Quotable: Elizabeth Wilson On Fashion Photography


“The great promise of photography was that it would tell the ‘truth’. Yet the ‘truth’ of photography is only a more convincing illusion, selection and artifice lurking behind the seemingly impartiality of the mechanical eye. Fashion drawings often give more accurate information, yet it is the photographic image that has captured the feel of modern clothes, and in doing so influenced them. Lartigue, who was taking informal photographs of fashionable ladies just before the First World War, Baron de Meyer, who flourished between the wars, and Steichen, whose work continued into the post Second World War period, all took pictures that reproduced the illusion of movement, and so the suggestion of movement became an element essential to fashionable dress. Black and white photography intensified the importance of line, contrast, and abstract, architectural form.
Photography paradoxically enhanced both the mystery and the suggestiveness of fashion—and fashion magazines come on rather like pornography; they indulge the desire of the ‘reader’ who looks at the pictures, to be each perfect being reflected in the pages, while simultaneously engaging erotically with a femininity (and increasingly a masculinity) that is constantly being redefined.”

—Elizabeth Wilson, Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity

[Photo by Toni Frissell, courtesy of the Library of Congress]