How Photography Links Society and Fashion

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Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Projection and interpretation of fashion
    Revolts and Activism
    Elimination of Stereotypes
    Digital Magic Wand
  • Conclusion


Fashion defines the social phenomenon of the way the people dress in a particular style depending upon various factors such as place, occasion, etc. It has always been considered to be a whim to a certain group of individual, stereotyping the body forms of people across the world. Photography being a tool for showcasing fashion, in a way is equally responsible for the same. As Fashion evolves, photography evolves with it. This review paper points out the correspondence of fashion and fashion photography in either altering or creating new social trends in the world of fashion.

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Fashion photography has always been a key when it comes to showcase and raise awareness of current or future ideas and perceptions. Over the years since photography was introduced, many designers and brands changed the world constantly.

Pere Casas Abarca in the early 20th century with his interpretation of a powerful women, to current themes such as gender, surrealism, super sexuality, etc have been put forward indicating how the world took a leap from stereotypical body forms to more open-mindedness.

In today’s date, Fashion has evolved from being limited to certain range of body types to eventually becoming more inclusive. Fashion photography now is a big part of fashion activism helping influencers and designers being more vocal about various issues of mankind in a creative and more effective manner than any other form of media or art.

Keywords: Fashion, Fashion Photography, Fashion Activism, Stereotypes, Inclusive Fashion, Social awareness.


Fashion Industry has always been classified in various segments. Few believe it belongs to the one who can afford, few believe they are not the perfect type to pull off the new trends, some might think it is the depletion of the cultures and religions they practice, or some might not even give it a try thinking they are either too short, too tall, too thin, too thick, too fair or too dark for it. Drawings, prints and photographs are the main images of fashion. The first mass production media to show how men and women were expected to dress in order keep up with the latest style were prints or plates. (Sílvia Ventosa, Photography: A Tool for Conveying Fashion)

Fashion photography, on the other hand, has been responsible for both creating as well as reducing these stereotypes. In the mid 19th century, the department stores emerged with the idea of publishing catalogues containing illustrations and photographs. Later on, designers and companies starting using this special system to raise awareness of the new designs and trends of every seasons by carefully designing and publishing the work illustrated with photographs. Hence, began a new and powerful trend of conveying fashion through fashion photography.

With this emergence of new technique to promote fashion, began a powerful way of grabbing attention worldwide to any situation or story. People started looking up to various brands, models and before anybody could know it, fashion photography changed the way how fashion industry worked. Since early 20th century, designers and brands used seduction and pleasure as a tool to attract audience to their stores. But after 1970s, fashion imagery consumer no longer needed this type of promotions and thus came up with the idea that shocking and thrilling imagery achieved the maximum impact from the audience. (Samson Sharon, Sex and Sadism and Shopping).

They brought various social issues and war sufferings forward evoking the sense of anger in the audience. They merged fashion with social events to develop a new marketing technique. This was a time where fashion met society through photography to spread awareness and leave an impact. Thus came an era where a photo was not just medium for pleasure and seduction but was the strongest most impactful medium of storytelling.

Although, fashion was now more socially relatable, by the end of 20th century was labelled as exclusive for ones who can afford and have to right body for it. Stereotypes were already set. Body image became a more part of fashion. Fashion influencers were considered to be at the top of the pedestal of fashion world. Before this time, women were just looked in a way which defined them to be less powerful and only an emblem of beauty. However, with the rising issues of society through fashion, women started becoming more and more powerful. Everyone and not just women started taking interest in evolving and reaching equality. Brands started focusing on fashion trends which showed women empowerment.

In today’s date, Fashion industry including designers and various fashion influencers are working towards removing these stereotypes. And photography being the most effective way has helped a lot ever since. Thus, one can say that fashion and fashion photography have been a very important asset when comes to spreading a word of awareness and also creating social trends good or bad.

Literature Review

Projection and interpretation of fashion

Society is driven by fashion not because it is exclusive but because it is projected in that manner. Tanveer Ajsi, in her paper about performance art and photography has discussed how a photograph is a residue of something that has already been occurred in the past. This leads is to another fact that when a viewer looks at an image he or she is actually confronting to a frozen moment from past.Therefore, while looking at an image a person is fully aware of the fact that one is looking at an image not the way one desires to look, but the way it id made to look. And therefore the image, from the beginning itself, reflects the photographer’s choice and not individual. (Tanveer Ajsi, Afterglow: Performance art and Photography).

Fashion helps people evolve personality-wise, whereas fashion photography contributes in imaging the idea of fashion in people’s mind. In an article published in a renowned webpage, Djinane Alsuwayeh brought up a very important discussion of how fashion and the image concerns fashion theory. The article mentions two sense of image and how fashion relates to those senses. The first one is the likeness and the second is the identity or the meaning of the picture. Photography help creating an image a brand wants to project on people to attract them and involve them to the brand. It is used to create likeness, which in return creates an image. The image then is used to sell fashion. For example, two white t-shirts, one from CDG which caters to architect and the other from HUGO BOSS which attracts businessman, no matter how similar or different they are follows to entirely different audience by constructing different image through photography. (Djinane Alsuwayeh, The Language of Fashion Photography,

Revolts and Activism

Photography in fashion, is not just a way to promote it but has also led to some revolutionary changes which affected the society to bring any sort of change in ideas and perceptions and perhaps has in many occasions, led to revolts and activism. One such case was the 2010 August issue of Vogue Italia which was a rendition of the mis-happening which took place in Mexico. Steven Meisel with his shocking ‘Water and Oil’ images featuring Kristen McMenamy covered in oil inspired by the oil spill disaster in the gulf of Mexico. Although they clearly aimed to raise awareness, the images got mixed reviews.

This was an example where fashion brands collaborated with photographers to raise awareness towards a very critical time. In this edition, McMenamy was shown wearing highly expensive clothes by high-end brands. She looked very fashionable and trendy. Although, in the pictures the dresses she worn were torn and highly damaged to an extend that no one could recognise the look. She was shown in a very disturbing way, lying besides the shore almost dying and struggling for life. This was just a way of Meisel to represent how not only million dollars worth oil was wasted but was even causing harm to the marine life of the gulf. (Nonita, It’s a Disaster: water and oil by Steven Meisel, its-a-disaster-water-oil-by-steven-meisel/)

Elimination of Stereotypes

Fashion photography today is the most effective way designers choose to eliminate stereotypes build up in society through a long course of time. These norms can vary from religious boundaries and rules to self-created negative body image. 1940s and 50s Fashion Photography showed an unattainable ideal of beauty, goddesses like chic styled women that other women aspired to be. It constructed an imaginary sense of perfection in people’s mind. The models at that time were shown as woman in her prime who had a body structured to influence the “new look” representing wealthy materialistic person. A woman who flaunted themselves and cut themselves off from the social and political problems of the world. By 1960s and 1970s models were young, slim and seductive which photographers thought would trigger the minds to encourage people in imagining short stories behind the picture. Later, during the end of 20th century, when the sale magazine came into being more current themes started appearing such as masculinity, super sexuality, expression with aggression, free or imprisoned, surrealism, bodies that are alien and mingling of social classes. With the time passing by and people becoming more vocal about their individuality, late 20th century saw the beginning of change in the mentality of people when thinking about ideal beauty. Photography again played an important role in the spreading of the ideas. (Sílvia Ventosa, Photography: A Tool for Conveying Fashion)

Digital Magic Wand

In the digital manipulation of fashion models, where the editor or the photographer alters the facial and body features of the model decays the ethical intersection of new technology with the artistic values of magazine professionals and public health. There two moral principles which are deteriorated when digital manipulation is applied to any image. First is artistic freedom and the second is media deception and its impact on public health.

An image irrespective of the fact that whether it is a fashion image or not has a profound impact in the formation of social identity as well as building up stereotypes for the rest who believe that beauty equals goodness. The exposure to the thin ideal tends to reduce body satisfaction which leads to increase self-consciousness and reduces ones self esteem.

In fashion industry, it has been a ritual to throw some digital pixie dust to make a n image more attractive, a model’s eyes bluer, her teeth whiter and her waist slimmer. Photography is considered to be an art. However, it is a kind of an art that has psychological consequences on the audience and involves technology that can either be used wisely and spread awareness or can even decays the morals principle of protecting artistic freedom and also against the moral principle of protecting public health if not used correctly.

Cosmetic retouching of fashion is not trivial. On the other hand shows false and unachievable body habits and structure, and even promotes false eating habits amongst its audience. (Shiela Reaves, Jacqueline Bush Hitchon, Sung-yeon and Gi Woong Yun, If Looks Could Kill: Digital Manipulation of Fashion Models, 2004)


Based on the reviewing various research papers related to this topic, one can conclude to conclude that fashion and society are linked by the means of photography. The standard and image of a brand in the society is directly associated by the way it is being represented in an illustration.

People throughout these years, have been influenced by fashion not in a way they individually perceive it, but in the manner a designer or a photography means to represent.

It is therefore not wrong to conclude that at some level, the people’s mind is manipulated by fashion photographers in a way that people start thinking that it is their own idea but in reality it is just a projection of what they are being shown.

Social trends are therefore, is directly linked to the way the fashion industry decides to take a turn. These trends are started by influencers and are adapted by the masses. And since, fashion being the most convenient and the fastest evolving industry, makes fashion photography the easiest and most effective way to raise awareness and form new social trends.

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