Before Beyoncé, Rihanna – Getty Shows Fashion Photo Evolution



This time of year is traditionally important for fashion magazines as their massive September issues hitting newsstands. This year’s mainstream magazines notably featured black female stars. While covers with Beyoncé, Rihanna and other beautiful black women reflect a noteworthy change, a show at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles highlights the evolution of fashion photography for over a century before these September images appeared.

“Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography, 1911-2011,” featuring more than 160 fashion photographs, illustrations and magazine covers, alongside a selection of couture garments reflecting the evolution of design depicted in the images. The Getty Center showcase, on view through October 21, 2018, is the most comprehensive exploration of fashion photographic history yet undertaken, showing how styles, photography as art, social trends, and diversity evolved in the U.S. The time period covered brings to life the history shown in magazines like Vogue, which in 1909 began heralding each Fall in with an eye-catching cover (like this year’s Beyoncé artwork) and the latest couture styles from around the world. It includes many images seen in that magazine, including the first black woman grace the cover, Beverly Johnson in 1974.

“Icons of Style” includes work from over 80 photographers. It is drawn from the Getty Museum’s photography collection as well as significant loans.  The exhibition features the work of the past century’s most renowned fashion photographers, including Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Guy Bourdin, Patrick Demarchelier, Hiro, George Hurrell, Peter Lindbergh, Man Ray, Herb Ritts, Francesco Scavullo, Edward Steichen, and Tim Walker.Getty

The best fashion photos evoke the idea of art, versus advertisement. They expand the boundaries of the genre and redefine what a fashion shot is supposed to be. They were once overlooked by museums and collectors, but “fashion photography is now recognized as having produced some of the most creative work of the twentieth century, transcending its illustrative function to yield images of great artistic quality and sophistication,” according to Getty Museum director Timothy Potts. He noted that the Getty believes that the time is right “to present a sweeping overview of the finest examples of fashion photography” from the last century.

History of Women’s Role and Fashion

The exhibition opens with the first forays into modern fashion photography as corseted dresses gave way to looser, more natural looks shown by Coco Chanel. On view are early pieces byBaron Adolf de Meyer and Steichen, two artists largely responsible for creating modern fashion photography at the behest of Vogue mogul Condé Nast.

Other notable innovations and trends shown in the Getty exhibit include:

  • The first outdoor action images, which appeared in the 1930s,
  • A major emphasis on luxury and glamor during the Depression, then the effects of World War II. One image, “Keep the Home Fires Burning (1941)” by Louise Dahl-Wolfe shows a woman in a slip looking away from the camera at the fireplace, while apparently waiting for her soldier husband to return.  Other images from London are shot among ruins.
  • The 1950s considered to be the Golden Age of fashion photography featured a return to high fashion and glamorous designs from Cristóbal Balenciaga, Christian Dior, and others shown in visually arresting images.
  • The 1960s youth-quake ushered in new style including the hippie, mod and gypsy. The unbalanced aura is seen in Neal Barr’s 1966 photo of a mini-dress clad Dianne Newman featuring patterned tights, bug-eye glasses, and a short haircut. In this period, some photographers experimented with blurring images, shooting into the sun and other unsettling changes.
  • Ready-to-wear clothing lines for women entering the workforce in the 1970s were paired with more relatable, natural looking models and increased diversity.
  • Fashion photography of the 1980s and 90s highlights athletic female bodies, male sexuality, the birth of the supermodel, and the fitness trend. Ritts’s famous nude photograph of the era’s hot supermodels including Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Christy Turlington is on display here. So are images of the 1990s “heroin chic,” with stick-thin models like Kate Moss in sickly looking visages.

Future to be Fashioned

The “Icons of Style” exhibition concludes with contemporary photographs theorizing the future of fashion photography.  The need for September issues showcasing the Fall collections has changed with the Internet, social media and people wanting more individuality in styles. While largely not seen before as a museum-collected artform, the fashion photography in the Getty exhibit illustrates evolution and innovations that paved the way for this year’s eye-catching Beyoncé and Rihanna cover images.

By Dyanne Weiss

Exhibition visit
USA Today: A proud moment: Black women command the covers of 2018 September issues
BBC: This is why being the September cover star of US Vogue is still important

Photos courtesy of the Getty:
“Renée, the New Look of Dior,” shot August 1947 at the Place de la Concorde, Paris, by America Richard Avedon, 1923–2004; print, 1978 Gelatin silver print 45.7 x 35.5 cm (18 x 14 in.) Copyright © The Richard Avedon Foundation, New York
Beverly Johnson’s August 1974 Vogue cover shot by Francesco Scavullo, American, 1921–2004; 1974 Photomechanical reproduction 30.5 x 25.4 cm (12 x 10 in.) Private Collection © Condé Nast / Vogue