If my DG email inbox is any indication, people are getting increasingly paranoid about how they look in their Facebook photos. Or at least the publicists for various skincare and beauty products hope they are.
One PR query asks, "Is Your Face Facebook Ready?"
Did you know the there are more than 500 million active users on Facebook? Most people block their walls and photo albums, but profile photos are broadcast to anyone who cares to look—from new classmates to prospective employers. Don’t let a bad complexion ruin your image on Facebook… and beyond. Prep your skin for your close up with Vichy Laboratoires skincare solutions. Whether you have acne scars, puffy eyes or oily skin, Vichy will help you put your best face forward.
Another has the subject line, "Look Picture Perfect!"
Unfortunately, every picture you are photographed in isn’t always Facebook “profile” worthy and we’ve all had photos taken that we are not proud of. Luckily, Romy Fazeli of Kymaro Health and Beauty offers quick inexpensive tips to give you a photo-ready look.
Her mixed-bag of recommendations includes a teeth whitener, body shapers, and jewelry. I wonder what they have in common?
To the contemporary eye, this George Hurell photo of Carole Lombard (part of an enormous auction this Friday and Saturday) seems strange. She looks beautiful, and the lighting and pose are glamorous. But what’s with the plastic sheeting? Is that a shower curtain to her left?
Behold the glamour of cellophane. Like diamonds or crystal, cellophane has a sparkling, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t quality. Although transparent, when crinkled and lit correctly it creates a teasing mystery. In Glamour: A History, Stephen Gundle likens cellophane to “striptease, which achieved its effect by constantly making the unveiled body more remote.”Wrapped in cellophane, “products were available but untouchable and therefore inaccessible.”
In Hurrell’s photo, the shimmering plastic catches the light, creating a cool, translucent contrast to the soft opacity of Lombard’s feathered dress and the warmth of her skin. If you don’t associate plastic with cheapness, cellophane makes perfect sense as a glamorous material. Like glamour itself, it is alluringly artificial.In the 1920s and ’30s, cellophane’s appeal went beyond these intrinsic aesthetic properties. This new material epitomized high-tech modernity: “You’re the purple light of a summer night in Spain / You’re the National Gallery / You’re Garbo’s salary / You’re cellophane!” sang Cole Porter in "You're the Top!"
Judith Brown in Glamour in Six Dimensions: Modernism and the Radiance of Form, which I reviewed along with the Gundle book here, devotes an entire chapter to cellophane. She is interested, she writes, in the material as “pure surface...a protective veneer from dusty reality.” And she notes its ubiquity in the popular culture of the 1920s and ’30s:
Cellophane tablecloths glitter in an upscale nightclub in the Astaire-Rogers blockbuster Swing Time (1936); cellophane also appears in an earlier Joan Crawford film, Dancing Lady (1933), in the transparent swags at the back of a dance set, and again in the Broadway musical staged within the film. in this film, the cellophane also appears in costume form: a group of black-attired old women, complete with bonnets, lace collars, wire glasses, and bent-over backs make their way into a futuristic beauty parlor and emerge as modern bombshells, perfectly artificial with cellophane outfits and what might be plastic hair. Cellophane similarly appears in a swanky Chinese nightclub as the “The Girls in Cellophane” take the stage in W. C. Fields’s International House (1933). The pages of Vogue magazine also mark cellophane as haute couture, here as the “cellophane toque” that makes a “deceptively simple” garment cutting edge by newly framing the model’s face in the most artificial of head covers; and again, as an arresting sight in this newspaper photograph of an urban street. Cellophane fashion staked out a turning point: cellophane was chic and, above all, now.
This Hurrell photo of Joan Crawford, whose negative is in the auction, is from Dancing Lady. Although Crawford is not literally wearing cellophane, her dress has a similar sparkling, translucent quality. It makes her look like a star.
Amelia Earhart was daring, adventurous, modern, and beautiful, among the 20th century’s most enduring icons. Sixty years after her disappearance, high-profile advertising campaigns for Apple and the Gap were still employing her image as a symbol of independence and glamour. A movie about her must have seemed like a sure thing. Yet Amelia is a critical and commercial disaster. What went wrong?
It would be easy to blame the project’s specifics. Director Mira Nair did, after all, manage to turn Thackeray’s lively satire into the ponderous, unwatchable Vanity Fair. A less earnest director or more creative script might have produced a more interesting Amelia, one less reliant on half-hearted soap opera and more focused on the challenges of early aviation. But the real problem may be Amelia Earhart herself.
In the 1920s and ’30s, “the aviatrix was the ultimate glamorous and daring modern woman,” notes Kristen Lubben in Amelia Earhart: Image and Icon, the catalog for a 2007 exhibition of Earhart images at the International Center of Photography. Earhart, of course, was the ultimate glamorous aviatrix. She achieved that status not because she was the best female pilot—many were better—but because she was media-savvy and able to embody the public’s multiple aspirations. She was feminist yet feminine, casual yet elegant, modern yet wholesome. “Hers is the healthy curiosity of the clean mind and the strong body and a challenging rebuke to those of us who have damned the youth of the land,” declared a 1928 essayist who saw her as an antidote to Jazz Age decadence. He concluded, “What a girl!” Such a glamorous figure makes an effective advertising icon but an emotionally flattened protagonist. She loses her individuality.
During her life, Earhart was transformed from a person into a persona—idealized, distant, and glamorous, her mythic allure heightened by the mystery of her disappearance. The more time passes, the more her individuality recedes. “She has become an increasingly abstract symbol—of the thrill and danger of adventure, of the possibilities for women, and of the courage to break with … conventional expectations,” writes Lubben. Eternally young, Earhart remains unblemished from the kind of eccentricity or controversy—or ordinary individual complexity—that could make her a compelling subject for a modern biopic. To preserve her glamour, Amelia must keep her at a distance, without flaws, doubts, or character development. We learn nothing of the struggles of her youth, her political commitments, or her limits as a pilot. She ends the film essentially the same as she began it—as an icon.
Here, another recent film about a pioneering aviatrix presents a sharp contrast. Currently making the film-festival rounds and expected to air on public television in the spring, The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club is a straightforward documentary made on a tenth of Amelia’s production budget. Yet for all its still photos and talking heads, it is far more entertaining. While Amelia struggles against the glamour of its heroine, The Legend of Pancho Barnes is imbued with its protagonist’s charisma. The contrast between the two pilots, and the memories they left behind, illuminates the distinctions between these two often-conflated qualities.
Recently up for auction, this Edward Quinn photo of Grace Kelly primping during the filming of To Catch a Thief presents an usual take on a common artistic subject: the beautiful woman at the mirror. From such classics as Diego Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus and Kitagawa Utamaro’s portraits of beauties at their mirrors to this Mark Shaw photo of Audrey Hepburn, the usual composition uses the mirror to give the audience multiple views of the subject: front and back, the face from different angles, the woman as she sees herself and as she is seen by others.
Here, however, we see Grace Kelly entirely from the outside. We do not see the reflection she sees. Rather than a woman of fragments and angles, she appears in a unified view. The photo is a study of surfaces and textures: the shiny, soft hair she is brushing, the lacy gloves, the ornate top, the golden down on her tan arm, the shiny mirror overlaid on the dull trailer. The focal point, framed by her crossed arms is Grace’s face, made even more focal because we know she, too, is looking at it.
The glamour of the toilette points up the difference between male and female audiences (or, to use a phrase encrusted with all sorts of ideological theory, the male and female gaze). For male audiences, portraits of women grooming themselves have traditionally had a voyeuristic quality and were often an excuse for nudity. Projecting himself into the image, the viewer does not generally identify with the subject but with the scene; he imagines not being the subject but being with her. A female viewer is more likely to identify with the subject. She sees herself in the mirror—or longs to.
That feeling was articulated by many of the movie fans interviewed by Jackie Stacey for her study Star Gazing: Hollywood Cinema and Female Spectatorship. Recalling their youthful filmgoing in the 1940s, women expressed longing and identification when talking about the stars they loved. “It wasn’t Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire, it was me,” said one. Another said, “My favourite was Rita Hayworth. I always imagined if I could look like her I could toss my red hair into the wind…and meet the man of my dreams.”
For women in particular, there is a second kind of glamour of the toilette: the makeover fantasy, which combines the desire for transformation with the idea of being pampered by professionals. “It’s exciting to have important people do stuff for you,” said a nurse from rural Arkansas on ABC’s Extreme Makeover. Hollywood stars not only represent the promise of beauty and fame but also—thanks to their squadrons of makeup artists, hair stylists, wardrobe designers, and, nowadays, everyday fashion stylists—the dream of having an aesthetic entourage on call.
One of my father’s best friends in college became a professional studio photographer, and more than once he practiced his glamour-shot skills using my father as his model (as seen at left). I have numerous photos of my father taken with elaborate studio lighting, usually smoking a cigarette or pipe, sometimes bare-chested, and almost always looking intense. His friend, the photographer, clearly was in charge of the photo sessions, and knew the various looks that he wanted. In a few of these photographs my father was directed to scowl, and in those he can look quite frightening.
Few of us have had occasion to be photographed in a situation where we are there to serve the photographer’s desire to add images to his portfolio. If we hire a professional photographer, it is typically to create a personal or family portrait, or record an occasion such as a wedding or graduation. Even in this situation, the photographer typically exerts a great deal of control relative to the outcome, using experience to produce results that will please most customers.
This is typically the situation with high school yearbook pictures, and I have used my own to illustrate. So that everyone would conform, the photographer had a supply of different-sized white jackets on hand. Since no high school girl would want a single wrinkle to show, the studio was set up with soft lighting. In contrast, the harder lighting used for my father’s portrait shows every wrinkle on his face.
Adding to the softness of the yearbook portrait is the relatively narrow depth of field. My right eye is in sharp focus, but my hair, right shoulder, and ears are not. Compare the sharp focus of my father’s hair with the soft focus of mine. The wider depth of field used for my father’s portrait allows the hair on his arms to be as sharply focused as his eyes.
The softer look is often felt to be more flattering, as it tends to make skin look smoother. But in my father’s portrait the sharp focus and harder lighting creates a sense of frankness that is clearly what the photographer intended. The crucial point is that both images are partly illusions that the photographer created by his choices of lighting, depth of field, and direction. As I recall I was told to tilt my head and look slightly to the side of the camera, whereas my father’s gaze is inescapably direct.
To get a sense of trying to visualize results, imagine what I might have looked like in the conditions used to photograph my father, and then imagine him photographed as in my yearbook photo. Doing so is not easy, but it’s an interesting exercise. Another is to look through a fashion magazine, see if the models’ eyes reflect the location of a main light source, and, if so, then look for the shadows cast by that light. Asking such “what if?” and “how did they light this?” questions can help us understand how various photographic effects were achieved, and possibly how to better achieve them ourselves.
Car blogger Chuck Goolsbee posts some great photos under the heading “Car Photo of the Day.” The one above, featuring two of the world's most glamorous artifacts, is a particular favorite of mine. I’ll return to it in a moment.
In a post last month, Chuck contrasted two photos of the same car. The first is the kind of snapshot-as-note-taking that I shoot all the time. Since it’s mostly to jog the memory, the composition doesn’t matter much. Hence, the headless car buffs, with particular emphasis on the guy in the orange polo shirt and shorts.
The second shot, a photo within the photo, is this closeup of the Jaguar. “This is the photo in my minds-eye whenever I see an XK,” Chuck wrote. “That luscious bonnet and fenders, with all those light-capturing curves.”
Since cropping was the only manipulation required to produce the second photo from the first, few documentary purists would object. Recreating the photo held in memory didn’t require retouching the mechanical reproduction of the scene, only focusing closely on one piece of it.
But go back to the photo of the E-type Jaguar and the windmills (click the photo or here for a larger view). Simply by recording a still image, the scene has been glamorized, portraying the car and windmills as autonomous icons of technological grace—no maintenance or transmission lines required. At the same time, however, the photo calls attention to distractions that would have gone unnoticed in person: the rough asphalt in the foreground and the fence interfering with the car’s lines in the middle distance.
A glamorized version of the photo would remove or downplay these distractions, focusing the scene on its emotionally meaningful components. Profiled in The New Yorker, Pascal Dangin, today’s leading retoucher of fashion photos, called blemishes and flaws “anomalies,” suggesting that they distract from the truth. A retouched scene would be literally false. But would it be more emotionally truthful?
One possibility would be to clean up the photo by cropping it, producing something like this.
There are fewer distractions now, but the photo seems cramped, with less sense of movement and the open road. Cropping may be journalistically legitimate, but it's emotionally unsatisfying.
Having read this interesting post in which photographer Mark Harmel discussed the sort of minor retouching he does to clean up distractions, I asked him what he would do with the Jaguar and windmills photo. He sent back this subtly altered version of the photo.
“The wide angle lens stretched the car out—especially in the front end,” he wrote. “I compressed it and cleaned up the grass some. I compare my style of retouching to wearing those Bose Noise-Canceling headphones. My job is to remove the visual distractions. In this photo I also cleaned up the grass some to fill in a hole. I might actually do more so there is that fluffy seed-top runs all the way across.”
The side of the road is less distracting, though the grass is now a bit too regular. And by correcting the car's front end, he made the photo more realistic—but less glamorous.
“Bring out the best, conceal the worst, and leave something to the imagination,” was George Hurrell's formula for creating glamorous portraits. That prescription runs contrary to journalistic full disclosure. It also acknowledges the selection involved in all creative presentations. Neither an article nor a photograph reproduces the world in all its continuity and complexity. Ultimately, the correct selection depends on the creator's purposes and the audience's expectations.
So which version of the car and windmills photo do you like best? Or can you do better?
Aspiring models and aspiring fashion photographers share a Catch-22 problem. Neither is likely to find paid work without a portfolio of professional quality photographs. To have such a portfolio, the model needs to have been photographed by skilled photographers, and the photographer needs to have photographed beautiful models. But how do you develop a professional-looking portfolio before working professionally?
One answer is to pay a professional model or photographer for their time. If a top agency signs a model, they may pay a professional photographer to create a portfolio. For an aspiring model to do this herself would be expensive. This makes young women who want to try modeling vulnerable to scams, and there are many disreputable agencies and photographers who will gladly take their money.
Yet aspiring models do need good photographs to demonstrate that they are photogenic (not always the same as being beautiful in person). Normal human vision is stereoptic and three dimensional. A single-lens camera can only record two-dimensional information, and our perception of shapes in photographs depends on the angle and quality of light that falls on the subject, as well as on how the subject reflects that light back. Faces with strong bone structures and unusual features may photograph beautifully because they reflect back well-defined shapes and shadows (notice the above model’s unusual eyes). Makeup can also be used to create dimensional illusions. Experienced photographers are always concerned about how the light falling on a subject defines it dimensionally.
Conversely, aspiring fashion photographers need to work with photogenic models in order to build their portfolio. They can ask their friends and acquaintances, but as one workshop for aspiring photographers put it bluntly, you need the chance to work with models who photograph at 8 or above on a 10-point scale (something few people do). Photographer workshops sometimes provide students with models and some coaching, but for workshops the students must pay a fee. In better workshops the ratio between students and models is low, such as 2:1. In the photo at right the student is getting a chance to work with a model 1:1. Notice how side lighting is helping the muscles in the model’s leg look exceptionally well-defined, but also leaves her face in shadow. One solution would be to have an assistant use a white reflector to bounce more light to her face, but finding a solution first requires consciously noticing the problem—that the light falling on her face fails to define her features in a way that a camera can clearly record. If the student does notice the problem, then he might decide to add light, change her pose, or change locations. He has to learn to be constantly aware of the relationship between his subject and the direction and quality of various sources of light.
While researching this post I looked at several websites listing would-be models. Looking at some of these sites made me sad. (Two examples are here and here.) Many individuals listed would appear to have no chance of becoming paid models (as is true of most people). But, regardless of that, far too many of them were represented by terrible photographs. Many have posted casual snapshots of themselves taken by someone who was obviously not a photographer. These snapshots typically featured no careful hairstyling or makeup, a depressingly mundane location, and truly horrible lighting. Such photographs work against any chance they have of being hired as models—their photographs brand them as non-professional.
One possible solution to building a strong portfolio is a barter system. Realizing that it can be mutually beneficial for good models and photographers to work with each other, there are a number of internet networking sites for them. Some members of these sites will exchange their time for either CDs of images (TFCD) or prints (TFP). In this way both models and photographers can build their portfolios. Naturally, the more work the members have booked as paid professionals, the more likely they are to seek monetary payment for their time.
Flickr contains photographs from a number of fine photographers and photogenic people, and Flickr images can be easily searched. The image at right and the first image in this post were found on Flickr, and both contained a link to the Canadian site Model Republic, a fashion networking site for people working in all aspects of the industry. You can find some impressive model and photographer portfolios on other networking sites (such as Model Mayhem and iStudio). Some of these sites require potential members to submit images which are screened for quality before they are allowed to join.
Aspiring models need to be cautious about donating their time. They don’t want to find themselves posing for an untalented and potentially creepy GWC (guy with camera). A t-shirt proclaiming the wearer is a Professional GWC is not a reference. If a photographer has done good work, he or she should be willing to show samples.
One tongue-in-cheek member of Model Mayhem is GWC, a fictional nerd photographer from Baltimore who offers “drive-by shooting workshops.” For these workshops “students” pay a fee to sit in the back of his pickup, and, beginning and ending at a Hooters parking lot, he drives around spotting “hotties” to photograph on the move. His gallery of photos includes an out-of-focus portrait and a magazine cover titled “Perfect 5½” that features “the best models we can afford.” His fictional character personifies just the sort of GWCs that models hope to avoid.
Workshop photo shoots happen all over the world (the workshop shown here was in Singapore). People in some Asian countries seem particularly open to posing for and taking glamour shots. I have often seen young Japanese women strike fashion poses as soon as a friend turns a camera their direction.
The young men shown in this workshop photo shoot are likely enjoying themselves, despite the 6:1 student-to-model ratio. Perhaps each fantasizes that someday he will be paid to take photographs of an endless supply of beautiful models. It’s an unlikely dream, but if nothing else they are learning by trial and error that you need a lot more than just a camera and a beautiful subject to produce a professional-looking fashion photograph. Aptitude, and hard-won knowledge and experience are also essential requirements.
["Ariana" and "City Style and Living Shoot" are from photographix.ca's Flickr photostream. "Posing Jess" and "Railroad Shoot" are from madaboutasia. All are used under the Flickr Creative Common's license.]
The deadline for Annie Leibovitz to settle her $24 million debt to Art Capital Group has come and gone without public comment from either party. But that doesn’t mean Leibovitz’s problems have disappeared, only that no one is talking to reporters.
Amid the mass of commentary on the photographer’s financial troubles (including Andrew Goldman’s definitive New York narrative of how she got in such a mess), an interesting theme emerged. If Leibovitz forfeits the copyrights to her work—part of the collateral she put up to borrow all that money—what might the new owners do with them?
My hope is that they’ll make reprint rights easily and cheaply available to authors working on books about glamour. (I’m particularly interested in this photo.) But the speculation involves a much larger market.
“Until now, Ms. Leibovitz has closely guarded the right to reproduce her photographs,” the NYT’s Allen Salkin wrote. “But should she lose control of her archive, her famous portraits of Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Nicholson and the like may one day be found on postcards in Times Square.”
Losing the copyrights, wrote the LAT’s Paul Lieberman, “could result in the outright sale of her photo copyrights to a party who might decide it’s better to market her images in lots of 1,000, or on postcards, not the fine-art limited-edition approach she has embraced.” And in a Sunday Timespiece cobbled together from pieces of American journalism, the unbylined author referred to “the worst-case scenario” in which “her classic portraits of the likes of Jack Nicholson, Bruce Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper may end up on postcards.” (Emphasis added.)
What’s so bad about postcards?
One argument is that postcard printing is usually less than ideal and therefore makes the photo look worse than the artist intended. Some of Leibovitz’s photos are already available as postcards, however, as the photo of the boxed set above demonstrates; singletons are plentiful on Ebay and also available on specialized sites.
Besides, postcards aren’t a substitute for fine-art printing. They’re made for an entirely different market, one prepared to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a single picture. Berenice Abbott’s photos of New York, particularly Nightview, have become iconic, and literal, “postcard clichés,” but collectors still buy original prints. (And let’s not even talk about Ansel Adams.)
What’s especially interesting about the objection to Leibovitz postcards is that her famous portraits, like this one of the pregnant Demi Moore, were originally made for mass-market magazines printed in large quantities on relatively cheap paper with type surrounding the portrait. The difference between an Annie Leibovitz photo in Vanity Fair and an Annie Leibovitz photo on a hypothetical Times Square postcard would be noticeable, but it’s not exactly the difference between The Birth of Venus on the walls of the Uffizzi and The Birth of Venus on the corner tabacchi’s souvenir rack.
The postcard problem—which may or may not be something Leibovitz herself is concerned about—suggests that the value of art, particularly of photography, lies in its physical scarcity. Postcards are just too cheap and common. Unlike magazines, which have limited circulation, they keep getting printed as long as the demand is there.
Now there is, of course, an economic calculation to be made by whoever owns the rights to an image. What sort of licensing will maximize revenue? That's a pragmatic question that requires some market research and educated guesses.
But for artists and critics, postcards ought to be unalloyed good news. They enlarge the audience for the image and embed it more lastingly in the culture. Most portrait photographers can only dream of creating an icon like Alberto Kordo’s photo of Che Guevera or Sam Shaw’s photo of Marilyn Monroe with her white skirt flying up.
Putting Annie Leibovitz’s photos on widely distributed postcards would provide a tough artistic test: Can these images hold up as icons? How much does the celebrity of their subjects matter to their appeal? Does Leibovitz’s composition rely too much on gimmicks? Take a look through some galleries (here, here, and here) and see what you think.
From Marlene Dietrich and Buster Keaton to Aretha Franklin and Bianca Jagger, George Hurrell captured some of the 20th century's great faces, in hats that added an extra dimension to the characters they portrayed, in film or in life. Click here to see the show.
The first is the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate, the largest privately held collection of vintage George Hurrell photographs, to which we also owe the beautiful photo of Dorothy Jordan that alternates with Rick Lee’s woman in sunglasses as our masthead. At the party, we will have an ongoing slideshow of more than 40 Hurrell photos of people in hats, including many rare treasures like this perfect-for-the-occasion shot of Buster Keaton.
The photos range from the Golden Era glamour of Marlene Dietrich, Douglas Fairbanks, Greta Garbo, and Carole Lombard (and, of course, the beautiful Anita Page photo on our invitation) to portraits from the 1970s and ’80s. It's an unusual Hurrell show, where Aretha Franklin and Bianca Jagger appear more often than Joan Crawford. But Crawford will be making a special appearance, since Lou D’Elia, the collector behind the Pancho Barnes archives, is also lending us one of the large-scale, limited-edition prints recently issued by the Estate of George Hurrell.
The second collection is Wendy Ann Rosen’s House of Hats, the best collection of 20th-century hats outside a museum. Wendy Ann, a makeup artist by trade, not only collects hats. She keeps them in a world-class collection of vintage hat boxes. Some of her hats are included in the V&A’s recent Hats: An Anthology exhibition, curated by Stephen Jones. Those hats are still traveling the world, but others will be on display at 5th & Spring--and available for purchase, since Wendy Ann is, as they say in the museum business, deaccessioning a few of her more than 600 chapeaux.
Wendy Ann is one of L.A.’s hidden treasures, someone only a few aficionados know about. Working on her own, mostly in the 1990s, she researched the history of 20th-century millinery and identified, bought, and preserved the best examples of the milliner’s art. (Here's a fashion spread featuring some of her hats from the 1920s, aquired through the Adamson Estate.) In addition to hats and hat boxes, she collects tools of the hat-maker's trade, signs and other ephemera, and the adorable cupcake-sized mini hats and boxes that were used as milliner's gift certificates since hats were custom-fitted. (Alas, she's not bringing any of the mini hats. Partygoers will have to make do with literal cupcakes.)
Although some of Wendy Ann's hats are from famous fashion designers, including Chanel, Dior and Schiaparelli, many are from hat specialists like Madame Georgette who were renowned in their day but are now forgotten. “I want to make sure that they're recognized and remembered. That's my main purpose,” she says.
DG's party, "You're the Top: A Celebration of Glamorous Hats & the People Who Wear Them," is free and open to the public as part of the first Downtown Fashion Walk. RSVPs are appreciated but not required. See our invitation for details on the location. Ample parking is available in the garage at 530 S. Spring for $5. The map for Downtown Fashion Walk is online here.