the young female fashion photographer is on the rise
A talented and exciting generation of young female photographers are shaking up fashion image-making and changing the way we look at clothes and the models wearing them. We asked Arvida Byström, Harley Weir, Olivia Rose, Marie Zucker and Masha Mel to...
Coat Sacai. Jacket Woolrich John Rich & Bros. Silver puffa jacket Hunter. Top Nichola Farnan.
The myth of the fashion photographer as a straight man with a passion for beautiful women, with his camera as a powerful machine of seduction, was made popular in Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 thriller Blow-Up. Loosely inspired by David Bailey, it tells the story of a young photographer in swinging 60s London, chasing models through a city enjoying sex and drugs and rock'n'roll as never before. Even the language of photography is inherently violent and aggressive: you aim and shoot, you take a picture, you capture a moment. According to the 1%'s favourite site The Richest, eight-and-a-half of the world's ten highest-paid fashion photographers are men: Mario Testino, Bruce Weber, Terry Richardson, Juergen Teller, Nick Knight, Steven Meisel, Mario Sorrenti, Inez & Vinoodh, Mert & Marcus and Annie Leibovitz.
Today though, almost half-a-century later, the laddish type of fashion photographer shown in Blow-Up is falling out of favour, and a next generation of young female photographers are coming through - most obviously in the online creative collective The Ardorous, which only admits females, but also on the pages of your favourite fashion magazines. We asked five young female photographers from all over Europe - Germany, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom - how and why the industry is changing.
Fashion photography is traditionally dominated by men, why do you think that is?
Because men previously have had power in most areas involving money or prestige.
What industry isn't traditionally dominated by men? Other than, perhaps, needlecraft? There's a very simple reason - men rule the whole bloody world! Much as we wish this wasn't true, I bet you'd still be hard-pressed to find an industry where women and men are treated equally. Even in the creative industries you are at a disadvantage as a woman - there are so few successful female fashion photographers that we somehow have a "high risk" label attached to us purely by being in the minority. Maybe that's because a lot of the big clients hiring us are also traditionally dominated by men. Or maybe it's because the fashion industry itself is dominated by womenswear and female fashion photographers are more interested in photographing sexy men!
Photography is traditionally only for the charmed in life as it absorbs so much time, energy and money. Just being a girl absorbs so much of you that to succeed in such a job means you have to work doubly hard. Amongst a thousand other things women aren't brought up with the same arrogance that the job requires. You really have to grow it and not let that lack of confidence hold you down.
It does require a lot of physical and mental strength. After shooting all day I - being a small woman - literally can't stand up the next day. Confidence and technical skills are needed in order to work in big studios and to order assistants around.
I don't actually think it's true that it's still dominated by men? At least I don't feel like that in the area I work in, more like in older generations I guess. One weird encounter I had was when I had my first proper shoot commissioned by Vogue in the Condé Nast studios in Milan, and I walked in and first they asked me if I was the model, and then acted like no one knew there was a studio reserved for me and I had come on the wrong day. I knew for a fact that this was my slot and that they had super expensive jewellery set aside there for me with some assistants, but at first they treated me really bad just because I was a young girl and not a hairy old dude looking like the normal successful 40+ fashion photographer.
I have seen few reactions when people were looking for the photographer and eventually understood it was me, ha ha.
I went to a photography school in Berlin and was literally harassed by the tutor for being young and female and wanting to "become" a fashion photographer, even though at the time I started I already had features in major publications. On the first day, in front of everyone, he said, "Being so young I'm not sure if this is the right thing for you." Later on, when we needed to do presentations about our favourite photographer I chose Tim Walker and at the end the tutor was like, "Now men, what do you think of all this Tim Walker stuff? Very frilly no?" as if he was asking them to say my choice was wrong because it's too feminine. He really thought he was the shit because he was an old photographer dude with beard, and there was no way a girl my age could be successful.
Recently there has been a surge of younger female photographers, why do you think that is?
Because we can share our work more easily via the internet, and get discovered, and get in touch with people without the barrier of how old and what sex we are.
Yes, with the new digital era it became so easy to showcase your work and this is one of the reasons why we now know about young women fashion photographers.
Because women - especially white women, sadly enough - are more welcome into many previous male-dominated areas these days. And because of the internet, I think that's created platforms to reach out and bond.
Times are changing, most people in Western countries have the opportunity to follow a career like photography and with equality of the sexes coming closer, more and more women have the choice to do it. Women see this growth and it gives them confidence - people need to have something to aspire to and we have a strong set of aspirational girls around at the moment.
I think that the creative industries have surges in their ways of seeing. We are coming to what feels like the end of an era that placed a heavy emphasis on women's fashions and campaigns only, and I believe it's no coincidence that there's a direct correlation between the rise and rise of menswear within the fashion industry and the interest in the female gaze. Never before has a woman's eye been so important in capturing the now. Men's fashion is pushing the boundaries in all ways, with their model casting - in London especially we are seeing more and more ethnicities and variety on our catwalks - and I think this wealth of material to draw inspiration from might be partly responsible.
What new perspective can younger female photographers bring to fashion photography?
They can documents today's fashion and reflect themselves in the images they produce; basically, telling a story about themselves in a fashion way and showing their dreams. A woman taking a photograph of a model will think about herself, while men will think about the model sexually. Lots of female photographers actually do understand fashion more than men, who often focus more on technical questions.
Hopefully some more complex ideas of the body and more variety to the idea of beauty.
I think the question sort of explains itself - fresh blood from younger photographers brings more diversity and breaks old standards.
A gendered perspective will always wield new results. Give me and my male counterpart the same thing to shoot and we will approach it in completely different ways. This is not to say that all women shoot one way and all men another, but I do believe that there are fundamental differences between male and female, meaning that we approach the entire experience differently from how we run the studio that day to what we are focusing on down the camera lens. There is something very important to be said for the rise of female photographers. The new female gaze is perhaps the most interesting development in fashion photography for a long time and I for one hope that the fascination in it continues!
Text Dean Kissick
Photography Harley Weir
Styling Julia Sarr-Jamois
Hair Raphael Salley at Streeters using "Schwarzkopf Essence Ultime, developed with Claudia Schiffer".
Make-up Lauren Parsons at Premier Hair and Make-up using Chanel Vitalumiere Loose Powder and autumn/winter 2014.
Styling assistance Thomas Prees, Daniel Gourley.
Hair assistance Jose Ramon Fernandez.
Make-up assistance Hannah Wilson.
Casting Angus Munro at AM Casting (Streeters NY).
Model Lindsey Wixson at Storm.