Fashion’s first backstage photographer explains new media’s effect on the industry

In a recent interview with Dazed, fashion’s first backstage photographer Guy Marineau discusses the immense changes new media has brought to the industry. After 40 years photographing fashion behind-the-scenes and candidly, Marineau, now 70-years-old, is quite possibly the only authority who can truly shed light on this subject.

It seems now that fashion shows and street style are all smoke and mirrors; an industry that was once centered around art and quality now revolves around labels and advertising.

“Before the 1990s fashion week didn’t mean anything to anyone,” Marineau tells Dazed.

“That may come as somewhat of a surprise if you have experienced what is now the fashion week norm: a narrow, Parisian street outside a show, swollen with editors and Ubers, street-style photographers and their subjects, who linger with intent, smoking with a studied aloofness,” Dazed continues.

“This exact scene is re-enacted multiple times throughout the week, roughly four times a year per fashion capital, in what is perhaps emblematic of an increasingly chaotic, ever-expanding industry.”

Christy Turlington by Guy Marineau [source: Guy Marineau]

But, things didn’t always work that way. Not too long ago, fashion week was a completely different experience. In fact, it was an experience, period. Now, the four continuous weeks that make-up fashion month are more like a serious of pseudo-events documented on social media platforms by the starlets who occupy the front rows.

According to Dazed, “it was before this pre-internet, pre-street-style era that Marineau first began to document fashion week, unwittingly creating a template for much that we now take for granted.”

As bloggers, video bloggers (“vloggers”) and social media influencers begin to sport the styles shown on the runway during fashion month, true fans of fashion long for old school editorials–not sponsored content created to get likes and views, and increase sales, on Instagram or Snapchat.

“The atmosphere in 1980s fashion shows was completely different from today. Paris was a source of inspiration, it was a free, wild city without any real competition at the time. Backstage, there weren’t many people around, just models, the designer’s team, the dresser, prop masters, two or three hairdressers, very few make-up artists. Girls would generally do their own make-up,” Marineau tells Dazed.

“There was much more freedom than now. It was an era of unaffected, relaxed, happy and rather good-looking young women who would go and have lunch with us between two fashion shows. They were far from the unhealthy-looking models of today. Backstage, models would read literature while waiting for the show to begin, but today it’s been replaced by selfies. Taking your own picture by yourself or with others has become a way of life. But who am I to judge?”

Once upon a time, models were far from household names in the United States. Today, they have millions of social media followers and fans of all ages. Not to mention, they are now synonymous with celebrities. They no longer quietly read while waiting backstage; they snap pictures with one another to post across various social media platforms, which receive thousands of views within seconds.

“Professionals and fashion cognoscenti would attend the shows without knowing much. Unless they carefully read women’s magazines, they’d only notice events on the scale of Christian Dior’s New Look,” Marineau continues.

“Today, many people have unwittingly become fashion experts. But is it normal that fashion should change so often? Can it be said that fashion is a form of art reflecting both a specific time and society?”

Kate Moss by Guy Marineau [source: Guy Marineau]

This change brought about the need for more fashion photographers. As soon as backstage photography like Marineau’s became prominent, designers saw it as a successful means of advertising. Tempted by a growth in recognition and sales, both designers and photographers began trading their creativity and craftsmanship for acceptance by the mainstream media and mainstream consumers.

“Fashion photography became a job in the mid-1970s when houses like Saint Laurent and Calvin Klein decided to turn these presentations into a bigger event to advertise their fragrances. Now, it’s still about sales, but, for me, the charm is gone,” says Marineau.

“I used to see fashion as a large playground where you could experience the highest stress or the biggest joys. But it also was a unique and authentic opportunity to express who you are.”

Once cameras become more accessible and photography became a pastime for many, fashion photography changed immensely. But, despite the advancements in technology, the number of photographers in the fashion industry shrunk from 350 to approximately 15 in a span of approximately 30 years, according to Marineau.

“Every magazine, every paper, every press agency had their own photographer. So each of them had original images, a different angle, a different light, a different shot. In the 1980s there were about 350 of us, photographers approved by the Chambre Syndicale. Today there’s only about fifteen. Now all the magazines and websites all use the same pictures–bland, processed, edited images,” Marineau says.

“That means Vogue France can contain the same photos as Elle Germany, Brazilian Bazaar or Chinese Marie-Claire”

Gisele Bündchen by Guy Marineau [source: Guy Marineau]

Not only have cameras themselves changed, photography software has, too. Now, anyone with an iPhone and the photo-editing app VSCO can make editorial-worthy images. This has led to a very monotonous array of both backstage and street style images. Airbrush and other photo-altering tools designed to remove imperfections take away the uniqueness and the charm from an individual’s images.

“For me, there’s no merit in it anymore, because it’s no longer photography, it’s informatics. Post-production has become more important than the shooting itself. Photography, photos-graphos in Greek, means ‘writing with light.’ Software takes this ability away from you. You can be a very bad photographer and a good Photoshop user, so you’ll still deliver images,” Marineau continues.

“It’s become too simple, too easy.”

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