The first fashion photographer of note was Baron Adolph de Meyer, who also helped elevate photography to the realms of fine art. His title was suspect, and so was his marriage to a lesbian aristocrat who happened to be natural daughter of King Edward VII (de Meyer was ‘so queer’ as one contemporary unflatteringly put it). but they were both helpful in acquiring him social connections. De Meyer was the archetype of the social photographer, the inside man who not only knew about haute couture, but knew also of women who could afford it. In fact, he was both a photographer and layout editor for Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar.
Cecil Beaton called him “the Debussy of photography”. Appropriately enough, de Meyer’s most famous works came when he photographed the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky and other members of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes when L’après-midi d’un faun opened in Paris in 1912. Diaghilev never allowed the Ballets Russes to be filmed, feeling that the film could not capture the artistry of his dancers. Of many photographers who covered the Ballets Russes, de Meyer came the closest in covering this artistry. In his numerous images of Nijinsky, de Meyer captured not only the likeness and adeptness of the Russian danseur noble, but also transported the viewer into Nijinsky’s world of fantasy and grace. Three years after de Meyer’s iconic portrait of him as the ‘Favorite Slave in Scheherazade’ appeared in Vogue (May 15th, 1916), Nijinsky’s career ended due to insanity.
The above photo, showing one member of the Ballets Russes in a mysterious costume is de Meyer’s only known nude. Most of his prints didn’t survive the Second World War, and when an exhibition of his life’s work was being put together in 1940, de Meyer had to call Alfred Steiglitz to find out what Stieglitz had.