Photograph by: Patrick McHugh

I am so happy, my dear friend, so absorbed in the exquisite sense of mere tranquil existence

Visual Marketing: Has Social Media replaced the photographer May 14

Visual Marketing: Has Social Media replaced the fashion photographer

Fashion photographers in contemporary society have lost some of their individuality and importance. Many consumers have diverse perspectives of the fashion world. Fashion photography is not well defined in the psyche, I think many define it as Vogue Magazine or for some the Macy’s catalog.

Is fashion photography better today than say in the eighties or nineties, I believe not. What happened?

Undoubtedly as an art form it has become more undefined as consumerism and the web develop. Fashion is illustrated now by the iPhone, the tablet and even facebook. The contemporary ‘selfie’ is an example. Consider times gone by, fashion magazines pioneered ‘the looks from the street’ , a roving photographer, such as the iconic Bill Cunningham wandering the streets of NYC illustrating a taste of contemporary fashion. How things have changed, look at Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or even YouTube and you will get an undiluted, un-edited version of todays fashion trends.

Plus fashion photographers are not as revered in the fashion capitals as they once were and fade very quickly in significance the farther away you get, do you know any major fashion photographer living in Wales? Think not. The profession has become a narrow and controlled niche, one might ask have the protective power brokers in the media unwittingly diminished their own talent pool.

Can you remember the last major fashion photography exhibition? I doubt it. Of course there are major exhibitions in London and New York, it just seems they have faded in significance. You may asked what happened, well I spent much of my time in Dublin, Ireland as a young man, but I travelled in my late teens to New York to study photography at the School of Visual Arts. There was a natural progression when leaving school thirty years ago, first you assisted locally in New York for some fashion photographers and then you spread your wings for Europe. This I did with great gusto, off I ventured to London, Madrid and Dublin. You can imagine this process of studying and entering the fashion industry was quite enlightening for someone from Ireland. In photography or any art form I think this is a necessity, it rounds out your education, adds some reality to the equation.

There is no doubt, assisting is the best way to learn, in fact I often ask how necessary was school, I was quite raw when I started working after school in some of New York’s big fashion studios. Perhaps school should train students a little more for the real world. I guess had I not attended Art College studying photography I would not have been accepted as an assistant in the first place.

I think this is the answer to my question – what happened? Today, there are very few photographers assistants in the industry, ten years ago I would receive his Assistant CV’s every day. Today, I receive about four per year, often they are not from assistants but from ‘photographers’ who would like to assist. With the advent of the digital camera and the demise of film, the assistant is not necessary on most jobs. The histogram has replaced the light meter and you can get a days photo shoot on a card. The photographer now has time to make his own coffee.

Without assisting, there are less options for photography graduates to refine their skill or art form. The talent goes undeveloped, the medium suffers. With more ‘average’ fashion photographers fighting for the breadcrumbs the lower the day rates.

I believe it is not too late though. When the internet evolves further and redefines content creation, a payment model to support the content creators will evolve, be it through advertising or subscription or some other method we will see a new business model. I think premium content will be rewarded and the fashion photographer’s phone (or email) may once again sing. I think imagery will win out in the end, I love raw video from the Paris shows, but an image of a couture creation photographed on location by one of the masters is ‘collectable’.

The iPhone has made everyone a photographer, but the more images conceived the more fuzzy the mediocrity becomes, illuminating great work once again. Demand for good imagery will drive rates up and attract more talent into a very stagnant industry.

We will have to be patient though….