The cameras of the 19th century required the subject to remain very still for the several moments it took to capture their image. As lenses and film improved, cameras became smaller and more manageable, so new techniques became possible, including moving shoots out of the studio. But it was not until the 1930s that movement really came into fashion photography, when Martin Munkacsi began to encourage his models to walk, and even run, for the camera. It was the beginning of a move towards making fashion models look natural. It put photography at the heart of magazines – and, inadvertently, almost entirely banished fashion illustrations from their pages.
Rolleiflex and Hasselblad cameras gave the professional photographer the adaptability of the casual holidaymaker with his Box Brownie, and it became possible for anyone who could afford these expensive cameras to produce photographs as technically perfect as those on the pages of magazines and newspapers. Photographs became commonplace.
With the Polaroid, a new development occurred. Whereas exposed film required processing and printing, the Polaroid image needed just minutes to be fixed before it was available for inspection. Polaroids became an invaluable tool for fashion photographers to get an instant idea of what the finished shot would look like.
All the guesswork was banished. But so was much of the magic of creativity.
There is no question that the technology that made fashion photography so exciting has, in its more recent developments, made it more pedestrian. Now that we can take digital photographs to record everything instantly, maybe fashion magazines should call back the illustrators to reintroduce the element of chance again.
(First published July 2006)
Picture Source. Munkacsi , Paris 1957.