The book (pre-order your copy here) includes four photos by the great architectural photographer Julius Shulman, including this one of the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs.
One of the biggest misconceptions about glamour is that it is somehow feminine. Men are as susceptible to glamour as women, but it takes different forms for different audiences. One of the first uses of the word glamour in the modern sense was in reference to "the glamour of battle," and martial glamour is one of glamour's most ancient forms.
One of the delightful discoveries during my research was the work of photographer Virginia Thoren, who specialized in glamorously portraying fur coats in mid-20th-century ads. I hope to feature an interview with her in a later DG post but, in the meantime, you can see more of her work at the June Bateman Fine Art site.
This Weather.com slide show on “Glamour in the Skies” reminded me of another change--this one a technological improvement--that eroded airline glamour around the same time: the disappearance of the staircase in favor of safer, more weatherproof indoor jet bridges.
If you're a traveler, you'd much rather walk directly into the terminal on a more-or-less level jet bridge. But the old stairs set the traveler apart from the crowds on the ground. They created a dramatic sense of arrival and departure. And they made for lots of glamorous photographs.
Nowadays, we still occasionally see such glamorous images of people set apart from the normal life that includes occasional jet travel. Some, like the star of Fergie's "Glamorous" video, are going up and down the steps of private jets. So, in a sense, are the others. But their private jets are publicly owned.
Parks is best known for his socially conscious documentary photography—he was the first black photographer for Life magazine—and for the 1970s blaxpoitation film Shaft, which he directed (and which is quite stylish too). But Parks largely got his start in the glamour industry, shooting portraits of society women in Chicago before eventually landing at the ne plus ultra of fashion magazines, Vogue, where he freelanced from the mid-1940s to the '60s.
Parks produced some of the magazine's loveliest images: models draped in furs and waiting for a bus; a woman dashing across an office, her sorbet-colored gown trailing behind her; girls in pert hats jumping in and out of taxis, or deep in conversation at a Parisian cafe. Willis writes:
With a clear understanding about how to “look” on city streets, in cafes and society balls, Parks’s fashion photographs are about the experience of being dressed. He communicated beauty, vanity and pleasure in his photographs of fashionably dressed women. ...
But there's something else that makes Parks's images so arresting, and that made them so radical at the time, and it's that they are alive. At the time Parks was beginning his career at Vogue, most fashion photography was done in a studio, with models posing like mannequins in front of artificial-looking sets or painted backdrops. Parks—along with Martin Munkácsi at Harper's Bazaar and Richard Avedon—was among the first to bring the model onto the streets, showing her interacting with the city and its inhabitants. And it made fashion photography more glamorous, because it allowed women to get lost in the narrative of a photograph, and imagine a world in which waiting for a bus or going to work was filled with romance and excitement and dramatic possibility. Before, fashion photography was about clothes; Parks and his peers made it about the women and the lives they lead in those clothes.
In this video, which accompanies a local newspaper interview, location scout Sylvia Schmitt talks about why the variety of locations available in the Palm Springs area make it so appealing for fashion shoots. The windmills are popular, of course, as is the midcentury modern architecture--and the automobile props that complement it. But so is the rugged beauty of Joshua Tree National Park. And Schmitt's Locations Unlimited website promotes even more desolate spots, including an abandoned mine, an abandoned prison, and an abandoned railway, as well as a couple of salt flat locations. Photographers apparently like the emptiness, which allows them to construct their own fantasy environments. Desert ruins also provide a contrast that heightens the vitality of young fashion models--an encounter between the beautiful and sublime.
The great fashion photographer Lillian Bassman has died at the age of 94. Here's the NYT obituary of this extraordinary woman. Here's a selection of her work from the Peter Fetterman Gallery. The clip above, from which I took the title quote for this post, is from a documentary on her life and work. You can see the full documentary, which lasts about 28 minutes (in two parts), and comments from Fetterman and Bassman's daughter, photographer Lizzie Himmel, here.
“He who seeks beauty shall find it” is the personal motto of 82-year old fashion photographer Bill Cunningham. He’s been riding around on his bicycle, photographing fashion on the streets of New York City for roughly half a century. And although his name and reputation are well established in the fashion world, his personal “fashion philosophy” is by no means conventional.
In the movie Bill Cunningham New York, Bill comes off as a mysteriously simple character, a happy man who loves what he does and does what he loves. But there’s more; in fact, there are many complex and profound ideas wrapped up in the way Bill views fashion and culture, all of which inform the pictures he takes.
When photographing runway shows in Paris, he says, “If it isn’t something a woman could wear, I’m not interested.” His down-to-earth, fun-loving attitude makes fashion approachable to all. He praises daring and originality in clothing choices above all. He’s not afraid to call an outfit boring, no matter who’s wearing it. He may ignore a celebrity on the street wearing a multi-thousand dollar gown in favor of a bag-lady digging in the garbage, whose overlapping patterned shawls and head-scarves he thinks are “marvelous.”
Bill Cunningham’s straightforwardness stems from his ethical commitment to honesty and to celebrating individual creativity. He takes a firm stance against fashion magazines’ “In & Out” lists for attempting to dictate from the top-down what’s “in fashion” and what isn’t. Part of his opposition is moral and the other part is practical. He understands that no matter what magazines and designers decree, real fashion—what is actually “in”—can only be determined from the bottom up, by what everyday people actually wear.
To me, it seems that Cunningham’s incredible ability to capture weekly street-style trends is made possible by his understanding of how culture works. Bill’s photographs show us that in the city, fashion is a silent dialogue between people on the streets. Some respond to the latest designs from Paris; others adopt and revise the looks of those around them, incorporating good ideas from anywhere they can be found. People’s clothing choices are also often responding to the conditions of the local climate and Bill traces these complex and spontaneous orders with skill and grace (see “Boiling Point,” documenting the woven, eyelet fabrics of the hot New York week of August 14, 2009).
In de-emphasizing the role of “top-down” dictates from the fashion elite, Bill Cunningham helps us see how we, as everyday people, have the opportunity to participate in the fashion world. “I’m not interested in celebrities with their free dresses,” he says, “I’m interested in clothes!” He calls our attention to the role each of us has as a potential contributor to the silent dialogue of fashion with the choices we make in front of our mirrors each morning.
Click here for a list of when and where the film is showing.
This rare photo of Greta Garbo smiling belongs to the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate Archive, maintained by DG friend Louis D'Elia. It was taken by the great Hollywood portrait photographer George Hurrell in his one and only session with Garbo--a shoot to promote her 1930 film Romance.
Garbo did not like the antics Hurrell used to get his subjects to relax and look natural, and refused to work with him again. (Clarence Sinclair Bull became her photographer of choice.) But she did crack a smile when Hurrell tripped over some equipment, and he managed to capture the moment.
I examined the photos from this shoot when I wrote a catalog essay for a 2006 exhibit of Hurrell photos from the Pancho Barnes collection. (A version of that essay later appeared in The Atlantic.) While working on the essay, I noticed that the earrings in the Garbo photos reappeared in one of my favorite Hurrell portraits, this one of the woman Hurrell himself considered his "most mysterious" subject: Myrna Loy.
Remembered today mostly as the comedienne star of the Thin Man movies, for many years Loy was cast as an "exotic," thanks to her almond eyes. (For an amazing collection of Myrna Loy photos, from many phases of her career, check out this blog.) Like Garbo, she was an MGM star when Hurrell was the studio's chief portrait photographer.
As I've mentioned in my posts and article about the Debbie Reynolds collection auction, while MGM created lavish costumes, it also recycled them. The same was true, of course, of accessories, and here's the photographic evidence. As always, click the photo to see a larger version.
DG: How is styling interiors different from being an interior designer?
Adam Fortner: An interior designer creates spaces that are functional, and we show them off. The main difference is in the format our work takes. An interior designer creates a space that is meant to be experienced in three dimensions. The photographer and stylist’s job is to take that three-dimensional, fluid space and present it in a two-dimensional static photograph within a limited frame. Everything we do serves the photo, which can mean eliminating or moving things so they look best on camera, not necessarily so they function in the space. I tell people you can’t live in a styled room: the chairs are all at odd angles and the coffee table might be three inches from the couch; but look at the photograph and it’s magically transformed from what you see around you.
DG: How is a room different when it's been styled for a magazine photo shoot compared to the way it might look if the owner had cleaned it up for visitors?
AF: For the most part we try to leave the room as we found it, but once we’ve found the angle and framing of the final photograph, adjustments have to be made. At that point a stylist’s job becomes editing. It might be a simple tweak to accommodate the perspective of the camera and show off one detail or another, or filling spaces that might have become visual voids in the frame, or even removing or adjusting things to avoid overlaps or add the appearance of depth. In some cases the accessories or pieces that the designer or client chose just won’t work for a photo and you have to change it. A dark, rich duvet cover may look and feel luxurious in person, but it may fall flat in camera. I am careful to reassure homeowners or clients that it’s not about their personal taste, it’s about the composition and quality of the photo.
My favorite exchange about styling comes from a short-lived sitcom and goes like this:
– Who wants their room photographed anyway so everyone knows what their stuff looks like? – They don’t photograph your stuff; they bring in their own stuff. – Well why don’t we just have them come in and finish the room? – Because if your stuff doesn’t look fabulous in the first place then they don’t want to come in and change it!
DG: What's the purpose of styling a room for a magazine photo? What's the effect you're trying to achieve?
AF: Styling is often called the “hidden profession.” A lot of people don’t know it is even a career, and in fact, to be good at it, that’s the whole point: not to be noticed. So you have to find a balance of studied naturalness. A lot of it is also about aspiration. You want to create a space that people want to be in, one that exemplifies the way people want to live, not necessarily the way they actually live. Honestly, how many people wake up to a vase of flowers, a cup of tea and The New York Times perfectly folded on their nightstand?
DG: How does styling for architects differ from styling for interiors magazines or advertising?
AF: The architect is creating or defining a space, so showing off their work takes a different form. Architects understand and experience spaces in a different way. For them, an open and unadorned space is beautiful in and of itself. They appreciate the clean lines, textures, and light in a room. When styling a space for an architect, you often only need minimal adornments, and what you do use really needs to highlight the architecture. That doesn’t always sell the public, though. Empty spaces can look cold and uninviting at first glance, and it takes a little more time and effort to see the details. A magazine or advertisement doesn’t have that luxury; it needs to grab a viewers’ attention in a split-second. I try to recommend this approach to architects. By creating images that capture people’s attention, they then have the opportunity to guide clients deeper into the details, and have a better chance of communicating their thoughts and ideas.
DG: You've recently done some styling work for shoots done in photo studios rather than real interiors. How is styling different when you build from scratch? What does it teach you about styling in the “real world”?
AF: I think of styling as storytelling. When you work in someone’s home, the story is already there. They’ve created their own world with their own tastes: their books, their art, their furniture; we’re mainly there to enhance and document it. When working in a studio, you’re starting with a blank slate. You have to create the entire story–start to finish–and the sky’s the limit so that allows you a lot more freedom. I’ve been working with an excellent production designer who has taught me so much about that. I’ve taken those lessons back to the houses I work on give myself a little more room to create atmosphere, especially when faced with more challenging, less engaging spaces.
DG: When you see a photo of a room in a catalog or interiors magazine, do you think about how it’s been styled? What do you notice that a layperson wouldn’t?
AF: I can’t look at magazines or catalogs without noticing how they’re styled. I hardly look at the products in catalogs. In fact, I’m usually looking at the objects that aren’t for sale. Similarly, in magazines, I’m looking for those small touches that give the space personality. I also look at not only what is in the photo, but also how it’s placed, and why that composition works.
The DG Dozen
1) How do you define glamour?
Glamour is a magic combination of confidence, beauty, and ease that create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The word always conjures a flash of light in my mind’s eye… whether it be flashbulbs, the sparkle of a diamond, the sheen of beautiful fabric, or just that glint in the eye of someone at ease with themselves. But I also think that glamour is something ascribed, not inherent. Things are only glamorous because someone else thinks they are.
2) Who or what is your glamorous icon?
Alexander McQueen. A very good friend of mine gave me a book of his work for my birthday, and while I knew of him and some of his work, I was impressed/amazed by the range and drama and sophistication of what I saw from start to finish.
3) Is glamour a luxury or a necessity?
For basic survival glamour is a luxury, but like the fine arts, it’s an unknown quantity that can’t be measured or explained, yet somehow makes life more enjoyable.
4) Favorite glamorous movie?
Auntie Mame. The interiors of her apartment are just amazing. In fact, it was those sets that got me interested in interior design. If I could pick just a scene from a movie, it would be the “Ascot Gavotte” scene from My Fair Lady. The amazing black-and-white dresses and hats against the simple, white, paper-like buildings (all dreamed up by Cecil Beaton) along with the stilted movements and poses are just brilliant.
5) What was your most glamorous moment?
When I was working for a magazine in Los Angeles we hosted a tour of the Case Study houses in Pacific Palisades, which was amazing enough, but in the evening they opened up the Eames house and lit up the lawn with strings of lights. I stood there taking in the crisp night air coming in off the ocean and thinking that I never could have dreamed I’d be there, yet there I was.
Not any one specifically, but an old house filled with lots of history.
8) Most glamorous job?
Is there a glamorous job? I think there are a lot of jobs that seem glamorous, but that’s because we don’t do them. If something looks easy and glamorous, it’s probably because there’s a lot of hard work behind it.
9) Something or someone that other people find glamorous and you don't
Working in the publishing industry. Like before, it often gets glorified in movies and on TV, and really it’s mostly hard work. Yes, there are moments of fun and excitement—that happens anywhere when you love what you’re doing—but there’s also the other 90 percent of the time that you are working and planning and coordinating to make that moment happen. But even I forget that sometimes.
10) Something or someone that you find glamorous whose glamour is unrecognized.
Space. Not the final frontier, but the absence of stuff. Space to do whatever you want: an empty room, an open field. It can be anything and everything.
11) Can glamour survive?
I didn’t know it was in danger! I think the world needs glamour, whether to embrace or rail against, depending on the mood, so it will be around for quite some time.
12) Is glamour something you're born with?
I don’t think so. It’s something that you achieve, intentionally or otherwise.
1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett? Cate Blanchett, no question. 2) Paris or Venice? Paris 3) New York or Los Angeles? New York (but LA for the lifestyle) 4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace? Princes Grace 5) Tokyo or Kyoto? Kyoto 6) Boots or stilettos? Stilettos 7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau? Art Deco 8) Jaguar or Aston Martin? Aston Martin 9) Armani or Versace? Armani 10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour? Diana Vreeland 11) Champagne or single malt? Champagne, it makes anything a celebration 12) 1960s or 1980s? 60s 13) Diamonds or pearls? Diamonds. Can’t beat the sparkle. 14) Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell? Neither 15) Sean Connery or Daniel Craig? Sean Connery
When I went to the 2009 Anime Expo to talk to cosplayers about the appeal of dressing up as anime and manga characters, I was struck by how important posing for photographs is to that appeal. Yet most of the picture-taking at anime conventions happens with lousy lighting and lots of fans in the way—hardly the ideal way to record the costumes on which players lavish so much time and ingenuity.
Fortunately, L.A. photographer Ejen Chuang, whom I met at that same convention, has now given American cosplayers a worthy visual record: a beautifully produced 272-page book called Cosplay in America. The product of a year spent traveling to conventions around the country (and a maxed-out credit card), plus countless hours of selecting and retouching photos, the book features 270 cosplayers.
Naming it the Best Art Book of 2010, Deb Aoki, About.com’s Manga expert, declared that Cosplay in Ameria “captures the spirit of fun, camaraderie and creativity of the North American cosplay community.” Liz Ohanesian of the LA Weekly praised the “slick and beautiful tome,” which “showcases the diversity and creativity within the anime fandom,” later declaring on BoingBoing that “Chuang did what I hope more people will do in the future, portrayed cosplay as art.”
Ejen is still on the convention circuit, selling his book and giving cosplayers a chance to have their latest handiwork immortalized with professional polish. He’ll next be at Anime Los Angeles January 7-9. In between cons—and his regular work as a production stills photographer—he was kind enough to answer some questions about what he's learned from his experience photographing cosplayers. (To see more of his photos, including new shots and web exclusives, check out the CosplayinAmerica Flickr stream.)
See the end of the interview for information on how you can enter our Cosplay in America giveaway and have a chance to win a free copy of Ejen's book.
DG: Your book is called Cosplay in America. What is cosplay and how is it different in America?
EC: Cosplay is short for “costume-play” which is basically dressing up as characters based off anime, manga, and video games, though the term has become mainstream in the past few years and now applies to any source such as films, American cartoons, music icons, even products—I’ve seen a few Nintendo Wiis running around conventions.
From what I gathered (as I’ve never been to an event in Japan), Americans have a very do-it-yourself attitude. While there are shops in Japan to purchase cosplays, that necessarily isn't so here in the States. You almost have to be MacGyver to pull together many disciplines from sewing to prop making. Some make it from scratch, others purchase parts and put it together. It is the process of creating the outfit that is part of the fun and not necessarily just wearing the outfit.
DG: What inspired you to do a book of cosplayer portraits?
EC: I haven’t really seen a book done specifically done about American cosplay and I thought I'll tackle it myself. The culture has been growing for the past 20 years and is definitely getting larger in thanks to conventions and the internet.
DG: What’s the difference between cosplay and dressing up for Halloween?
EC: Cosplay usually refers to a specific character. For example, dressing as Capt. Jack Sparrow is cosplaying. Dressing up as a pirate is just.... dressing up as a pirate! In the broadest sense, you can say that when your father dresses up as Santa during Christmas, he is in fact, cosplaying.
DG: What’s the relationship between photography (whether professional or amateur) and cosplay?
EC: There’s an interesting relationship between the two. Obviously from a photographer’s perspective, the extravaganza of colorful costumes and makeup of the cosplayer is attractive to the lens, while on the cosplayer side, it is a chance to be in the limelight and have their work appreciated.
DG: How do cosplayers decide what characters to portray?
EC: Cosplayers generally portray characters they feel very strongly about. Talking to many, I understand they felt if they were to put that amount of work into a cosplay, they rather pick characters they feel a strong emotional response to. As many cosplayers tend to be in their teens to mid-20s, my thoughts are in addition to having fun, stretch their creative skills and hanging out with friends at cons, cosplay can be a way for them to try out different “personalities” of their source characters wherever if either male or female. Obviously it is easier for women to dress as male characters than males to dress as female characters.
DG: You took more than 1,600 photos. How did you decide on which ones to publish?
EC: In my youth I was into anime but until I embarked on my project, the last convention I visited was Anime Expo in 2000. In the years between then and 2009 when I started the project, I had been out of the scene so perhaps 90 percent of cosplayers I’ve photographed, I don’t know which series they are from. In a way, it is liberating. I have no bias or preconception about any series or character. I could choose based on their personality and pose. I specifically looked for something about that cosplayer that grabs me. From an edited collection of around 1,000 cosplayers, it took six months to narrow it down to the 260 cosplayers in the book.
DG: One of the cosplayers you interviewed called cosplay “a chance to escape that which binds us, holds us down in our everyday lives, and [it] gives us chance to let our imaginary spirits soar high above all that makes us feel weak. We can shed our everyday lives and feel free to express ourselves.” Another one said it’s “just a dorky little hobby where people play dress up.” What would you say is the appeal of cosplay?
EC: For the younger attendees, it is a chance to let loose and have fun, another layer to add to the convention experience. As a teenager, the need to fit in is strong and so in a way, this allows them to join a community.
For those older ones, it is just a release mechanism. Obviously in life we have our jobs, relationships, school and so forth and to take a vacation from that for one weekend is to take a moment out of the worries of bills, and other adult concerns. I spoke to several cosplayers who have graduated college and move to their working life—and use conventions as a chance to meet up with old friends—similar to a reunion.
For others, it is a chance to test out their abilities to create and personalize to their own individual tastes. For example, at one convention in Florida, I noticed a character whose outfit was filled with beads. The original character’s outfit did not include that large amount of beads but because the cosplayer so loved beads, she weaved her passion into it. In the end it still worked—the character is identifiable and the cosplayer has a chance to personalized the work.
DG: You’re still taking photos as you go to conventions to sell your book. Do you have any favorites to share with our readers?
EC: Truthfully, my favorite photos are the ones where I’m interacting with the cosplayer. So many folks have photos of themselves standing next to a cosplayer. For me, I like it if they point their weapon at me, or they are jabbing me, or something of that nature. Here I am at AnimeFest in Texas getting hammered by the gals of Street Fighter.
This was taken at Otakon, the largest anime con on the East Coast where Bender from Futurama chokes me—I didn’t have any beer with me and you know Bender loves beer!
Despite all the work that goes into the book and the tour, it is definitely a life-changing experience! I plan to be at another 20 conventions next year and after that start working on other books related to cosplay but not necessarily about cosplay. Thanks for the interview!
We're happy to offer a free copy of Cosplay in America to one lucky reader. To enter, please leave a comment telling us a character you'd like to dress up as and why. (Don't worry about practical considerations; we won't make you model the costume.) The contest deadline is midnight Pacific Time on January 10, and the winner will be selected using Random.org. Contest open to U.S. residents only.
[All photos copyright Ejen Chuang and used by permission.]
Digital special effects are now used so frequently in films and television that we tend to take them for granted. Photoshop is so widely used to manipulate digital photographs that we seldom notice the changes, sometimes even when “realistic” advertising photos have missing, wrongly sized, or misaligned parts. (The website Photoshop Disasters adds funny comments to miscalculated images.)
The theater has always dealt in illusions, and we are perfectly capable of imagining that a bare stage or an abstract set (such as the one shown in the photograph) represents a fictional world. Shakespeare’s plays were first performed on bare stages: thus the characters often speak of the time of day and place.
With experience we also sometimes take theatrical conventions for granted. A proscenium stage is described as having an invisible fourth wall through which the audience views the sets and action onstage. A movie or television screen serves much the same purpose. We forget that we are looking at a flat picture plane once we begin looking “through it” to see images that seem to have dimensional qualities. The addition of 3D further heightens our feeling that we are seeing a dimensional reality, rather than the illusion of one projected onto a screen.
Stage and screen illusions depend partially on an awareness that what the audience will be able to perceive is limited. The fourth wall, for example, does not reveal what is going on above, behind, below, or to the sides of the stage. Cameras reveal only what is in front of the lens, concealing even the person operating the camera.
When actors and dancers perform onstage, they know where the fourth wall is, and they sometimes “cheat” by turning their bodies enough to insure that their speeches and actions are audible and visible to the audience. Dance studios have large mirrors so that dancers can develop some sense of how their bodies, costumes, and movements will look to the audience. In film and photographic work, actors and models learn to maintain an awareness of where the camera is, as well as the light.
In most dramatic productions, the prevailing convention is that the actors act as if the audience is not there, even though actors need to retain some awareness of them. In most film situations, such as the dining room set shown in the photograph, it is impossible to ignore the presence of the equipment. The ability to perform effectively while aware of the presence of an audience, or a camera and a set full of equipment, is a difficult skill, but one that actors must master if we are going enjoy the fictional illusion that they exist in a “real” world.
[The abstract set was built for a production of Sara McKinnon, an opera by Mark Medoff and Randall Shinn. Photograph by Carol Shinn. The photograph “Film set in the dining room” is by Flickr user ricardodiaz11. Used under the Flickr Creative Commons license.]