While Chicago may not have the same level of recognition as New York, Paris, or Milan for its fashion industry, it still holds significant importance as the third-largest city in the United States. Chicago’s vast population is diverse in culture and aesthetics, and no other major city has the pulse of America’s Midwest. Considering its economic strength, it may surprise many in the coming years with its potential influence in the fashion world. Chicago’s fashion legacy precedes some major cities; it opened its first major department store in 1852, well ahead of Milan. In 1893, it was home to Whitcomb L. Judson, the inventor of the zipper. Over time, fashion became accessible to ordinary people and allowed individuals from all backgrounds to contribute to the industry. Take Thomas Lyle Williams Sr, a local businessman who was inspired by his older sister, Maybel. He founded Maybelline in 1915, after watching her mix petroleum jelly, coal dust, and burnt cork to emphasize her eyelashes. Chicago has a unique geographical position along with a legacy of musical styles born within it over the decades past. All of this has a lasting influence on the styles being developed within this city of innovation. Years from now, one might look back and see that the fashion photographers of today were at the precipice of a renaissance.
At Wonderful Machine, we define fashion photography as imagery that emphasizes clothes, shoes, and accessories, usually worn by professional models. Becoming a fashion photographer in Chicago is by now not only a competitive vocation but a true heritage. Here are the seven best on the scene today.
Kirsten Miccoli began her journey into photography at 13 years old. During her teenage years, she was creating staged self-portraits with a complexity beyond her youth. After earning a BFA at Columbia College Chicago in 2010, Kristen embarked on a career in beauty, lifestyle, and fashion photography. Today she’s a director, studio owner, and highly successful fashion photographer in Chicago who shoots all over the world. Having worked with as many famous brands and celebrities as she has, Kirsten could have her set up anywhere. Yet, she still chose the city she’s called home for so long. Along with her obvious skill, it is this down-to-earth quality that makes Kirsten so successful. Her subjects, no matter the level of fame or experience, always feel comfortable being themselves in front of her lens. This makes for candid expressions not usually captured in the often-serious world of fashion a notable part of Kirsten’s work. And for all the fun she’s known for bringing to her subjects, she also brings to her sets. Kirsten uses materials from around the house to build scenes to photograph, building worlds within her shoots. This reveals her ability to quickly identify and choose the most complementary location, studio, or backdrop for the designs she captures. Kirsten Miccoli’s use of unexpected color combinations shows how truly adept she is, making her imagery brilliant and exciting.
Tapping into Chicago’s street side of fashion photography, Zoe Rain – who is also a filmmaker – has spent over a decade working professionally. Honing her imagery across many different commercial photography specialties, Zoe gained recognition for her wild, yet personally direct style. This gained her projects that landed her work on subway cars, billboards, and even the cover of Rolling Stone. After this, music became the key player in Zoe’s journey, beginning with being hired as Macklemore’s full-time tour photographer. This led to working with other huge names, including Chicago hometown hero Chance The Rapper, Ed Sheeran, Christina Aguilera, Ke$ha, and Vic Mensa. Yet the aspects of high-level music photography often collide with the world of fashion work, and it is here that Zoe brings her road-tested brand of attitude to present something unique. Working with anything between lush, dreamy colors, and stark black & white, Zoe cares most about the characters she is shooting. From that, the designs, the set, and the colors all work together to celebrate her star. This results in some of her work veering into conceptual photography, while other images are simple shots of pensive moments. Yet with Zoe, everything works. Since then, agencies – including Soho, Havas, and Leo Burnett – have featured her as a panelist. Apple also presented Zoe Rain as a keynote speaker.
Stephanie Bassos is a fashion photographer in Chicago known for bringing a sense of heart and humanity into her work. Also deeply engaged with lifestyle and portrait photography, Stephanie’s style is rooted in her emotional connection to her subjects. This informs her fashion work, which presents authentic human moments and interactions in the world of showcasing designs. Instead of merely modeling streetwear, Stephanie has her subjects roam the streets at night, hopping fences, riding bikes, or stealing shopping carts. If she’s only working with one subject, she’ll use similar lighting in various images, to explore multiple moods, colors, and designs. Beginning her path in 2005 with a photography class in Italy, Stephanie was shooting portraits until 2013. This was her turning point, and the work she honed led to editorial, commercial, and documentary work. Bringing the slice-of-life energy of documentary photography into the world of fashion can be a bold move. Yet, if the subject is genuine, it can be very powerful. No matter how glamorous an image may be, Stephanie Bassos’ work can be seen as a celebration of real life with real feelings. With a diversity of rich colors and many approaches to lighting throughout her shoots, her portfolio is consistently beautiful, as she captures the humanity within her subjects.
With all of the diverse backgrounds that make Chicago the mosaic that it is, Lawrence Agyei has created magic in celebrating his own. With Ghanaian heritage and an Italian background, Lawrence explores his life in America’s Midwest to explore multiculturalism in his art. Blending documentary, portraiture, and fashion photography, his style is versatile and exciting. Some images appear raw, almost akin to Polaroids, while others are sharp, bright, and alive in their detail. His primary concern is the narrative taking place, which is something not always approached within fashion photography. Lawrence is able to tell a story through his subject’s expressions, their outfit, and their relationship to their environment. As a fashion photographer in Chicago, he stands out in his ability to pick the perfect location or studio background to complement the designs he is shooting. This makes for a rich relationship between colors in much of his work. Meanwhile, his talent for working with light and shadows creates a powerfully theatrical effect in his black & white work. Lawrence’s awards and recognitions proved him to be a star on the rise. He’s worked with national publications including Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, and has been ranked among the “30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch” by i-D in 2020. Lawrence Agyei was also awarded the Booooooom Photo Book Award for his photo series DRILL 2022.
What a unique and inspiring story Ashley Chappell has. A former nurse, Ashley had to step away from her demanding career because of having lupus. To find an escape from the life-altering effects of her condition, she began to discover a passion for photography. As it turns out, she’s great! As she developed her own skills, she also found inspiration in the directness in Peter Lindbergh’s portraiture. The vulnerability Ashley always manages to find in her subjects is a testament to this. Her images bring a rare element of humanity and authentic emotion, yet her skills show versatility and intimacy. The theatrical nature of Irving Penn and Patrick Demarchelier were inspirations to Ashley, which is clear in the playfulness of her composition, along with how her models pose. Like her artistic heroes, she has a lot of powerful black & white imagery. Yet it is her dazzling use of color combinations that makes many of her images shine as something special. She always finds a middle ground between these two worlds, showing an entire image made of colors that are as close to black, white, or gray as can be. Ashley Chappell chose to follow a path that has become a unique gift to her industry. Since then, not only has she made an imprint as a fashion photographer in Chicago, but created a career that operates nationwide.
With a style full of both activity and class honed from the world of sports, Marcus Smith has photographed some of the world’s biggest athletes. Also frequently called upon to capture Chicago’s leading cultural figures, Marcus is dynamic and creative in his portraiture. So when he is called upon to work in fashion, he creates work that is both emotionally realistic and physically graceful. Unlike your typical fashion photographer, it is second nature for Marcus to have his subjects jump into the air or twirl in place. Yet his experience in capturing activity always ensures a solid image. Throughout these images Marcus experiments with natural and studio light, urban locations, and theatrical sets. He’ll work with giant neon screens just as easily as he’ll work with the sun. His creativity is always astute, placing backdrops or scouting locations that provide complementary colors to the designs he shoots. This, matched with his abilities in composition – as well as bringing out a physical performance in his subjects – makes for images as beautiful as they are energetic. With a list of awards and press as impressive as his high-profile clients, it is clear Marcus has only just begun to impact the world – not only of fashion photography in Chicago, but worldwide.
Claire Curran Corbett is a fashion photographer in Chicago who is as complete as they come. Unafraid to put an equal amount of effort towards any level of class versus casual design, Claire’s talent fits all occasions. Her attention to detail is consistent with outdoor shoots with natural light to studio projects using neon lights. Her ability to preserve clarity in every face and outfit she photographs, is solid. Claire also often experiments with movement. When her subjects make abrupt movements, the fabrics they’re wearing to move. But, in Claire’s work, every detail appears smoothly, which creates a riveting image. She’s able to place her subjects diverse locations – whether it be the desert, Times Square, or an empty white room – to explore a design, creating a complete and cohesive series. Claire also possesses a sense of composition just as captivating as the activity and colors in her photographs. Her models are front and mostly center, yet their relationship to the space around them becomes the language of how dynamic the actual outfits can be. Along with her dedication to exploring the personalities of her subjects, Clair Currant Corbett is deeply invested in the personalities of the designs. And that is everything you could wish for in a fashion photographer.
While you’ll find many fashion photographers in Chicago, you’ll also find a diversity among them that matches the city itself. Each of these talented professionals listed above brings their unique talents to work nationwide if not worldwide. Yet, as new trends once again begin to arrive from unexpected places, they might have as much reason to work from home.