Fashion Photography in the Age of Technology
Contemporary fashion Photography works as an alchemist magic or a DJ performance, merging different glimpses of reality and using different techniques in order to interpret and reflect the most recent changes in human civilisation. By Lina Vaz
New technologies mark the beginning of a new period in fashion photography, offering new possibilities to explore human imagination, and create aesthetic illusions. In the late 80s, digital images began to appear on several media.
With the development of personal computers, graphic interfaces and image manipulation software, they became increasingly important and present in most design areas.
Theories about the ‘loss of the real’ emerged, inspired by the work of Jean Baudrillard who called this ‘hyperreality’, criticising the new meaning of communication driven by new technologies: the real becomes a simulation, ‘more real than the reality itself’.
Baudelaire declared photography as the ‘mortal enemy’ of painting, but we should not think of technological development as the death of photography. Digital is only another form of expression.
Digital images derive from photography’s history and culture. Instead of destroying photography, they offer different possibilities, opening up to new identities, discourses and (re) interpretations on fashion magazines.
Nick Knight is a photographer who merges traditional photography with digital post-production in a harmonious way, illustrating new aesthetic concepts. He’s known for his avant-garde work for fashion magazines and for important luxury brands such as Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen and Yojhi Yamamoto.
What draws him the most about digital fashion photography is “communicating different messages using a new language. I think digital is changing the medium itself. But it’s the same as if I would ask you how you’re writing down my answers, with a pen or on a computer.
What matters is what you have to say! The scary thing is when you have access to all this but have nothing to say!” He sees new technologies as a new way of communicating our views.
Regarding the medium, Nick Knight adds: “the Internet, will ultimately become more important than magazines. Magazines have been around for the last 100 years, and Internet is a new medium happening. There is a huge explosion of what you can do nowadays. I think it’s a fundamental shift.”
Knight also refers another shift related to “the fact that fashion is dealing more and more with political and social issues for the past ten years, which is really positive.”
To create unique and original images is the aim of any worthy photographer, and today that’s more possible than ever. Digital images can be edited producing fantastic visions, illustrating and communicating a wide range of ideas.
Paul White is one of the creative brains of Me Company, a London-based company founded by him in 1984. Among multiple projects of several artistic areas, it creates new images for fashion magazines, such as Numéro, The Face and Citizen K. Me Company has worked for Kenzo, but the most well-known work is probably the album Homogenic by Björk.
Paul White comments: “the main advantage of digital imagery is creative freedom. It’s also interesting to look at areas where film has now totally vanished. I am mainly thinking of catwalk photography and catalogue photography. In the comparative history of photography both shifts were extremely rapid. Digital is being used more and more in editorial and advertising, as the equipment gets better, faster and more portable this will only increase. I wouldn’t want to be a lab right now.”
Technology is no longer just in the realm of science fiction. It’s undeniable that digital culture, with all its ramifications, from virtual reality to global interactive communication, and artificial intelligence, has opened new territories and transgressed space and time, constituting a fundamental change in culture’s dynamic process.
We use technology to work, to communicate, to buy, to learn and to enjoy ourselves. The success of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings proves the appetite for surreal characters and innovative environments by wider audiences.
Craig Konyk is a recognised architect who designed Keanu Reeve’s New York apartment. He says “technology is relative... Does anyone think that electricity is such a big thing right now? We are constantly absorbing and assimilating technology.”
Mobile phones with incorporated photographic and video cameras are another example of our increasingly natural interaction with technology. When fashion editorials produce different environments, attitudes and identities these are an undeniable discourse about what happens in the real world, even if they’re inspired by fantasy.
Therefore, digital fashion imagery is just an extension of all changes due to technological progress. Away from the ideals of the industrial society, there is a growing attention towards the automation of mind.
Steven Baillie is the creative director of Surface, a magazine always looking for new trends and talents with innovative design. He says “digital photography reduced considerably time and cost. You get to review the image as it’s being photographed. You basically cut out a week of waiting for contact sheets, and then selecting a frame and ordering prints.” Above all, he looks for ‘amazing images’.
In the age of technology, fashion imagery projects us into the future and unseen fictional characters and environments become real to our eyes. Hybrid practices prevail and digital images should be seen as new cultural objects, as a reproduction of the zeitgeist.
New visual codes enter fashion photography, communicating new interpretations of reality. Photographs are not just a frozen moment in time, now they are digitally manipulated to create new scenarios.
Like Dalí paintings, several layers of meaning are presented, offering symbolism and ambiguity to reality. The photographer becomes a digital artist, merging technology with creativity and innovation.
Published by Elle Portugal in October 2003. All rights reserved.