This famous photograph by Howell Conant recently sold at auction for $2,400. It originally ran on the cover of Collier’s in June 1955 and helped establish Grace Kelly as an exemplar of a new style of “natural glamour,” a graceful, elegant sexiness without the obvious artifice of the Golden Age studio photographers like Clarence Bull and George Hurrell.
From Botticelli’s Venus to Ursula Andress in Dr. No, the beautiful woman rising from the sea is an alluring archetype. This photo adds an element of mystery, concealing the body below the surface of the water. The bare shoulders suggest nudity, but her swimsuit is in fact just visible.
In Life: Remembering Grace, a collection of Conant's photographs, Kay and Digby Diehl write that the photographer and star together “broke the mold of the traditional movie star ‘glamour’ photograph....We feel we are seeing the candid, unguarded ‘everyday' Grace, unassisted by hairdressers or makeup artists. The natural glamour of this 25-year-old woman is both timeless and seductive.”
Despite the absence of stylists, however, that glamour is not as effortless as it appears. (Glamour never is.) Though it may seem spontaneous, the photograph is carefully composed. The bathing suit’s straps have been removed to showcase those shoulders. The lighting is not entirely natural; Kelly’s sister Peggy held a light reflector. Both photographer and subject (and presumably Peggy as well) had to stand carefully on tiptoes to avoid the spiny sea urchins on the sea floor. And the pose wasn’t casual. To disguise her square jaw, Conant avoided shooting Grace facing the camera straight on. She posed first with a scuba mask but, after many shots, he decided it concealed too much of her face. He then took eight different shots of her before achieving this one.
One of the stars of the Transformers films is Megan Fox, a sultry young actress noted for, among other things, having several conspicuous tattoos. Her recent appearance on the cover of Elle distressed Samatha Sault, who found the cover “trashy.” One of Sault’s coworkers thinks Fox is “one of the worst-dressed women in the country.” Leaving that issue for others to judge, I found myself reflecting on the notion of what being transformable might mean in relationship to actors and models.
Tattoos are clearly one way of transforming your appearance, but having used that means of transformation can become an issue in some situations. For example, in the 11th cycle of America’s Next Top Model, Elina, one of the final five contestants, was eliminated after her “go sees.” She visited various fashion designers, all of whom reported that they would not book her because she had some prominent tattoos. Why would having tattoos be an issue for fashion designers looking for models?
The purpose of fashion shows is to sell clothes. During runway shows fashion designers want the audience’s focus to be on their designs. The models are there to show the audience how their designs can look when worn by a “stylish” person. I put “stylish” in quotation marks because runway shows and ad campaigns are often designed around a particular theme that expresses (or perhaps extends) our impression of an individual designer’s overall style. There is a lot at stake. When a fashion designer looks at a potential model, he (or she) hopes to see someone whose appearance can be temporarily transformed by skilled hair stylists and makeup artists in a manner that can help present his stylistic ideals.
So if a fashion designer sees a model and feels her appearance can be transformed to serve the particular concept he has in mind, then he may be eager to work with her. If, on the other hand, he sees a model who has conspicuous features that conflict with his current fashion ideals (perhaps she has prominent tattoos or breasts that are too spectacular), then his instinctive reaction may be, “I can’t use her. Her image doesn’t suit my designs.” (Incidentally, tattoos can be temporarily concealed, but the process is tedious, as shown in this video.)
If we think about actresses who have an exceptional ability to transform their appearance from role to role, one of the first that comes to mind is Cate Blanchett. In the photo at left, as she appeared in the film Heaven, her face seems an almost androgynous canvas. Looking at her strong facial features, you can imagine how a director might cast her to portray the young Bob Dylan in I’m Not There. On the other hand, she can transform into someone so strikingly glamorous (as seen in the photo below) that she could be visually believable in any role requiring glamour. (Speaking personally, I also find glamour in the strength of the stark image of her.)
The ability to transform in appearance is not necessarily the surest way to get consistent work as an actor. Many fine actors play essentially the same character in different guises throughout their careers. Grant McCracken has used Cate Blanchett as an example of someone taking a “transformational and fluid” approach to branding her image as an actress. In contrast, Megan Fox, by branding herself as an edgy sex symbol, may be hired many times to play variations of that role.
In the fashion world, a designer, when imagining a runway show, is most likely to be inspired by models who can be transformed to match his design ideals. The aura of high glamour that we sense in this photograph of Blanchett depends partly on the way her porcelain skin complements the gown, as do her hairstyle and makeup. In her Elle photograph Fox’s appearance and her attire also complement each other, even if some find the result “trashy.”
But if we imagine Fox displaying her shoulder tattoo while wearing the gown shown in the Blanchett photograph, the glamorous aura of the gown would be compromised. Her tattoo would draw attention away from this particular gown in a detrimental way, thereby failing to present the gown as ideally as the designer might hope for.
In a designer’s mind, some imagined ideal presentation will likely be what prospective models are measured against. The question then becomes, “could we transform this model’s appearance into a look that would present my design effectively?” Anything about the model’s appearance which hinders imagining an effective presentation becomes a hindrance to using her. Conversely, if something about the model’s appearance helps the designer imagine a deeply satisfying presentation, he will likely want to hire her.
Does a model give up her individual identity by being transformable? No. The ability to be comfortable in highly varied guises becomes an integral aspect of her identity.
[Both images of Cate Blanchett are in the extraordinary collection of images of her by Flickr user Louise Lampton, and are used under the Creative Commons license.]
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After careful consideration, and much argle-bargle
"Dogs aren't glamorous!" "Yes, they are!" "No, they're not--slobber is not seductive!"
in which DG's panel of experts fought like, well, you know, Deep Glamour is pleased to announce the winners of the first DG Pet Week contest, canine division. All winners will receive PetHead products.
Most glamorous pose Lola
Most glamorous photo Pumpkin
Most glamorous dog (tie) Sasha
Most glamorous dog (tie) Vida
Architectural photographer Julius Shulman, who created many of the most iconic images of modern architectures, has died at 98.
This image, while not one of his most famous, is one of my favorites. The convertibles, the gloves, the Pegasus, the pristine gas station, the orange trees in the background (soon to become Disneyland)—it exemplifies the exuberant glamour of mid-century Southern California auto culture. (As always, click the photo for a larger version.)
I asked Shulman about it in 2006, when I was researching this Atlantic column. Here's the transcript of our conversation.
“An architect friend Whitney Smith and his partner Wayne Williams were commissioned by Mobil Gas to do a mockup for a new type of design for the Mobil Gas image, including the flying horse. In the background what do you see?”
A Shulman interview always felt like an oral exam. Bushes, I said, people.
“Those aren’t bushes. Those are trees. They’re orange trees. There’s a story....The architect’s wife was there. She was driving an Alfa Romeo convertible, with white gloves. I had her pull her car up just far enough that the bumper would not come inside that shadow line. And then her arms would show. She’s just coming in to get gas, to that station. It’s a story-telling picture.”
Was that her real car? I asked. Or was she posing in someone else’s?
“Yes, that’s her car. My sedan, my blue Ford sedan, which I used for my work, was elsewhere, in another picture. But I got another convertible here. I asked the man to stay there for a minute while I took a photograph. I’m sure he was happy to do it. He pulled in. The moment he pulled in—I had placed her already—I ran over there and said, ‘Would you mind? I have a young lady with a car waiting for me, with a convertible.’ He loved the car. He came over to look at it. I said, ‘Would you stay in your car while I photograph it? I’ll have the attendant talking to you, How many gallons do you want?’ Everyone cooperates. It never fails. So we took this photograph in black and white and color, a series of them. Especially in color, it’s wonderful.”
Information on the new Shulman documentary film Visual Acoustics, currently touring Australia and New Zealand, is here.
UPDATE: This magnificent exhibition of Shulman's Palm Springs photos will open September 19 at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.
UPDATE: This FastCompany.com slide show by DG friend Alissa Walker features a number of Shulman's lesser-known photographs, as well as some iconic ones, with comments from a range of critics including me.
[Mobil Gas Station, Anaheim, California, 1956, Smith & Williams Architects, courtesy of Getty Center, in conjunction with the Modernity & the Metropolis exhibition. Julius Shulman in his office, 2006, by Virginia Postrel.]
---Buy Shulman's books here--
Although we can’t see the face of the woman paddling the kayak in this photograph, the image seems to tell us a lot about her. We assume she is mentally and physically strong, someone capable of taking care of herself, of pulling her own weight. Properly equipped, she appears to be at ease with adventure, having paddled out to greet an amazing sunset in a solo kayak. Even when traveling with companions, individuals in solo kayaks often paddle for long periods lost in their own thoughts. I think most of us instinctively admire individuals who display this sort of comfortable self-sufficiency.
(Some of you might prefer to imagine yourself in a tandem kayak, thinking how romantic that might be. Perhaps it is for some couples, but you might want to Google “divorce boats” to discover why paddlers sometimes use that phrase as slang for tandem kayaks.)
The protagonists of stories, novels, and films are often individuals who are self-sufficient enough to stand apart from others, and can do so for long enough to accomplish something unusual. This is certainly true of our fictional spies, adventurers, and superheroes. Their capacity to somehow manage to do what needs to be done is a large part of why such characters fascinate us. These characters may have signficant relationships with others, but their closest relationships are likely to be with individuals who are self-sufficient enough to share some capacity for adventure.
What about the creative artists who imagine such characters? An often overlooked trait for many kinds of creative work is the ability to spend long periods working alone. Artists, writers, scientists, and other types of creative people tend to have this ability. Many of them can be fun and companionable away from their work, but they can also work happily for long periods in solitude. Keeping that it mind, perhaps those best suited to living with relatively self-sufficient individuals are those who are relatively self-sufficient themselves.
[Photograph by Christian Wheatley via iStockphoto.com]
Many people have described moments when they realized their “calling,” a moment when they encountered someone, something, or some experience that to them was so overwhelmingly glamorous and magical that it reshaped their life. Most such descriptions are of some experience that happened in childhood or adolescence. But transformations can happen to adults as well. One of the wittiest accounts of such a moment was written by author Page Stegner in the preface to his recent book Adios Amigos: Tales of Sustenance and Purification in the American West. There he reflects back on an experience he had as a middle-aged university professor in 1981. He had been invited on a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon, along with a number of other people the organizers hoped would work to preserve the health of the Colorado River. Stegner had never been river rafting or thought about river rafting.
But then I stepped out of my car at Lee’s ferry and encountered up close and personal my first bona fide river guide, and oh, my Lord, what a Herculean figure that statuary cut, so lean and mean, so monumental, so heroic, six-pack abs and forearms like Westpahlian hams, golden curls atop a soy sauce tan. He strode across the boat ramp in nothing but his wraparound shades, flip-flops and Patagonia Baggers, trailing a faded life jacket behind him with a Gerber River Shorty survival knife affixed to its shoulder pad, pausing now and then to gaze with complete nonchalance out across the roiling waters. That was it. “Stick a fork in me, Mom,” I said, “I’m done. Now I know what I want to be when I grow up.”
Two months after the trip Stegner had purchased all the equipment he needed to embark on a second career as a river guide, including a used “suitably worn life jacket” with a Gerber Shorty strapped to it. All he needed now was experience. Trying to gain this too quickly nearly killed him, but, surviving, he became a successful river guide.
Part of the fascination of “reality” TV shows about aspiring chefs, designers, and models is seeing if the participates have what it takes (including desire, willpower, and the ability to learn) to transform themselves into a person fit to handle the demands of that career. With most careers that have glamorous highlights, untold hours of brutally hard work hide in the shadows.
[Photograph of white water rafting on the rapids of river Soca, Slovenia, Triglav national park by Simon Krzic via iStockphoto.com]
Cats are just inherently glamorous, and they seem to inspire boudoir shots.
Deep Glamour is pleased to present our first Pet Week pin-ups, canine division.
Abby by Barbara Ellis. She reminds me of Greer Garson, in Mrs. Miniver.
Pet Week winners will be announced soon. Stay tuned!