Fashion photographs are part of our visual culture. Each image tells a story and invites us to engage with it in a pleasurable way, but it also encapsulates something of the tastes, the aspirations and the dreams of its time. Glamour, elegance and sexiness are concepts that are endlessly redefined. During the 1990s in particular, they went hand in hand with their opposites – the ugly, the shocking, the unsightly and the misshapen – as reflected by both fashion designers and photographers alike. ‘Fashion photographs inevitably become commentaries on the idea of the fashionable,’ wrote Susan Sontag. And the ‘idea’ evolves according to the times, the medium and the viewer. It depends on these whether the attitude is more important or the clothing itself and whether the trend is towards mainstream or subculture, attractiveness or blatant sexuality. Fashion photography is often paradoxical: it is both creative and commercial – produced to order but at the same time generating progressive, experimental, artistic images – and it represents both haute couture and popular culture. Fashion photography may be regarded as an art form, but it is still an industry (a visual industry) that services another (whether fashion, ready-to-wear, accessories or cosmetics).
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