Does the digitization of fashion photography mean the death of photography?
Post on 26-Mar-2016
DESCRIPTIONAn argumentative essay on digital fashion photography.
Is fashion photography art and does the digitization of fashion photographs spell the
death of photography?
By De Wet Erasmus
Since the start of photography, the debate to have it recognized as an art form has been
a struggle. Purists of art have always debated the issue of photography as an art form,
but recently, purists of photography - those true to the use of film - have now debated
whether the digitization of photography can be classified as true photography.
Digitization is seen most clearly in fashion photography, which, aside from advertising
photography, is the most popular and influential genre amongst audiences.
Fashion photographers will surely see themselves as artists, especially the masters
such as Richard Avedon and most recently, Patrick Demarchelier. But would using film
rather than digital means to produce the work constitute the photographs as art? Could
the digital revolution mean that the art of photography is dying?
This is very argumentative; to say that Fashion is art is one thing, but to put
photography as art is to join two distinctly different means and call them one.
It is also true that fashion photography influences commercial photography in the same
way that commercial fashion is directly influenced by catwalk fashion. High fashion is
the art of clothes and Michelin-star restaurants are the art of food then it stands to
reason that fashion photography is the art of the photographic industry.
Most great artists such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Mozart and Dickens had
commercial day jobs as many fashion photographers might consider their fashion
work. If one would look at fashion photographer David LaChappelles work, one could
not begin to tell you where fashion ended and art had began (www.whatseanwrote.com;
viewed on 28 October 2009).
A lot of fashion photography is actually exhibited in galleries as paintings and sculptures
would. Examples of this would be the great retrospective exhibition (fig. 1.1.) of Patrick
Demarchelier in Paris, which was the major photographic event of the last quarter 2008.
(www.pbase.com; viewed on 29 October 2009)
There will always be a debate on whether or not a photograph becomes art after certain
manipulations are performed and loses its integrity as a photograph. That is the miracle
of digital media and, since so much can now be done outside of the 'digital darkroom' to
enhance photographs in fashion or in any means calling Photography 'Art' will stimulate
extreme and heated debate.
Fig. 1.1. Shows an old lady viewing the Patrick Demarchelier exhibition in Paris. http://www.pbase.com/alain_boussac/the_patrick_demarchelier_exhibition_in_paris_
Examples of this would be the great
retrospective exhibition (fig. 1.1.) of Patrick
Demarchelier in Paris, which was the major
photographic event of the last quarter 2008.
(http://www.pbase.com; viewed on 29 October
What one could argue is that digitalization and
extreme editing of fashion photographs could
give it an artier feel. For instance, Nick Knight,
one of Britains most renowned fashion
photographers, tries to compose his images as
a painter would, using all the design elements
as an artist would. One can see this in fig. 1.2.,
where he attempts to edit his fashion image
with digital paint added in with the help of
Photoshop. (Hint Magazine 2009; viewed on
October 2009) Fig.1.2. Image by Nick Knight http://www.hintmag.com/shootingstars/nickknight/nickknight01.htm
The digital age has brought with it a whole
bunch of new photographic techniques, and
with that, a new breed of professional photographers being blamed for the death of
photography. There is a distinction between photographs of real subjects, and
computer-manipulated images of unreal or even hyper-real subjects. Some fine art and
fashion photographers have, for creative purposes, found these techniques liberating,
whereas the purists find highly stylized imagery going against what photography is
about: Recording the world around us. About conventional photography, Nick Knight
has said, its dead on its legs (Peter Rentz; viewed on 30 October 2009).
Around the early nineties, there was a major stylistic break between highly stylized retro
images, such as use of ring flash which was started by Nick Knight, and experiments
with computer-manipulated images as that was when Photoshop started becoming
more useable. Photographers and art directors came to recognize the attraction of
larger than life imagery, taken out of its historical context and found something new.
One must understand that the nature of fashion and fashion photography is
impermanent, it is ever changing and shifting trends, generates and exudes a perpetual
in-process quality. (The Counterfeit Body: Fashion Photography and the Deceptions of
Femininity; viewed on 29 October 2009)
This quality is delusory however, as images and styles repeat themselves in carefully
calculated and timed increments. What could also be said on photographers parts
about manipulation of images is, those who can, do and those who cant, complain.
(What Sean Wrote Blog Article: Fashion In Mirror Self Reflection ; viewed on 28
Some have even talked of a crisis of representation in photography. However, what I
want to argue in this essay is that the manipulation of photographs tells us a lot about
our society's standards. The new digital procedures cannot simply be reduced to a
matter of technological improvement.
Today, photographs on the cover of almost every magazine have been retouched using
computer technology. (Size zero debate; viewed 28 October 2009)
For most fashion and beauty photographers, to retire to their computers, after a photo
shoot, to rearrange digitally their pictures has became an integral part of their work.
Critics of digitally enhanced images are often not even photographers, but average
people worried that a too-perfect supermodel on the cover of a magazine portrays
something impossible, if not, at least, politically incorrect. If retouching has always been
around, even during the prime of film photography, the new digital technology makes it
so effortless and fast, that its use is becoming systematic. What used to be a privileged
treatment, reserved for the cover and a few selected photographs, is now so
widespread that virtually every photograph one can see in a magazine has undergone
some digital alteration. (Size zero debate; viewed on 28 October 2009)
Perhaps digitally manipulated photographs are acceptable, as long as they mutate their
subjects for artistic purposes and not just to further exaggerate the expectations of
feminine beauty. Some cultural critics have even talked about "the power of the image"
and have studied the effects of visual images on individuals or groups. (The Impossible
Image: Phaidon Press Inc; 2000; viewed 28 October 2009)
Other theorists have often observed that the representation of women in the mass
media is based on imagery defined by social and cultural forces which erase any trace
of reality. Critics of digitally enhanced images are often not even photographers, but
average people worried that a too-perfect supermodel on the cover of a magazine
portrays something impossible, if not, at least, politically incorrect. How trustworthy is
an image in todays visually based media? This and other questions concerning
photographic objectivity are as old as the camera itself, amplified and made more
complex with the advent of digital technology. (The Impossible Image: Phaidon Press
Inc; 2000; viewed 28 October 2009)
Nick Knight, a highly influential British fashion photographer, remains at the forefront of
so-called hyper-real photographic experimentation. About conventional photography,
he has said, it is dead on its legs (Hint Magazine 2009; Viewed 28 October 2009).
Additionally, he is not convinced that digitally manipulated images those that go
beyond the point of flattering a realistic looking image and actually warp it are even
photography. I think imagery is what its about, and imagists will be the people who go
into the next century. A camera will just be another tool to produce image out of a
range of tools, he declared in an interview with Lumiere Magazine in 1996.
(www.lumiere.com; viewed 30 October 2009)
In the last decade, photographers often responded to the never-ending demand for
new imagery by re-presenting, or referencing, older styles and methods of
photography. Whatever loyalty conventional photographers had to reality and time were
completely destroyed by the incessant referencing that was popular in this time period.
Only when Nick Knight and other high-profile fashion photographers began creating
images bearing no relation to reality, did critics make their accusations about the
manipulation trend (Fig. 1.3). (www.showstudio.com; viewed 30 October 2009)
Fig. 1.3. Image by Nick Knight shows excessive manipulation to produce this fashion image.
Photographic manipulations can be considered as a kind of "editing" or "rewriting."
Because of this very characteristic, these new age images, manipulated on purpose,
can be read and can tell us a lot about our culture as they represent, with the
appearance of reality, the real world around us in terms of a progressing and emotional
way. In a sense, these manipulations allow us
to demonstrate the semiotics of photography.
Photo-manipulation is more than just using a
given technology, and the way it is used can
help understand photographic representation as
well as the values of our society.
Photographer Nick Knight glides easily between
the super-slick world of ad campaigns which
includes Christian Dior and Yohji Yamamoto
(fig. 1.4) and frank, humanistic portraits of those
marginalized by society, he turned down a
contract renewal from American Vogue, as he is
In conclusion, there is no death of photography, just adaptations and a progression
wards an all new genre of art. Fashion photography is ever changing, just as styles in
now eager to concentrate on family matters and
his online laboratory, Showstudio, where an
assortment of fashion greats experiment with
new ideas and images. Knight has found that
the future with fashion lies more and more with
Fig. 1.4 shows an image done for Yohji Yamamoto by Nick Knight that could have only been achieved through manipulation
art, music, and literature change. The digitization of fashion photography is inevitable
and quite frankly, could make this genre of photography even more influential.
eferences:R ize zero debate (2009)
rticle: Fashion In Mirror Self Reflection (2009)
mage (Phaidon Press Inc; 2000)
eit Body: Fashion Photography and the Deceptions of Femininity, Sexuality,
What Sean Wrote Blog A
Nick Knights Showstudio (2009)
One Model Place (2009)
Science Direct (2009)
The Age (2008)
The Impossible I
Phaidon Press, Inc.
Knight Vision by Stephen Todd, published June 19
Authenticity and Self in the 1950s, 60s and 70s [Page 2]
Slate Magazine (2008)
Hint Magazine (2009)