A man in a suit walks a tightrope above a vast cityscape with a caption beside it that reads, ‘Ambition is not a sin,’ and wearing nothing but a black tuxedo jacket a woman reclines on a worn out leather armchair; although her bare leg stretches to the foreground of the photograph, it is impossible not to be drawn to her lips.
The first, is an image for an ad campaign selling the notion of luxury to India, and the second, an advertisement for lipstick—Yves Saint Laurent, to be exact.
Pictures speak louder than words in the world of fashion, luxury and beauty. The fashion industry alone, is worth an estimate of over 3 trillion dollars with womenswear valued at 621 billion, according to general data from the global fashion industry statistics.
“There are definitely a lot more wannabe fashion photographers every week who are picking up a reasonably good digital camera and uploading their photos to a Facebook page or getting on Instagram…” Aaron K
It is the creation of pure fantasy that triggers our emotions and it is vital to drive the momentum of sales for fashion and beauty brands who seek to generate sizeable profits.
This is an industry that demands the very best talent, and expectations placed on photographers are high—a beautiful or powerful image is worth its weight in magazine covers. But what is the reality for emerging and established fashion photographers in New Zealand, and are there enough opportunities to keep them afloat in an industry that is small and still relatively young?
Aaron K is the Director of AIPA, a trade association for New Zealand’s advertising and illustrative photographers. The organisation has around 250 members, and K is responsible for setting up events, exhibitions and addressing the current needs and concerns of those in the industry.
The New Zealand fashion photography scene is still largely male-dominated, but today there are more female photographers entering the industry, according to K who has been working professionally for the past sixteen years. He is quick to add that the current male to female ratio does not reflect the numbers coming through educational institutions, with classes and lectures sitting around 75 percent female.
He says one of the biggest challenges for fashion photographers today is finding people who are willing to pay for your services.
“Online magazines don’t pay and there is an even bigger issue around the mass production of clothing, especially since the recession.”
K talks about the challenge for New Zealand labels who struggle to compete in a market flooded with cheap clothes made in Bangladesh. He says that it has implications for everyone else operating in the industry. Another concern is the increasing numbers of photographers joining the fashion ranks who are potentially setting themselves up to be exploited.
“There are definitely a lot more wannabe fashion photographers every week who are picking up a reasonably good digital camera and uploading their photos to a Facebook page or getting on Instagram. [They’re] promoting themselves and giving their work away for free. It’s a bit of a crap shoot if you want to build your business, because the numbers won’t add up.”
But experience is vital for emerging photographers who want to tread the fashion line. For some, that means collaborative projects, finding mentors, or entering local competitions to get their feet in the door.
Social media is also an outlet for exposure, according to James O’Neill who promotes his brand on instragram.
The 23-year-old says that he was never good at art, but tried photography at the age of sixteen. He had a natural affinity with the camera and wanted to work with people. At this early stage in his career, he believes that collaborating is key.
“I love working in a team environment and if I’m not doing the styling then I enjoy working with a stylist and hair and makeup artist, and you’ve also got the model as well. I love collaborating with people who are like-minded.”
O’Neill has just graduated from Massey University and has been collaborating on projects with Willis York Hair Salon in Wellington, while also forging networks with young designers like Auckland-based, Jason Lingard.
“Collaborating is the best way to go about getting connections and even if it [means] working for free, I don’t mind if it’s with friends. But it’s a different situation if it’s a big job.”
Go-getter Luke Foley-Martin has photography in his blood. At only seventeen, he is already building a portfolio in commercial and fashion photography, and counts Mercedes Benz as one of his clients.
“My Dad was a professional photographer for thirty years [and] I wanted to become a photographer. I really like fashion and I knew that fashion can make money,” says Foley-Martin.
Last year the young photographer won the title of Top Aspiring Fashion Photographer at New Zealand Fashion Week. He thought it would be fun to enter the competition, and ever since, he has been using the title to grow his network base, and his business.
Now I’m working with mentors such as David Shields and Lisa Harrington who are big names in New Zealand photography. I’m still in high school, so I have to balance study with my professional career.”
Foley-Martin is confident that a career in fashion is a path that he wants to take, and although he is only young he has been developing his eye and his technique for years. His advice for those who are keen to kick-start a career in the fashion industry is to be persistent.
“You’ve got to prove that you’re good [and] I’m still proving that. My friends hate me because I don’t have time to go to parties or to do anything, but to be honest, I just prefer to do my own thing and [make] progress in my career,” Foley-Martin says.
Top image, Luke Foley-Martin