Contrary to popular belief, fashion photography was born at almost the same time as the photograph itself. The first impressions of photographs dedicated to portraits of the fashion world can be found as early as 1856. These are shots of the first fashion model, La Castiglione, whose real name is Virginia Oldoini, but this type of art was still far from being considered as such, and the world of the late nineteenth century abandoned art photography, which it considered vulgar and voyeuristic.
It was not until the twentieth century that fashion photos began to make a place in the magazines of the time. Even this was still a long way from fashion photography as we know it today! Photographers then worked only either in their studio or at high society parties. The extravagant fashion photography, in many settings, that we see today took a little longer to emerge as an expected part of the fashion week scene in cities like London and Manchester.
In 1911, photographer Steichen created what is considered "the first modern fashion photography." He quickly became the preferred photographer for Conde Nast publications, which are still an empire today, both in fashion and in lifestyle, travel and luxury goods.
In the years just preceding the First World War fashion photography emerged as a fully-fledged art form and photographers from around the world began working full time, encouraged by the editors of American Vogue, Harper's Bazaar or the Conde Nast publications. The 1930’s saw a real move away from studios and to outdoor shots, with New York models being photographed spontaneously in unexpected places (warehouses, the street, the airport ...) by the Hungarian Martin Munkacsi.
After the Second World War and up to the present day, fashion photography has become a boom (parallel with the return to the forefront of fashion in Paris). It has also become a powerful marketing tool. The designer Christian Dior was the first to be surrounded by many talents and renowned photographers of the time, who followed him throughout his career and his creations, among them Henri Cartier-Bresson and even Gyula Halász.
There is a demand for high quality photographs for magazines, advertising campaigns, catalogues of designer outfits and for the web; fashion photography is increasingly valued and some brand images have become a work of art in themselves, that can be sold at auctions to eager collectors. There are now museums dedicated to fashion who host permanent or temporary exhibitions of fashion photography as an art in itself. The place of the Tate Modern in London, for instance, is firmly established.