In the early 20th century the Seeberger brothers were in all the fashionable haunts in search of modish women they then photographed with no other artifice than their subjects’ appearance and the momentary setting. At the racetrack or during the interval at the theatre their beauties posed briskly but gracefully; from Paris to Biarritz the chic and the demi-monde lent themselves to the photographic ritual that fed the opening or closing pages of the fashion press. Not yet referred to as the ‘celeb section’, these images drew easily as much attention as the polished studio material. The women of the smart set were not singled out only for the social standing they embodied in Vogue, Fémina or L’Officiel: they were guides to the latest at a time when the emphasis was exclusively on urbane haute couture worn according to a timetable – morning, afternoon tea, cocktail party, dinner – that made fashion the strictest of duties.
These hallowed sophisticates were to disappear as haute couture gradually lost its influence, especially after the two World Wars. In their place came actresses, mannequins and top models; and they vanished all but definitively from the glossies with the off-the-peg boom of the late 50s to early 60s: all that remained in the press were a few postage-stamp vignettes of fashionable dinners at which couturiers and stage personalities lived on as isolated arbiters of a vanished form of elegance. The mags themselves unanimously offered a fantasy version of fashion, with carefully composed studio or outdoor genre images produced by photographers and art directors working in tandem.
The on-the-spot photography pioneered by the Seebergers simply evaporated, as clothing styles became another aspect of publishing along with a mounting social trend towards fashion in general.
Fashion reporting and documentary fashion photography made a comeback in the mid-1990s. Collected then divided up according to tribes, influences, genres, styles and cities, street fashion from London to Tokyo began getting full-page spreads in a host of new magazines, notably in Japan, an insatiable consumer.
This kind of coverage echoed the nomadic feel of a fashion approach which through over-exposure came to cut itself off from its audience. Close behind came the Internet tsunami and the incalculable quantity of images swamping screens around the world.
In a host of spontaneous blogs and on professionalised websites now looming as large as the print media, full-length laughing photos pour out as endless testimony to the fashions of the moment. Celebrities and unknowns strike poses at openings, trendy evening events, showbiz bashes, clubs and sneak previews from Miami to Helsinki, while their instant archivists – photographer-bloggers – snap everything with style, from T-shirts to designer dresses. In the early 20th century sophisticates posed seriously and solemnly, but today’s fashion networks go for stars-for-a-day, all mouths popping open and big dark glasses. In addition to its clothes, every decade brings a stance and a body language more than ever obvious in the spontaneous photographs that now lay claim to abolishing social distinctions in favour of a unified, global trend.
From the Street to the Night is an exhibition designed and put on by Colette, 213 rue Saint Honoré, in Paris in 2007. It brings together ten photographer-bloggers, real reporters from different places whose sites are also looked at because they have their own influence on the fashion scene.
On video, using and showing the media Internet and his diffusion, a host of photographs speak to us of a new information source. Sartorial demands and fantasy in vast catalogues take precedence over interpretation and fiction of the kind still to be found in the mags, where most often the clothes are still hung on professional mannequins.
Olivier Saillard, exhibition curator.
Exhibition proposed to the Rencontres d’Arles by colette.
Exhibition realized with the backing of the Parrot Company.