Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Power of Fashion Photography

In 1856 Adolphe Braun published photographs of Countess di Castiglione, an Italian courtesan known to be a mistress of Emperor Napoleon III. The Countess commissioned photographs of herself in various signature poses, often fully garbed in court attire. The photographs are widely viewed as the first examples of fashion photography with Countess di Castiglione as the first fashion model. At this point in history photography was emerging as an exciting new way to document events. More creative minds saw the artistic potential.

The Countess saw an opportunity to feed her narcissistic needs by showing, sharing and loving her apparent rare beauty. She used her feminine instinct for flattering dress and sensual movements as a tool in creating groundbreaking images for Adolphe Braun (and others) to photograph. The rush of adrenaline the Countess must have felt upon viewing the photos must have been intoxicating, as she spent her entire personal fortune on the pursuit of re-creating moments in her life.

The story of the Countess di Castiglione is very indicative of the power of photography and its effects on the subject to be photographed. Narcissistic or not, it is quite an experience to see oneself from a different point of view and in a flattering manner. Our self-esteem is heightened, our ego becomes even slightly inflated and perhaps we find ourselves walking a little taller. Let us turn to the photographer. The person behind the camera is as necessary as the subject. He or she knows how to manipulate the subject, either physically or emotionally in order to achieve that one single moment of perfection and capture it on film.

Even with technology, there is a great amount of skill involved. Beyond lighting, location and coloring, there are the rare and hidden skills of making your subjects feel at ease, bringing out the best in them and finding their inner spark. Then to be able to bring it all together in a breathtaking series of photographs is truly an art. Like any artist, there is an intensely powerful appreciation for one's work. He or she has taken a person, some clothing and a setting, and transformed it into an image that speaks a thousand words in a thousand different languages to millions of people - without making a sound. That is a powerful talent.