What comes to mind when you think about fashion photography? If you are aware of the stereotypes surrounding fashion, then it’s certainly something along the lines of young, sexy models in revealing clothes. In this article, I will try to explain why fashion is so much more than that.
The stereotype isn’t new. The '90s saw the rise of young supermodels such as Kate Moss. The concept of a supermodel — a young successful model working for major shows and campaigns — was amplified in Peter Lindbergh's work in the ’90s as well. His work featured models in a relatively new way: independent, strong, but also feminine women people could relate to. Yet, when I look at the work of prominent fashion photographers such as Lindbergh, I struggle to find examples of older models. It’s usually young female models and old male fashion designers. While there is certainly sexism involved in this, I will not explore that in this article. My focus is ageism: the underrepresentation of older age groups in fashion photography and advertising.
In its simplest form, fashion photography is advertising. People photograph a model wearing an outfit with the purpose of selling that outfit to the person seeing the image. These images are tailored largely to young people and always have been. Young people are the vehicle for trend, and trend is synonymous with fashion. Naturally, this feeds into the idea that young people are stylish. Those no longer young are not stylish.
A lot of commercial advertising includes different groups, ethnicities, and nationalities. Benetton ads are the best example of that, and I’d struggle to find a major brand ad campaign that wasn’t multicultural, at least to some degree. This wasn’t always the case. With the rise of anti-racism movements, fashion photography diversified. Nowadays it seems like an obvious move: why should fashion photography be targeted at one small group of the population? The more people can relate to the image, the better for company sales and the overall success of the ad campaign.
Statistics on Ageism
While that capitalistic concept seems blatantly simple to understand, apparently it is only limited to issues such as racism. Ageism is rarely addressed, neither by fashion photographers nor by fashion adverts. In fact, the opposite is done: the fashion industry celebrates youth and only youth. The mental health implications of anti-ageing propaganda can be seen everywhere. Many women over 40 feel forgotten and no longer relevant when it comes to fashion trends.A lot is lost by leaving this significant population group out of fashion advertising. The International Longevity Centre has calculated that excluding older models will cost £11bn to the industry over the next 20 years. In fact, people over 40 have started to spend more on clothes in the last few years. Between 2011 and 2018 they bought 21% more on clothes and shoes than previously. The spending power of this age group is so significant that some project that by 2040 people over 50 may be the main target group for advertising.
If statistics aren’t enough to convince fashion photographers to be more inclusive in their work, let’s discuss beauty. As a fashion photographer, you need to have a good idea of what beauty means to you. Ask yourself: what do I find beautiful? Often the answer is evident from your portfolio. For example, one of the things I find beautiful is strong color. In a very loose way, that is my style of work. I look for that color in light, clothes, makeup, and so on. I am able to make images that I consider beautiful by using color. In my opinion, fashion photography is about fashion, not about the model; therefore a photographer who is fascinated by beautiful young women can’t hide behind the mask of fashion. Portrait and nude are genres too, as good as fashion.
My Projects With Models Over 40
Because I love color, I am able to apply it to any model who poses for the camera. I photograph them my way. Let me tell you a little bit about my first experience working with an older model.
The initial idea was inspired by Maye Musk. A good friend sent me her images and asked if there were any possibilities there. Feeling inspired, I agreed to work with this idea. What the photoshoot taught me is that fashion was for everyone. People, all people, love feeling beautiful and seeing other people like them look beautiful. The photoshoot was published by a magazine that was more than happy to take it on.
One of the most important things I learnt from that photoshoot is that fashion should be for everyone. In very basic terms, fashion starts the moment you’re born and ends the moment you die. As a fashion photographer, I am looking at ways I can include more and more age groups in my work to ensure that my portfolio is well-rounded. With the great diversity of clothing, it should be a no-brainer that fashion ads feature equally diverse models.
Positive Dynamic in the Last Years
There is hope, for there are some efforts being made to normalize aging in the fashion industry. I say normalize because seeing an older model on the cover of Vogue is still unusual. Nonetheless, models such as Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren have been in L’Oréal campaigns while Julia Roberts is prominently featured in Lancôme.
Why Is This on Fstoppers?
I anticipate this question to be in the comments, so I will answer it before it is asked. I wrote this article to shed light on a problem that fashion photographers can make great contributions to solving. Just by organizing test shoots with older models, you can help reduce ageism in the fashion industry. Identify what you think is beautiful in your other work, and try to apply that to a photoshoot with an older model. In a way, this article is a call to action for fashion photographers. At the end of the day, photography should be a voice for change, and photographers can be the agents of change.