Where are all the great women fashion photographers? Ahead of women’s history month in March, one exhibition is looking at two key figures of the female gaze in fashion. Opening March 5, the Staley Wise Gallery in New York features two trailblazing women who broke ground in fashion photography; 2 Women of Style is the name of this two-woman exhibit showcasing the works of Louise Dahl-Wolfe; who shot for Harper’s Bazaar in the 1930s, and Stephanie Pfriender Stylander; a New York photographer who shot Kate Moss in 1991, when she was just 17. Granted, there are countless women fashion photographers who changed the game, from Regina Lelang to Deborah Turbeville and more recently, Ellen von Unwerth. Here, Pfriender Stylander shares her personal history as a photographer, her triumphs, challenges and what she respects most about actors.
How hard was it to be a woman photographer in fashion back in the day?
I never really thought about being a woman photographer, I always looked at myself as a photographer. My background was such that my mother during the 1940s and 1950s had a great career, got married in her 40s and with her as my role model as well as her girlfriends that were always around I saw strong women, women that did what they wanted to do, choosing careers and travel. Funny stories that I do remember are when my team and I would arrive at an airport to meet the driver and the welcome sign would have my male assistants name as the photographer. When I look back especially now, there must have been prejudices and losses of jobs, but the flip side could be that subjects and situations may have seen a woman photographer as less threatening.
What do you feel like is your edge as a photographer?
My fashion photography career started in Europe, the climate of fashion editorial photography in the early 1990s was liberal and creative. I had a strong voice in my pictures and my personality which was greeted with excitement, the editors demanded a photographic point of view. Photographic style generates from the photographers need to explore what they feel and think, it reflects their internal world. This approach cannot be copied, it is the photographers code, their personal language. The “edge” are the choices I make that you see and feel in my photographs.
What was it like shooting Kate Moss back in the 1990s?
Kate was an unknown model when I photographed her in the early 1990s. I am inspired by the French New Wave film director, Jean-Luc Godard, whose muse was a charming French actress, Anna Karina. What I loved about Anna was her unique style, unusual, witty, beautiful, brimming with a certain confidence. Harper’s Bazaar gave me an assignment to shoot a love story of a young couple, so I looked for an unusual type of model, more like an actress, referencing Anna Karina and when I saw these faxes of this unknown girl from London who was unusual, petite, and had that something in her eyes, I booked her. My friend remembers me telling her after I shot Kate, “this girl is going to be a star.” Kate had, has this rare ability to become another, it is innate for her.
What's the hardest part of shooting a celebrity?
There is nothing more powerful to me than a rare performance that a great actor can achieve. I have great respect for actors, and I love to photograph a person who can ‘go there.’ I try to take the actor on a journey where we both travel together with intensity striving for a connection where something happens between us that we share and that you see in the photograph. I would love to shoot Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, both separately and together.