’ books Radiant Identities (1994) and The Last Days of Summer (1991) have been banned in many public libraries throughout the country, but his photography career has flourished, with sold-out exhibitions in major cities like New York and Los Angeles.

Sally Mann also was accused of child pornography for Immediate Family, a series of portraits of her son and two daughters taken at home and in the nearby foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Mann’s photos are disturbing in their honesty and emotional intensity.

In David Hamilton’s book, The Age of Innocence (1995), teenage girls, nude from the waste up, are posed boudoir style and photographed in color through a soft-focus filter.

Suze Randall garnered attention in the 1980s while working for top adult magazines like Penthouse and Playboy. Working as a fashion model in the early 1970s, she became known for erotic photographs of her fellow model friends. Her breakthrough came when she spotted the pinup model Lillian MÜller and photographed her for Playboy in 1975. MÜller became Playmate of the Year in 1976.

Late-century Fashion

In the 1980s fashion photography lacked any clear direction, except in the work of Bruce Weber.

Europeans had grown tired of hard-core fashion pornography, and the erotic images of the 1970s had faded. In America, the 80s was the decade of kitsch and conspicuous consumption. Mediocrity was met with approval and acquisitiveness by the Nouvelle Society.

Weber became known for his Calvin Klein advertisements, which introduced the blatant male sexual object into the artistic canon of fashion. The male nude flourished in fashion photography, and as a result of Weber’s work, the Adonis-like “New Man” emerged with a focus on the body, not the clothing. The photography was not unique except for the gender, but it pushed Puritanism and homophobia to their limits. It was overly erotic, said some critics, but Weber’s homoerotic fashion photographs remain masterful examples of gender-specific images. Weber successfully sold male-on-male sex. The decade of uninhibited self-indulgence ended with fashion photographers setting up scenes: mini-docudramas that were culled from the archives of avant-garde cinema and were meant to intimidate. Photographers began to appropriate images from pop culture for psychological manipulation. Magazines like Tank, W, and Harper’s Bazzar used this style of fashion photography to sell lifestyles, not products.

Artists and photographers crossed over to advertising throughout the 20th century with great success. Man Ray, Fredrick Kiesler, Herbert List, Edward Steichen, Irving Penn, and Andy Warhol all contributed significantly to fashion photography. In the 1980s, it became increasingly common for mainstream fashion magazines to hire artists and art photographers.

Nan Goldin, more than any photographer of the decade, epitomized this trend. She launched a style of fashion photography that was grittier than those of Helmut Newton or Deborah Tuberville. In 1985, The Village Voice commissioned Goldin to produce images for its first advertising insert, View. The resulting series “Masculine/Feminine,” consists of pictures of Goldin’s women friends dressed in men’s underwear and lingerie. These images, taken in a Russian bathhouse on New York’s Lower East Side, are highly personal snapshots, deliberately unglamorous and raw.

More 1980s Porn

Pornography became less glamorous as well in that amateur pornography grew steadily, capturing a significant portion of the non-commercial photography market. The videocassette recorder brought snapshot pornography within reach of anyone. It led to pro-am pornography; professionally produced pornography involving amateur or first-time performers. These pieces often started with a host introducing the new actor, then a minimum of dialog, followed by scenes in which the amateur is prompted on camera to perform various sex acts, including masturbation, oral sex, intercourse, and lesbian or gay sex. Married and same-sex couples were encouraged to experiment for the camera.

Soon, personal computers refined the process. Color monitors with improved screen resolution, greater graphics capabilities, and modems created a boom in adult movies and personal Web site pornography. Couples shot home movies and photographs and distributed them among friends. Baby Boomers, once the force behind the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, also fueled this industry.

Gay pornography, although evident in the 1950s in Physique Pictorial and After Dark, hit the newsstands in the late 1970s. It gained wide circulation in both the straight and gay communities during the 1980s.

Robert Mapplethorpe’s politically explosive 1989 retrospective at New York’s Whitney Museum was seen by tens of thousands of viewers in Cincinnati, Boston, and Berkeley. His highly stylized and eroticized imagery disturbed some critics and politicians. In 1990, Cincinnati Art Center director Dennis Barrie was tried on obscenity charges for refusing to remove homoerotic images from Mapplethorpe’s exhibit. The controversy dominated the news, and although Barrie was later acquitted, the trial added momentum to the religious right movement. It led to Congress’s revocation of grants from the National Endowment programming for individual artists.

1990s Porn

Pro-am sex photography became an underground culture in the 1990s with a highly personalized style appealing to various sexual subcultures. By then, pornography was challenging societal boundaries as it featured sexual penetration, homosexuality, group sex, and fetishes.

Certain photographers became prominent with this culture. Michele Serchuk and Paul Dahlquist used a variety of soft-focus techniques to emphasize body form, while Michael Rosen’s studio portraits involved sadomasochism, erotic piercing, gender play, and what he calls “non-standard penetration.” Barbara Nitke used her friends to create beautiful, intimate images between consenting adults. Vlastimil Kula’s photographs explored sexual territory in which sex, taboo, love, passion, and rebellion are the key themes. Roy Stuart’s pictures were a fascinating look into explicit forbidden voyeurism. Ray Horsch, Will Roge, and Ron Raffaelli used various ways of altering their photographs, including computer manipulation, long exposure, and grainy infrared film. Sexual subculture is emphasized over technique in the work of Vivienne Maricevic (outlawed peep and lap dancing shows), Barbara Alper (sex clubs), Mark I. Chester (radical gay sex), and Mariette Pathy Allen (transsexuals and cross-dressers).

With the 1990s, the work of Nick Knight, Richard Kern, and Mark Borthwick brought grunge and street fashion to avant-garde fashion magazines such as Dutch, Purple, The Face, Big, Spoon, and Visionaire. Borthwick broke through the conventions of fashion photography with highly designed performances set against the backdrop of architecture. Kern, best known as an underground filmmaker, turned to still-frame photography. Like his films, Kern’s fashion images explored the psychosexual drama of porn and punk. Knight, on the other hand, likes to refer to social issues like breast cancer awareness in his pictures.

The anti-fashion model Cindy Sherman focused the camera on herself for Harper’s Bazaar in 1993. Her series Fashion explored voyeurism, femininity, and costume in the fashion industry using closely cropped photographs to emphasize voyeuristic impression. The bleak vulgarity of fashion photographs of the 1960s and 1970s by Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton, Bob Richardson, James Moore, and Jerry Schatzberg reappeared in the 1990s in the youthful alienation images of Collier Schorr and Glen Luchford. Schorr’s pictures of shirtless young men confuse gender in their sexual ambiguity. Her work is often about androgyny and identity, and boyish masculinity. Luchford collaborated with artist Jenny Savile in 1995 to produce a series of compelling photographs that capture the full tonality of flesh. Savile, a well-known figurative painter, underwent reconstructive surgery and wanted to express the violence and pain associated with the operation. Luchford photographed her body pressed against glass, producing grotesque images of distorted flesh. It was fashion collaboration unlike any seen before. Digital imagery and computer manipulation in David La Chapelle’s work recalled surrealist photography, suppressing and blurring the visible facts. La Chapelle remains interested in an artificial, constructed and staged reality. His photographs express mixed feelings and unease about our world. Corinne Day, a self-taught photographer, was shunned by Vogue magazine for her unflattering images of supermodel Kate Moss. Day ignored the magazine and spent the last decade photographing her friends in confrontational, unconventional, and highly personal portraits, with drugs, sex, and abandonment as dominant themes. Day’s most successful work revolves around her close friends Tara and Yank, and her own diagnosis, surgery, and recovery from a brain tumor in 1996. Steven Meisel embraced a sphere of elite in his fashion photographs, confronting us with excessive wealth unknown by most people. Meisel worked against the tide of youth culture seen in fashion photographs of Jurgen Teller and Wolfgang Tillmans.

Jurgen Teller, who does not consider himself an art or fashion photographer, has a casual and blunt documentary style. Teller is interested in the depth of a photograph rather than its surface. Wolgang Tillmans, one of the most influential photographers to emerge during the 1990s, produces raw images of traditional subjects like portraiture, landscape, and still life meticulously arranged in classical compositions. His focus on the everyday resembles sociological and ethnographical inquiries. Both Teller and Tillmans have found success in the art world.

The interchange of ideas between the fashion and art worlds influenced Larry Sultan, who gained national attention as a photographer for his series of portraits of his parents in Pictures from Home. In his most recent book, The Valley, Sultan examines the complexity of domestic life invaded by the porn industry by focusing on porn’s mechanics: set, actors, and equipment. The images are reminiscent of 1930s photographers Horst P. Horst and Cecil Beaton. Today, pictures by Horst, Beaton, and Sultan are displayed and sold in art galleries or auctioned for a dollar amount unimaginable just a few decades ago.

Other fine art photographers, including Philip-Lorca di Corcia, Tina Barney, Larry Sultan, and Ellen von Unwerth effectively worked both fashion and art. They paved the way for a new generation of photographers who again are reinventing fashion photography, including Paolo Roversi, best known for his romantic fashion images and portraits using 8 × 10 Polaroids; Mario Testino known for his highly polished, exotically colored scenes of aristocrats; and German-born Peter Lindbergh, influenced by his childhood background in the West German town of Duisburg near the Rhine River where one side of the river was flanked by green grass and tress, and stark industrial landscape on the other. Lindberg uses this contradiction to create dark, contrasting images of models set against decaying post-industrial architecture.

Current Work

Today’s catalysts include photographer and filmmaker Craig McDean, renowned for his striking fashion imagery and portraiture. In 1999, McDean published I Love Fast Cars, a series dedicated to the world of drag racing. He has also directed commercials for Versus fragrance and Calvin Klein’s Contradiction.

Alexei Hay draws on photojournalism and Hollywood inspired backdrops. Like Philip-Lorcia di Corcia, Hay moves effortlessly between magazine and gallery work. Hay sympathizes with his models, never concealing their personal identity. He challenges the stereotypical fashion image by using bearded and two-headed models and prosthetics.

Others who have made recent statements in fashion photography include Steven Klein, who stands out among his peers in his view of the hypersexualized male; self-taught photographer Mario Sorrenti, who rose to fame in the early 1990s with his candid black and white images of his daily life and his launching the career of supermodel Kate Moss; Richard Burbridge, whose close-up portraits are brutally confrontational; and Ruven Afanador Torero, whose work is heavily influenced by his native Colombian culture.

Commercial pornography is still directed toward a male audience and generally emphasizes sexual arousal and desirability. In recent years, however, pornography for women has become more common in magazines and on commercial Web sites. The poses and facial expressions follow a pattern similar to that of male pornography, and the results presumably are the same.

Despite its prevalence, sexual photography, pro-am photography and film, and pornography remain highly controversial. Sex is a private pleasure in Western culture, and witnessing other people performing it challenges society’s boundaries. Sex today is more obsessive than the liberating 1960s and our visual culture is increasingly crowded with images of it.

Fashion photography and art have merged to form a new hybrid of fash-art photography. The influence of pornography on both forms is undisputable. Fashion trends construct gender identities that reflect our sexual fantasies. Fetish subcultures and an attraction to fashion’s dark side have provided designers and photographers with a rich source of material for decades.

Ours is a sex-fearing culture, and as long as boundaries are drawn between what is “normal” and what is “subversive,” fashion photography will survive, prosper, and challenge us.