Byline: Peter Braunstein

NEW YORK — In the legendary Sixties fashion film “Blow Up,” David Hemmings plays an egocentric fashion photographer whose work schedule is all-too-easily disrupted by groupies, murder mysteries and Vanessa Redgrave. Subsequent media characterizations have since fortified the image of the fashion photographer as an altogether primeval creature, simultaneously pragmatic and visionary, exacting and impulsive, whose work ironically sustains the celebrity of others.
If the 20-odd fashion photographers showcased in Onview.com’s “Millennium of Mode” photo exhibition are any indication, those media representations are entirely accurate. When probed by WWD about their take on the online exhibition, some featured photographers were unaware that their photos were being displayed online, others felt vindicated that fashion photography was finally being accepted as fine art, while a few casually hoped that their work would sell so that they could buy food and pay next month’s rent.
Onview.com, an e-commerce site for fine art that was launched in November 1998, is backed by private equity firms the Walter Group and Marathon Capital. It conceived of “Millennium of Mode” as a scaled-down, online version of Japan’s renowned Annual International Fashion Festival. “We now find that most of today’s creative and cutting-edge photography is taking place in the world of fashion, and the purpose of this exhibit is to celebrate the images and the stories behind those images,” said Marla Kennedy Hamburg, vice president of photography for Onview. “These photographs are a mirror for our complex times, and reveal the increasingly influential relationship between commerce, art and the media.”
The online exhibition, which runs from March 9 to April 2, features 75 of the more than 300 photos exhibited off line at the Japan exhibit, and mixes together established photographers like Peter Lindbergh, Helena Christensen, and Paolo Roversi with up-and-coming talent.
According to Hamburg, the photos generally range in price from $600 to $2,500. “The clientele for this market is composed of many young, new collectors, sophisticates who are interested in moderately priced collectibles,” she said. Fabien Baron, former creative director of Harper’s Bazaar and erstwhile photographer, has his own theories as to why fashion photography can now be accepted as high art. “Nowadays when someone creates an art work, it’s not meant to last for centuries — instead, it has a lifespan of a couple of months,” claimed Baron. “People are eating up visuals much faster. Nothing on TV, in magazines, or even in art galleries is made to last. It appears, it becomes the thrill of the moment, and everyone celebrates it. But six months down the line you’ll spit on it and forget that it ever existed. Attention span is very short.”
Baron insisted that to thrive in today’s commercial-cum-artistic world, creative types must brand themselves. “What [artist-filmmaker] Julien Schnabel did, which was to brand himself, was unacceptable 20 years ago — now it is standard practice,” he maintained. “I brand myself as a person, and that’s what all artists have to do.”
On the other side of the artistic spectrum represented at Onview.com is Christian Lesemann, who has distinguished — or rather, branded — himself as a fashion photographer using “paparazzi technique.” “Celebrities hate paparazzi, but they also need them; really, the whole thing is a game between paparazzi, celebrities, and the magazines that buy the photos,” said Lesemann, who just finished shooting a spread for the magazine Big. He elaborated on what exactly constitutes “pseudo-paparazzi” photography. “You work with shifty, grainy film, and the shot has to seem improvised. Most of all, the photo has to look as if it was stolen — as if you caught a stolen moment.”