Selling Dreams: One Hundred Years of Fashion Photography

As many of you will be aware, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter has recently been reopened after 4 long years of renovation and redevelopment. Intrinsically the new site now contains spaces for external exhibitions which will be presented alongside the resident collections. The first of these exhibitions was this display of fashion photography, loaned from the V&A, featuring 60 works from 1911-2011. The exhibit included photographs from famous names such as Rankin, David Bailey, Richard Avedon, Horst. P. Horst and featured works published in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue

The theme of the gallery was the shift in fashion photography trends over the last century. In the earliest images, by the likes of Edward Steichen, we can note that the focus of the photographer was solely on the clothing (although this sounds obvious!), which left very little room for any further expression of illustrative and artistic vision from the photographer or the model . This approach evolved quickly to make the model as important, and progressively more important, than the clothes from even as early as 1939.  Eventually, this seems to lead to the rise of the supermodel which can be seen at its peak with Traeger’s iconic 1960’s image of Twiggy on a moped, and can be still be observed with contemporary photographers, such as Lily Cole as used by Tim Walker.

Today, fashion photography is a very mixed bag, which was evident in the variety of images from the 1990-2000s that were displayed in this exhibition. Street/candid photography is popular, with artists interested in “street style” and spur of the moment captures. Also, the message behind the image has come to the forefront, seen in the likes of Rankin with his portrait “Hungry?” which unveiling a behind-the-scenes look at the modelling industry.

Overall, this touring exhibit was a fascinating look at fashion through the ages and we definitely came out knowing a lot more than when we went in! The text panels were full of information about the history of fashion photography, and cleverly illustrated by the most influential photographic work spanning the chronological period. We would very much recommend visiting if this exhibit comes to a museum near you.

The Selling Dreams: One Hundred Years of Fashion Photography exhibition will next be displayed at the V&A at Dundee from October 2012.

Written by Charlie Tyjas and Lydia Bell.

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