Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Secrets of the Great Hollywood Portraits - Part 1

I've been meaning to do this post for months now but I've been too lazy to pull it all together. With very little sewing going on this week, I thought it the perfect time to get onto it. Turns out I've gathered so much information I'm going to need to post it over two days.

Earlier this year, I took a trip to the Bendigo Art Gallery to see 'Made in Hollywood: Photographs from the John Kobal Foundation'. Coming from a photographic background - I was a printer for 10 years, working in mini labs printing happy snaps, through to working with artists in a professional lab - I was really excited to see what was on offer at this exhibition and couldn't wait to check it out.

Lana Turner, 1939.
Photo: Laszlo Willinger for MGM

It could have been my high expectations, but I found the exhibition lacking something. I couldn't quite put my finger on it so I  attended the corresponding lecture held towards the end of the exhibition. Unfortunately, it still didn't quite fill in the gaps so I decided to do some research of my own. I was interested in more information on how the photographers worked within the confines of the studio and were still able to produce such beautiful images.

Lucky for me, I received several wonderful books on the Kobal Collection for Christmas this year - Mdblm knows me well - and 'The Art of the Great Hollywood Portrait Photographers' was a wealth of information.

Vivien Lee, 1940.
Photo: Laszlo Willinger for MGM
Publicity shot for Waterloo Bridge
Work of the studio portrait photographers rarely featured in the pages of prestigious magazines such as Vogue or Harpers Bazaar and as a result was not taken seriously. Photographers were just studio employees, they didn’t own copyright or keep their negatives. Their photographs were given away to motion picture magazines, newspapers, and any fan who cared to write for one. It was purely publicity material. The newspapers and magazines clamoured for the stills and portraits that the studios provided free of charge in return for a caption that credited company and product. It was the subject matter that counted, not the person who photographed it.

There were also photo services that employed photographers who did nothing but cover the nightclub scene. Though not employed by the studios, the photographers still had to abide by certain rules. One of these was no matter where they might be, female stars were never to be photographed with a drink or cigarette. The stars couldn’t have cared less but the photographers knew that the studios would object. The photographer’s job was to show the stars as everything the publicity department had made them out to be.
Maria Montez, 1943.
Photo: Ray Jones, for Universal.
Publicity shot for White Savage.
Photographer Laszlo Willinger said when he arrived in Hollywood in 1937, you couldn’t show cleavage. “There was a whole group of retouchers at every studio who did nothing but take the cleavage out of the breasts. In those days the stars had one breast that stretched from shoulder to shoulder, creating a new breed of Cyclops-chested women. And, if you shot a man in bathing trunks or a gymnasium outfit, there couldn’t be any unseemly bumps, and the body hair had to be retouched.”
Armed with that little tid-bit of information, take another look at the images above...
I've been finding them everywhere!

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow.

- Tamara

All information & images sourced from the following books: The Art of the Great Hollywood Portrait Photographers; Hollywood Glamour Portraits: 1926 - 1949; Movie Star Portraits of the Forties.

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