FlashBak: Historical Fashion Photographer – Adolph de Meyer

Occasionally I am going to discuss and show the works of historical fashion photographers.  That is what FlashBak is, a look into the life and works of a historical and influential fashion photographer!

I have read quite a few books and quite a few blog posts and everyone seems to think that the key to inspiration in the future is taking notes from the past.  I never really took the time to learn much about the beginning of fashion photographer and so I did not see the importance of history.  But after taking some time to google search the beginning fashion photographers I started to feel overwhelmed and excited about the work that these men were able to accomplish with such limited technology.

This week I am going to talk about one of the first official “Fashion Photographers” in the world, Baron Adolph de Meyer.  Meyer is one of the most influential and important men in Fashion Photography and hence why I chose him as my first FlashBak post!


Born: 1868 in Paris, France.

Died: 1946 in Los Angeles, California.

Best Known For: Meyer is best known for his work in Portraiture, and spent his career building his name

Fun Fact: Baron Adolph de Meyer was the highest paid photographer of his time.

Meyer began his life in Paris France where he lived most of his childhood and young adult life.  It wasn’t until 1893 when he joined the Royal Photographic Society and began publishing his work in Camera Work based out of New York City.

It was in 1913 that Condé Nast hired Meyer as their first full-time fashion photographer for Vogue magazine.  Before Meyer, the magazine would just use artwork for their images.  This was the first time that a photographer was used to illustrate the trends and styles of the times.

Hiring a photographer for Vogue was absolutely game changing for the fashion world.  It allowed clothing companies such as Chanel to create and distribute their couture lines to the masses.  It truly began the high fashion movement that has become what it is today.

In 1922 Adolph de Meyer was offered a position back in Paris as the chief photographer for Vanity Fair magazine.  He worked in this capacity for 16 years before finally retiring back to the United States where his fame and influence was fully realized.

Thanks to the work of Meyer we have todays modern fashion photography and the use of photography in magazine.  His work influenced the use of photographers in every magazine to not only sell clothing, but to create beautiful artwork with models and high fashion clothing.

What I love about Baron de Meyer’s work is his use of lighting.  He uses back lighting very often in the imagery that I could find.  Back then there were no modern strobes and portable battery packs like I use today.  Having to create these beautiful images without those tools seems impossible, but he is able to do it every time.

The feel of all of his artwork is very dainty and dreamy.  His models don’t just look into the camera, smile, show the clothes, and call it good.  They have a very majestic look and flow to their faces, their bodies, and their clothing.

Looking back on Meyer’s work is truly inspiring for me.  The way he uses his lighting, the body language of the models, and the display of the clothing are all things I can apply into my own work.  When we are moving forward with the future of anything, we must first look in the past and see where we came from.

My favorite image from the set included here in this blog post is the image used just above this paragraph of the two women by the table.  The use of light to illuminate the girl sitting and outline the woman standing is beautiful.  If you pay attention to the wall in the background you can see light and shadow painted across the space in such an artistic way.  Even the ground is lit perfectly in order to show the texture of the scene.

I love that in all of his work, all of the “rules of photography” we are taught over and over again are broken.  There are blow out highlights, there are lights behind the subject rather than illuminating the face of the subject.  The light source is coming from the ground up, rather than above the subject.  Yet with all of these disregarded rules, the images are still beautiful and creative.

Until next time, I advise you all to take some time to research more of Adolph de Meyer’s work.  Google has plenty of images showing his photography.  For more information on his life and history please click here.

Live your dreams and may passion never die!