Fashion photography has truly turned into an art form in the past few decades and like any artistic endeavor, it attracts vocal detractors. Discover some of the most controversial fashion photographers, who made headlines either through their work or through their personal life.
The biggest names in fashion photography didn’t earn their reputation by playing it safe. Find out how their work caused controversy and even outrage, and lift the veil for a unique perspective into this area of the fashion world.
An expert in provocative imagery, Terry Richardson has shot covers for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone and many other magazines and campaigns for fashion giants like Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs and Yves Saint Laurent. Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Miranda Kerr and Kate Upton have posed for Richardson, but the artist is definitely one of the most controversial fashion photographers, thanks to recent allegations of abuse.
Richardson has denied any allegations of exploiting his models, but his detractors claim that he abused the power he has in the industry to exert pressure on models to take off their clothes for racy shoots. The photographer who has struggled with schizophrenia maintains his innocence regarding accusations of insensitivity and misconduct.
One of the most famous French fashion photographers, Guy Bourdin (1928 – 1991) was an expert in dark and surreal, but still glamorous imagery. Using erotic and dark images, he’s quoted by some of the biggest names in fashion photography as a big inspiration, including Jean Baptiste Mondino, David LaChapelle and Nick Knight.
He’s one of the most controversial fashion photographers, not just because of his daring narrative that often included stylized violence. The French artist was also against the idea of collecting his work in books and exhibitions.
Renowned for his work with the American and Italian Vogue magazines, Steven Meisel has often courted controversy with his work, but two examples clearly stand out. He photographed Madonna’s coffee table book “Sex” in 1992, shooting the singer along Naomi Campbell and Isabella Rossellini in highly erotic poses.
Meisel has maintained his reputation as one of the most controversial fashion photographers during recent years through his approach to violent imagery. His September 2006 shoot for Vogue Italia and his “Make Love Not War” series have been criticised by both feminists and pacifists for their portrayal of women and for glamorizing violence.
The Italian fashion photographer is best known for his work in collaboration with Benetton. Controversy has always surrounded his work, and many have criticized his use of pictures of AIDS activist David Kirby dying on a hospital bed or death row pictures in ads to sell clothing.
Toscani is one of the most controversial fashion photographers, despite the lack of explicit sexual or violent imagery in his work. The photographer never shied away from socio-political issues, with a particular emphasis on racism and homophobia. He also shot Isabelle Caro for a controversial 2007 anti-anorexia campaign.
Renowned for his photography used in campaign for Calvin Klein, D&G, Alexander McQueen, and also for his video work with Madonna and Lady Gaga, Klein became one of the most controversial photographers thanks to the scandal caused by a 2010 photoshoot for Bulgarian magazine 12.
The shoot was inspired by the concept of fashion victims, but drew criticizing for glamorizing violence against women under the guise of fashion.
One of the most influential fashion photographers of the last century, Helmut Newton (1920 – 2004) was one of the first in his field to use nudity to promote fashion. His work for magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in the 50s and 60s was highly controversial thanks to erotic imagery with S&M undertones.
Newton is one of the most controversial fashion photographers because he pushed boundaries at a time when women’s empowerment was on the rise, and he continued to provoke with shoots for Playboy and his “Big Nudes” series.
Biggest Fashion Industry Scandals