The downfall of photography in fashion

Photography once changed fashion, but now fashion is changing photography, threatening to make it obsolete.

Fashion campaigns used to rely on sketches and drawings until photography replaced both art forms as a more realistic and faster way to create images. However, computer-generated imagery (CGI) calls into question both the practicality and cost-effectiveness of photography.

The fashion industry goes beyond physical reality. Retailers like DressX only sell digital clothing. There are only digital modeling agencies like Diigitals. Events like Fashion Week are moving to the Metaverse. Even Marilyn Monroe was brought to life as a virtual model to showcase the latest digital fashion from Balenciaga, Miu Miu, Balmain and other top brands.

If you’re familiar with the hyper-realistic 3D portraits of artists like Sefki Ibrahim, it takes a bit of imagination to see how celebrities, models and other public figures will one day have their own digital avatars participating in picture-taking campaigns on their behalf.

Photographers don’t have the tools to participate in that future because digital photography isn’t as digital as it sounds. Photographers rely on human models, physical clothing and real locations to create compositions and then capture the light reflected from these objects onto the camera sensor.

The future of image making requires a process where photographers will hire digital models, download digital clothing and introduce digital compositing locations, accessories and lighting all directly on the image to achieve the same result. Let’s call it Digital Photography 2.0.

Digital photography 2.0

Until recently, the problem was that CGI wasn’t realistic enough to challenge photography. However, the results will become invisible only after a few years.

At the Sane Seven studio, we wanted to test how close we are to the future of digital photography 2.0. Our criteria for creating a basic fashion campaign was that a) no CGI skills are required; b) it would take less or the same time to create images than conventionally; c) the lighting options would be similar to using lighting for photographs.

Currently, there is no software specifically developed for this purpose. It’s not possible to hire models like Diigitals or outfits like DressX to use one software that meets all the criteria. As a compromise, we chose set.a.light 3D with DressX clothing which was subsequently applied to create a few basic mock-ups for the fashion campaign inspired by Burberry’s 2016 Mario Testino shoot.

At first glance, these pictures ‘fooled’ many creative directors to whom we showed them, and equally frightened many other photographers who realized how much it meant to their careers. On closer inspection, many keen-eyed observers would have spotted their many flaws. But this is just the beginning.

We can either fear or embrace this future. Fear will leave him in the hands of CGI artists. Accepting this means leaving cameras behind to find and develop tools that can replicate the pleasure of photography as closely as possible.

The upside of this process is that, unlike traditional digital images, the models in the image will move, make-up, hair and clothing will be updated at the push of a button, and environments, lighting and camera angles will change without limit. With advances in AI technologies, we may even see the return of the defining moment in capturing models that will move around the scene in unpredictable ways.

Is it a ‘real’ photo?

Some will argue that an image will never be the same as a ‘real’ photograph, but here are three arguments against it.

First, the artwork in photography is the image, not the process by which it was created. In digital images, there is no difference between a digital pixel created by light on the sensor and a pixel created by a computer brush. It’s the same information whether it’s digitized by shining a light on a sensor or drawing a line with a tablet pen.

Second, traditional fashion campaigns are so retouched that they no longer represent what is captured by light on a digital sensor.

Third, those who have embraced mirrorless cameras are already using digital displays and viewfinders to compose the scene. The only difference is that the model in front of the camera is a physical human, not a digital file.

As an artist, I’m not looking forward to it, but as a reasonable artist, I would encourage everyone to keep their hearts and minds open to stay at the forefront of that innovation.

About the author: Sane Seven is an award-winning portrait/advertising photography duo working internationally on commissions ranging from fashion legend Jimmy Choo to heads of state such as Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The duo are regular contributors to The Sunday Times with an interest in the technologies of the future. In 2020, Sane Seven used a remote-controlled robot to create a social campaign for The Women in Data in the UK. In 2021, Sane Seven won gold at the New York Photography Awards and the same recognition at the London Photography Awards 2022.

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