Getty Celebrates a Century of Fashion Photography

A new exhibition and book honours the pioneering photographers turning fashion into art

The most important part of fashion photography, for me, is not the models; it’s not the clothes. It’s that you are responsible for defining what a woman today is. That, I think, is my job.” One of the world’s most prolific photographers, Peter Lindbergh, shaped the way we view fashion with his striking snaps, which shun excessive retouching in favour of humanist black-and-white shots. His approach redefined the standards of beauty, making it less about the clothes and make-up and more about the person who was wearing them. His subjects to date have included the likes of Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Uma Thurman.

Lindbergh was certainly pioneering, but he was not the first. In 1911, Edward Steichen created the first artistic fashion image by commission of publisher Lucein Vogel, who wanted to move away from the typical shots of the time, which involved little more than a model standing in front of a blank canvas. Something of a revolution followed, and in the 100 years that have passed since, fashion photography has become an art form in its own right.

In a new book and exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Getty curator Paul Martineau celebrates a century of fashion photography. Icons of Style charts the changing face of fashion with pictures by the likes of Lillian Bassman, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Man Ray, Helmut Newton, Irving Penn and Tim Walker.

Divided into five chronological chapters written by five experts – including the Victoria & Albert Museum’s curator of photographs Susanna Brown – the book spans the rise of fashion photography through the jazz, post-war and Punk ages, finishing with the turn of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, when the likes of street photography and social media began to play its role.

The aim, Martineau says, is to encourage viewers, galleries and museums to treat fashion photography with the same merits given to other art forms. “Although the very nature of what is considered art has shifted greatly during the last hundred years... fashion photography has not fully shaken off the stigma of being at an intersection of two historically marginalised mediums,” he says in the book’s introduction. “Long overlooked, the gradual integration of fashion photographs into museum collections will make it easier for these pictures to be evaluated in terms of the larger history of the medium of photography.”

Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography, £50, edited by Paul Martineau, published by Getty Publications, July 2018