steven meisel

Steven Meisel – A Look at the Fashion Photography Icon

Get to know more about one of the most iconic fashion photographers of the 21st century, Steven Meisel, whose legacy alongside many high-end fashion labels continues to inspire many! Steven Meisel’s photographic career in fashion and entertainment narrates unforgettable moments and faces in Hollywood, fashion, and culture that resonate across a diverse audience. Below, we will introduce you to Steven Meisel’s photography practice, including some of his most iconic contributions to fashion photography!



Where Fashion Photography Meets Genius: Steven Meisel

Name Steven Meisel
Date of Birth 5 June 1954
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesFashion photography
MediumsPhotography and illustration
Famous Artworks●     Linda Evangelista, New York City (1989)

●      Madonna (1991)

●      Madonna Hitching (From Sex) (1992)

●      Naomi Campbell (for Vogue Italia) (1994)

You may recognize a few iconic Steven Meisel photos from the late 20th century and the early 2000s through shots of cultural icons such as Madonna, Naomi Campbell, and Audrey Hepburn, who were just a few celebrities to have their portraits shot for special campaigns in fashion. But who is Steven Meisel, and how did this photographer climb the ranks in the fashion industry? While many may not be familiar with the details of Steven Meisel’s photography career, he is broadly known to have leveraged his passions for architecture, art, fashion, literature, and cinema to create some of the most daring and provocative campaigns.

The fashion industry has seen many legendary visionaries who have brought unique creative gifts to visualize and resurrect some of fashion’s best masterpieces, however, it is safe to say that Steven Meisel is one such fashion photographer who stands out.

Steven Meisel was born in 1954 and demonstrated a passion for most things fashion, illustration, and design at an early age. Meisel was first inspired by magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, from which he would create his own sketches of models. His formal pursuit of art and design was followed up at the New York City High School of Art and Design as well as the Parsons The New School of Design, specializing in fashion illustration.

Meisel was also employed by the Minimalist fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick as an illustrator and was later inspired by the creative works of master photographers such as Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. Meisel’s career in photography launched under Elite Model Management and soon Meisel started photographing models, many of whom selected his photos for their portfolios for their castings for Seventeen Magazine.

It was through his early talents that he gained recognition and was then hired by Seventeen Magazine.

The young Meisel was so driven and obsessed with model and fashion photography that at 12 years old, he attempted to convince his friends to contact the modeling agencies and find model photos while pretending to be the secretaries of Richard Avedon. His eager passion for beauty was so moving that he also stood outside Melvin Sokolsky’s studio to catch some highly valuable face-time with his favorite model Twiggy.


Special Campaigns and Collaborations

Meisel is also known for his work on the anti-racism campaign for Vogue in 2008, which showcased many models of color and was a special project aimed at diversifying the runway and fashion literature industry. Additionally, Meisel also created many iconic album cover photographs for musicians and singers such as Mariah Carey and Madonna in the 80s and 90s.

Some of the legendary icons in fashion that Meisel has worked with to create stunning visuals include figures like Lara Stone, Naomi Campbell, Raquel Zimmerman, Iris Strubegger, Christy Turlington, Liya Kebede, Karlie Kloss, and Linda Evangelista, among many other popular icons.

Meisel’s photography career was further propelled by campaigns for brands such as Prada, Calvin Klein, Valentino, and Versace in addition to shooting a few controversial campaigns that he considered to be artistic. The American photographer is also motivated to photograph women and beauty in ways that extend beyond the superficial mirage of a beautiful woman in an equally stunning garment.

Meisel has also collaborated with now-famous and highly-sought after stylists and makeup artists such as Pat McGrath, Laura Mercier, Guido Palau, and François Nars.



Iconic Moments in Steven Meisel’s Photography

What makes Steven Meisel’s photos stand out? What about his style and approach to fashion photography made his career spike? Below, we will take a closer look at the photography of Steven Meisel and review some of his best works that shed light on the visual narratives that skyrocketed his career in the fashion industry!


Madonna Hitching (From Sex) (1992)

Dimensions (cm)56.5 x 45.4
Where It Is HousedPrivate collection

Just over 30 years ago, this famous image was part of a photographic project and book published by Madonna who collaborated with Meisel and Fabien Baron on a nude series shot in Miami. Her sex-positive book received a great deal of backlash, many of whom felt that the series was too provocative and more pornographic. Meisel’s genius eye behind some of the most iconic shots as seen in Madonna Hitching was inspired by a dare whereby Madonna playfully walked out of the house while shooting on the streets of Miami, which of course, caused many onlookers both shock, awe, and joy.

The book, titled “Sex”, sold over 150,000 copies in its debut and was criticized by the Vatican as being “morally intolerable” for its open expression of sexuality.

The photography was staged and featured scenes alluding to BDSM, bestiality, and same-sex love, which was shocking back in the day. The project was viewed as a personal critique of a society that was repressed and included models such as Naomi Campbell to diversify the appeal. The book was also published in a Mylar bag that mimicked the packaging of condoms in keeping with the theme.

The images shot by Meisel were playful and carefully composed such that his images were not shy of nudity, thus promoting the contours of the human body in addition to using color as a tool to set the atmosphere of the scenes. Meisel’s eye for texture in some of his other photos of Madonna is also visually captivating as he leverages balance and contrasts to create timeless shots that highlight Madonna’s best angles. 


Hamish Bowles (1993)

Dimensions (cm)Unavailable
Where It Is HousedUnavailable

1993 was a serendipitous year for Meisel since it was his first professional assignment as a fashion photographer. It was also when he shot his 60-page men’s fashion feature in Per Lui and photographed many icons, including Twiggy, Hamish Bowles, Stella Tennant, and Kristen McMenamy. Meisel’s photograph of Hamish Bowles, who was then, the future editor-in-chief of World of Interiors, was shot at his apartment in New York in a 1920’s glamor pose.

A major exhibition on Meisel’s 1993 photographic career was held in November 2022 at A Coruña, Spain.

Following his collaboration with Madonna and the completion of Sex, Meisel spent the next 28 months shooting covers for Vogue and numerous editorial stories. Meisel had a talent for discovering new and prominent faces in fashion that would ramp up his success as a photographer and his reputation in the fashion industry.

The 1990s was a period of great fashion and talent in design that only inspired Meisel’s creative streak.


Asexual Revolution for W Magazine (2004)

Dimensions (cm)Unavailable
Where It Is HousedW Magazine, October 2004

In 2004, Meisel also worked with W magazine on their October campaign called Asexual Revolution, which remains one of his most famous shoots to date. The striking compositions were styled by Alex White and included color-coded visuals that made the models appear as though they had mannequin-like skin. The models were posed in visually striking and interactive ways in urban settings and complemented by dynamic angles and a contrast between the models’ glistening skin versus the dark shadows.

The shoot had an overall grunge urban vampire-like aesthetic that showcased select fashion pieces and black punk-glam textures.

Meisel’s awareness for texture, color, and composition can be seen throughout his photographic career, especially in his campaigns over the last two decades that introduce cinematic qualities in emotion, color, and shooting angles that showcase not only the fashion but the context and the condition of 21st-century society and its hyper fixation on futurist fashion.



Book Recommendations

The best of Steven Meisel’s career has been recorded in a selection of books and publications that showcase some of the photographer’s most loved projects. Below, we have compiled a selection of books about Steven Meisel and his best images that will provide you with more information on his professional relationships within the fashion industry.


The Art of Being You (1998) by Gianni Versace, Germano Celant & Steven Meisel, Et al.

The Art of Being You is a collection of images focused on the private art collection and designs of the fashion designer Gianni Versace, including images shot by Steven Meisel that showcase the unique visual ensembles of Versace in light of fashion photographic talent. This book is an excellent addition to any collector of Versace publications as well as fans of fashion photographers Steven Meisel and Richard Avedon.

The Art of Being You
  • Presents images from the late designer's private art collection
  • Includes images shot by Steven Meisel
  • Excellent pick for fans of fashion photographer Steven Meisel
View on Amazon


Models Matter (2017) by Christopher Niquet and Steven Meisel

This highly-rated book by French stylist Christoper Niquet and American fashion photography giant Steven Meisel explores the icons and faces of the fashion industry through a collection of autographs. Meisel contributes to the preface of the book that also touches on a history of beauty in fashion, captured through the lenses of fashion photographers.

Models Matter
  • Made up of a collection of famous autographs
  • Explores the icons and faces of the fashion industry
  • Meisel contributes to the preface of the book
View on Amazon


Linda Evangelista Photographed by Steven Meisel (2023) by Linda Evangelista, Steven Meisel & William Norwich

This 180-image photo book is a stunning tribute to one of the best leading supermodels of the 80s, Linda Evangelista, who was also one of Steven Meisel’s most popular muses. The book features 25 years’ worth of photographs centered on the model and her appearance in many of Meisel’s imaginative projects. With an introduction by William Norwich and art direction by Jason Duzansky, any Meisel enthusiast can be sure to enjoy this collection of Steven Meisel photos.

Linda Evangelista Photographed by Steven Meisel
  •  Stunning tribute to one of fashion’s most iconic collaborations
  • More than 180 images shot over the course of twenty-five years
  • Chronicles Meisel’s constantly evolving vision of Evangelista
View on Amazon


Many visionary leaders in the field of fashion photography continue to maximize the present reality, and present compositions of fashion aimed at inspiring interest, awe, and creation in fashion. Photographers like Steven Meisel are irreplaceable and unforgettable in their contributions to showing off some of the most iconic faces of fashion and modeling. Meisel is an inspiration to many aspiring fashion photographers who seek to create images that exceed traditional notions of feminine beauty and embrace unconventional aesthetics and experiences that are often left unpublished.




Frequently Asked Questions


Who Is Steven Meisel?

American photographer Steven Meisel is a prolific master of fashion photography who is well-known throughout the industry for his contributions to fashion, and for establishing iconic visuals for some of the most well-respected models and celebrities of the late 20th century. Meisel is a contributor to Vogue Italia and Vogue US magazines and has shot numerous covers and editorial projects since the 1980s.


What Was Steven Meisel’s Most Famous Photographic Project?

Steven Meisel is most famous for his photographic collaboration with Madonna in the early 1990s, which resulted in a controversial sex-positive book called Sex (1992), which received both praise and criticism for its soft pornographic qualities. Meisel’s fame was promoted through his collaboration with Madonna and many other rising stars in modeling, such as Naomi Campbell and Iman.


Which Celebrities Did Steven Meisel Work With?

Steven Meisel collaborated with many celebrities in the fashion and entertainment industries, including Linda Evangelista, Saskia de Brauw, Naomi Campbell, Madonna, Raquel Zimmerman, Gigi Hadid, Jane Fonda, and Barbara Streisand, among many other iconic figures.


Cite this Article

Jordan, Anthony, “Steven Meisel – A Look at the Fashion Photography Icon.” Art in Context. July 13, 2023. URL:

Anthony, J. (2023, 13 July). Steven Meisel – A Look at the Fashion Photography Icon. Art in Context.

Anthony, Jordan. “Steven Meisel – A Look at the Fashion Photography Icon.” Art in Context, July 13, 2023.

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