|Self-portrait by Clifford Coffin, 1947
Clifford Coffin transformed the art of fashion photography from straightforward documentation into visual narratives about women
He liked to shoot his portfolios in the less-than-lovely real world—to emphasize the beauty of the model and of the clothing. Often, he cast strangers that he met on the bus or in a nightclub.
Coffin had no formal training, but once he had decided as a young man to become a photographer, he had the nerve to send his first efforts directly to an art director at Vogue, who gave him advice and encouragement
When many photographers were shipped off to war in 1942, Coffin was given his big break, hired by the magazine on a trial basis, with no pay.
He was a quick study, learning to produce accomplished photographs both inside and outside the studio. By 1944, his small, black-and-white studies were appearing in print; by 1945, he was doing full-fledged fashion portfolios
Called any number of unflattering names—perfectionist, eccentric, uncompromising, quick-tempered—he was known to yell at models, assistants, editors, clothes, hats, and even Stonehenge (for not being as large as he expected)
He was adroit with equipment, developing the “ring-light” technique, inspired by the dentist’s lamp, that throws no shadows and hides
flaws. (From Cecil Beaton to Helmut Newton and Nick Knight, many of his peers down the decades have modified and refined this approach.)