HAVE FEMALE PHOTOGRAPHERS REALLY CHANGED FASHION?
Meet the generation challenging the status quo of fashion photography.
by Fiona Ma
Fashion photography has always been a man’s world, from the founder Edward Steichen to the most noted photographers, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, and Juergen Teller to name a few. In the last few decades, as the longing for something fresh to cleanse our palettes continued, we have witnessed the rise of female photographers over their male counterparts. Gone are the sexually poised female models and the submissive gazes, instead what was depicted were women of empowerment that was paralleled by the growing feminist movement.
Like all art forms, fashion photography followed the changing social and political scene. Fueled by the demand to empower women, photographers tried to throw out the reinforced notion of selling sex, which was the premise for a male dominated industry. This led to the rise of female photographers such as Sarah Moon, Cindy Sherman and Collier Schorr. Aimed at rejecting the male sexual gaze, the featured female models of these photographers were presented as challenging the status quo and representing a different narrative of beauty.
With all social changes, the means of reversing inherent norms is always met with churning out extremities of the polar opposite. Raw imagery of unadulterated females showing pubic hair, bare faces and taking dominating sexual positions became the new landscape for fashion photography. Labeled and described as ‘empowering’, ‘feminist’, ‘ strong’ and ‘liberating’, the first batch of female photographers produced imagery from a very similar gaze. Graphically unadulterated and poignant, these images created increase shock value to counteract male objectification. In a way, this overt statement of women taking their sexuality in their own rights became unidentifiable and indistinguishable from its antecedent male gaze.
We welcome in the second wave, the new slew of young generation female photographers that are being heralded for capturing a multi-faceted woman. The aesthetics have changed; no longer dominating the frame is the ‘in-your-face’ empowered woman, but a raw, gritty and even girly female. The new fashion photography is shown to embrace the new nude, being stripped naked from sexual overtures and political statements, and simply being a person; whether that takes you from dreaming with Martina Hoogland, to fantastical elements of Masha Mel, to lounging on the couch eating popcorn with Brianna Capozzi.
It’s no longer about making a feminist statement and reasserting control over their agency but rather, photographing them as people. The need for women to constantly defend and become an embodiment of a label has ceased; embracing their subjects for being themselves, these new-gen photographers are shooting women without a preset gaze, without constructing a definition and without establishing a new ideology about what it means to be a woman.