Dynamist Blog

Giving Glamour a Black Face

[Cross-posted from DeepGlamour.net]
11759vWith the Tuskegee Airmen headed to the inauguration, let's take a moment to remember what they looked like when they were young and glamorous--and, of course, just how subversive that glamour was. The airmen were not just warriors but aviators, the epitome of masculine modernity: brave and daring, yes, but also masters of complex machines, with all the discipline and intelligence that implied. Their very existence refuted the ideology of white supremacy.

In April 1945, the Airmen were photographed by Toni Frissell, a noted fashion and society photographer (she did the photos at Jack and Jackie's wedding). Frissell knew glamour and, unlike many of her contemporaries, she didn't need a studio or heavy retouching to create it. Her photos of couples cuddling in the park are as appealing as her shots of models on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. And she loved natural light.

Frissell was the ideal photographer to capture the Tuskegee Airmen for posterity. As this DG slideshow illustrates, she captured the glamour--and dignity--of these young men, whether posed looking skyward, working on engines, listening to briefings, playing cards, or receiving "escape kits" of cyanide. And, presumably for hometown newspapers, she noted their names and hometowns, which are included in the slideshow captions.

Not all the aviators will make it to the inauguration, of course. Many, indeed, never made it home from the war--something I was reminded of when Googling Ronald Reeves, the Blair Underwood lookalike in a few of the photos.

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