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It's a simple fact that most artists are, at least in some way, inspired by the places they grew up; and in the fashion industry, the same can be said for designers and photographers. Much like the New York-born Michael Kors has helped to define the iconic all-American style over the years, certain American-bred photogs have made their home turf an integral part of their subject matter. From the preppy, New England aesthetic that Bruce Weber is known for, to Terry Richardson's bright, realistic depictions of hipster culture, to Ryan McGinley's almost dreamlike portraits of young, American misfits, it's clear that each of these famous American lensmen sees his home country in a unique way.
So, we chose nine American fashion photographers — all with very distinct aesthetics — to explore the ways in which they each capture their home country through their imagery. Read on for our picks.
No other photographer has become quite as synonymous with a quintessential all-American aesthetic as Bruce Weber. Raised in rural Pennsylvania and known for his work for brands like Ralph Lauren, Abercrombie & Fitch and Calvin Klein, his most famous images feature preppy, well-groomed men and women posing by the sea, in the wilderness, playing sports or running with dogs in open fields. The American spirit is such a passion point that Weber even has a series of volumes entitled “All-American” that he publishes between fashion projects.
Though Steven Meisel has become known as Vogue Italia (at least until very recently) and Miuccia Prada’s go-to guy, the oft-controversial photographer was born and raised in the USA. While much of his work brings all things rich and fabulous to the forefront, he’s never afraid to make a bold political statement through his editorials. Most notably, he shot a 2010 Vogue Italia editorial featuring Kristen McMenamy covered in oil after the BP spill in the gulf; a spread called “Haute Mess” in 2012 that depicted American racial stereotypes and a 2006 pictorial entitled “State of Emergency,” which explored the violence and infringements of freedom our society faced post-9/11.
Ritts's black-and-white portraits truly defined an era in American fashion photography. He was known for capturing the supers (Stephanie Seymour, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, etc.) in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, helping them rise to unprecedented levels of celebrity in the modeling world.
While not technically a fashion photographer, Slim Aarons had an ability to capture the lives of American socialites and jet-setters unlike anyone else. From Palm Springs to Miami to Hollywood and the Hamptons, viewing his images is like taking an intimate peek into how the other half lives, or at least how they lived from the '50s into the '80s, when he produced the most work. It’s pre-Instagram voyeurism at its finest.
Someone in fashion has to explore the dark side of American culture, and that person is often Rhode Island-born Steven Klein. With his dark, sexual, and sometimes violent imagery, Klein never compromises his point of view — even though it can be difficult to stomach at times. For instance, he’s depicted Stepford-esque housewives wearing haunting masks and wielding threatening-looking kitchen tools, explored our country’s obsession with plastic surgery for a Vogue editorial and captured sexual subcultures (S&M and cross-dressing, specifically) long before most others in the industry.
When it comes to conveying a sense of ease and uplift — one might call it American optimism — nobody does it like Arthur Elgort. His best work looks entirely spontaneous: Claudia Schiffer tossing the camera a look while reclining on the back of a convertible amid a sea of paparazzi, or Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington leaning against each other, smoking cigars. This style makes all the more sense in the context of Elgort's portraits of jazz musicians and ballet dancers in action.
Bright lights, big inflatable props. Terry Richardson's style of portrait photography embodies all of America's brassiest, most unapologetic tendencies. It's Vegas put under an examination light, just with more cleavage. And Richardson, who was born in New York and spent part of his early life in California, is no stranger to self-documentation (or, it bears mentioning, self-exposure): his website is filled with informal snaps from his travels, with the photographer frequently making appearances to flash his signature double thumbs up.
If you're looking for America, a good place to find it is in the photographs Ryan McGinley takes on his annual road trips across the country, armed with a camera and a bunch of young people prepared to get naked, run across fields and jump in lakes. That's the other thing: McGinley, who was born in New Jersey, represents a certain American infatuation with youth, albeit one free of makeup that comes in all shapes and sizes.
One of Vanity Fair and Vogue's go-to cover photographers, Annie Leibovitz gives her portrait subjects an elegance and strength. Of course, Leibovitz also spent much of her earlier career working for that other great American institution — Rolling Stone — following the Rolling Stones on tour and taking that iconic portrait of Yoko Ono and John Lennon, curled up naked beside her.