Taken in the 1930s, this vernacular (i.e., anonymous) photo represents one of the visual motifs particularly effective in creating a sense of glamour: a silhouette of someone contemplating a landscape vista. (In this early DG post, I discussed some condominium ads that used a similar composition.) Mysterious and stylized, the darkened figure invites us to identify with her and the longings she feels as she looks out on the landscape beyond her enclosed surroundings. This particular photo also creates a contrast between the settled world of bent-wood chairs and ashtrays and the wilderness beyond. Its composition glamorizes the possibilities of the distant hills. We could imagine, however, a reversed composition that made the interior seem cozy and inviting.
The juxtaposition of a shadowed foreground and a lighted vista can arouse similar yearnings for escape even without a human subject. This photo, contributed to the DeepGlamour pool by Flickr user Michele Strudwick, contrasts the open possibilities represented by the sea and lighthouse with the constraints of the darkened room from which we view that landscape.
The shadows are not entirely negative, however. They give the scene its mystery and, by framing the landscape, enhance the vista's grace. They show us just enough of the outside world to make it tantalizing.
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.
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 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--
Posted by Virginia Postrel on July 16, 2009 in
In 1863 Abraham Lincoln made a famous speech at the site of the Battle of Gettysburg that began: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” The phrase “four score and seven years” was not normal speech for the time. This was a momentous occasion, and Lincoln used it to deliver a short, highly-poetic speech that would cause many people to rededicate themselves to winning the war. His use of the words “our,” “we,” and “us” throughout the speech is masterful.
In Sin and Syntax Constance Hale wrote that, “When occasions call for eloquence, you need poetry, not Plain English.” But using a high style requires preparation, work, and the ability to be comfortable with style. At the moment we have a president and a first lady who are comfortable with eloquence and style. This is not always the case.
Dwight Eisenhower used to hold rambling press conferences with what might be called the “well-meaning, befuddled-uncle” style. Oliver Jensen, a reporter who covered the White House during the 1950s, suggested that if Eisenhower had written the Gettysburg address it might have begun: “I haven’t checked these figures but 87 years ago I think it was, a number of individuals organized a governmental set-up here in this country, I believe it covered certain European areas, with this idea they were following up based on a sort of national independence arrangement...”
I can imagine George W. Bush, in his down-home style having said something like, “A while back our folks decided that in America we ought to treat other folks as if they were just as good as us.”
All his life Lincoln understood that he was not a handsome man, and frequently mocked himself as being ugly. But as he aged, he understood that he could look presidential. As Harold Holzer wrote for U.S. News and World Report about the image at left, a portrait done by Mathew Brady:
There, Lincoln discovered the power of his own image. At Mathew Brady's plush Broadway gallery, he posed for a brilliantly arranged portrait that softened the harsh lines in his face and emphasized his powerful frame against the evocative backdrop of a classical pillar and a pile of thick books. Brady transformed the prairie politician into a statesman. Widely copied and distributed during a presidential campaign in which, true to the tradition of the time, Lincoln did no campaigning of his own, the picture became his surrogate before image-starved voters. Months later, the victor acknowledged: “Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me president.” He had come to understand that images, no less important than words, could make or break political reputations.
We all want to put on the style. It is part of presenting our public self, like getting dressed up for a party. Often, when we actually get to the party all gussied-up, we’ll take great pains not to act that way, to show that the high style hasn’t really changed us, that we’re still just folks....We are, we like to think, what we are, whether in public or in private. No back-stage/front-stage difference divides our lives. This is an illusion, but we cherish it.
Unless we are used to it, we can have difficulty with style. I have often noticed the unease that many women seem to demonstrate when accepting a compliment on their appearance when they dress up. Instead of gracefully thanking whoever told them that they or their outfit look great, they often deflect the compliment by saying things like “Oh, I got this on sale,” or “I’ve had this for years,” or (to a close friend) “Does it look too tight right here?” Or you see women relentlessly adjusting their shoulder straps or frequently tugging at some part of their outfit. Such responses and actions seem to imply either that they themselves don’t feel their outfit is all that special, or that they are insecure about how they look and feel in it. Such demurring and fidgeting can greatly undermine the effectiveness of an outfit.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg address has been much studied, and it’s effectiveness was not accidental. As Civil War scholar Shelby Foote remarked, “Lincoln was highly intelligent. Almost everything he did was calculated for effect.” Some suggested sources for various aspects of Lincoln’s address have been Pericles’ famous Funeral Speech (431 BC), Lincoln’s mastery of the language of the King James Bible, a sermon by Theodore Parker, and a speech by Daniel Webster.
Lincoln was used to making such speeches. He had been making remarkably eloquent speeches for years. So when he spoke at Gettysburg, he did so with assurance. When you’re going for high style, appearing comfortable and assured is a vital aspect of the overall effect.
Weddings are often occasions for mixed emotions. This photograph was taken after a wedding in Somerset, England. The photographer informed me this attractive young bridesmaid did not know he was taking her photograph, and he doesn’t know the reason for her mood.
Some photographs capture a human mood so well that we long to know the story, but here the mystery can never be solved. We can only guess. This occasion was clearly not going well for her at this moment, and I find it hard to look at this photograph without wondering why. Why has she gone off by herself? Why is she downcast? Does her age factor in? What is her relationship to the bride?
In trying to understand her mood, we may go back into our own history, or the history of people we know. We may try to remember if there was an occasion when in the midst of a celebration, we found ourselves wanting to be alone because we did not share the celebratory mood. The photographer has frozen one such moment for us, and we invite our readers to speculate on her mood. What do you imagine the story to be?
Architectural photographer Julius Shulman created some of the most glamorous images of mid-century architecture and mid-century Los Angeles. In his most famous photo, of Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House No. 22 in 1960, two young ladies converse in a glass-enclosed living room that thrusts out toward the sprawling city grid of tiny lights. The architecture critic Paul Goldberger called it “one of those singular images that sums up an entire city at a moment in time.” Commentary on the photo often describes the women as models or dressed in the height of style (“elegantly dressed,” wrote Goldberger). In truth, they were neither, as Shulman explained to me when I was reporting this Atlantic column. The girlfriends of two architects who worked for Koenig, they were wearing ordinary, comfortable summer dresses. The photographer’s art made them, the house, and Los Angeles itself glamorous—symbols of the ideal life.
Our mystery woman didn't generate the 10 possible captions required for prizes, but eight readers did contribute some excellent ones. So we've decided to let you pick a winner anyway. Vote below.
Readers were split on whether the photo is glamorous, but a majority thought not. Seven out of 25 voted it not at all glamorous (1 out of a possible 7), with 13 out of 25 giving it a 3 or less.
Given the stylistic elements--a hat, a cigarette, and an androgynous face--this is an interesting result. These are all traditional markers of glamour. Take this photo of Marlene Dietrich, for instance, or this more feminine one. Head coverings, cigarettes, and androgyny all create an intriguing bit of mystery, drawing us to look more closely. In the right hands, a cigarette will not only produce a veil of smoke--at once concealing and calling attention to the smoker--but also amplify the smoker's grace, another essential component of glamour. So why doesn't La Femmina here appear more clearly glamorous?
One reason, I suspect, is that the photo is too calculated. It's obviously a pose and, hence, lacks the effortlessness associated with glamour. But the main reason is that it doesn't arouse projection or longing. She does not draw viewers into her world. The photo inspires humor, not desire. Longing is as essential to glamour as mystery or grace, and it cannot be created merely by assembling standard props.
DeepGlamour Flickr pool member dariya1 simply calls this portrait "Femmina." What caption would you give it? What's the backstory? Post your ideas in the comments below. If we get at least 10 responses, we'll award a prize to the best.
Philip Gardner blogs about dance and opera at Oberon's Grove, a site he describes as the online extension of a diary he's kept since he was a child enamored with opera. To kick off Dance Week at DG, we asked him to share some thoughts about ballet and glamour.
DG: When did you first get interested in dance?
PG: As a child I liked dancing around the house and I always enjoyed social dancing but becoming interested in dance as an art form came about when I was in my 20s when - quite by chance - I spent a summer working for a small ballet school on Cape Cod. It was after that that I began attending performances, and it soon became a passion.
DG: Have you had training in dance yourself?
PG: At the above-mentioned school on the Cape I took class and danced in performances, and I took class for 3 years altogether. Of course I was in my mid-20s, way too late to consider doing it as a profession. It seems I had a natural affinity for it and if I had been aware of dance as a viable career choice when I was very young my life might have turned out very differently. But I grew up in a tiny town with no possible exposure to anything like dance classes. Now when I watch dancers in class, rehearsing or performing I am keenly aware that it's probably what I should have been doing all these years.
DG: How did you get started blogging about dance?
PG: Since I was about eleven, I always kept a very detailed diary. For many years it was mainly about the opera performances I attended; when I started going to the ballet I would write about that also. Of course at first I knew nothing about what I was seeing, only that I loved watching people in motion. When I finally moved to NYC in 1998 and began going to dance performances with great frequency, I would write about them on one of the internet dance sites. Meanwhile, Kristin Sloan of the New York City Ballet had started her blog The Winger and I became very intrigued with that. When I got in trouble on the site where I was posting (for being sarcastic!) I was inspired by Kristin to start my own blog. It quickly became far more successful and popular than I ever would have guessed and it has led me to meet several fascinating people in the dance and music world.
DG: How is the glamour of ballet different from (or the same as) the glamour of modern dance? What does glamour mean in each context?
PG: This may seem odd, but I think the glamour of the ballet comes from...toe shoes! Yes, the satiny pointe shoes have their own mystique and give the ballerina an elegance that is quite unique. There are other elements too which make ballet especially glamourous: the beauty of classical port de bras, the traditional style of costuming and make-up, the theatricality of it. Modern dance is usually earthier, sexier and less calculated. Also the music of the classical ballet - Tchaikovsky, Minkus, Adam - already has its own built-in sense of glamour. Modern dance choreographers tend to be far more experimental in terms of musical choices, which can often be very exciting in its own way. In the quest for finding beauty in music and movement, I think the two worlds (ballet vs modern) compliment one another very well.
DG: Onstage, dancers tend to seem quite glamorous. How much do dancers try to maintain their personas offstage? Has that changed over time? Or is it simply a matter of personality?
PG: Offstage, I find most dancers do not cultivate a glamorous image these days. For one thing, many of them are very young and they like to dress and behave like other young people when they are not onstage: meaning ultra-casual dress-down style - which in its way can be attractive. Some of the ballerinas, as they mature and rise to the rank of principal, become more aware of projecting a sophisticated image offstage. When I look at old photos from the Diaghilev era of off-duty dancers in public settings, I feel there was more awareness of creating a persona. It seems to me that during the 60s and 70s there was a concerted effort both in opera and ballet to humanize the performers, to make the public feel that soprano x and ballerina y are just normal folks who happen to be talented in a special way. The high-profile glamour of a Callas or a Markova began to fade. On the other hand, I always feel when I encounter dancers in an offstage setting that they have their own internal element of glamour or elegance which runs deeper than just their clothing, make-up and hairstyle...their talent, passion and commitment give them their own brand of glamour.
DG: Your blog features many compellingly graceful photos of dance performances. Dance is all about movement, but the photos are stills. What makes a good dance photo?
I love still photos of dancers and I've come to know several dance photographers. Many of my favorite dance photographs come from rehearsal or class situations; I have always been intrigued by the process of creating dance and these photos can be very poignant because they show the work behind the finished product. Some of the best dance photographers are dancers themselves: Kyle Froman, Erin Baiano, Matt Murphy. In capturing dance in a still photo, timing is all. To catch the exact moment when a photo will give an illusion of movement must be extremely tricky. Paul Kolnik of New York City Ballet and Erik Tomasson of San Francisco Ballet certainly have the knack, as do several others. I think a good dance photo is one that makes you want to go see the dancer or the work that has been photographed. I spend a lot of time looking at dance photos both in books and on-line, hoping to find pictures that will enhance my blog. The photographers I have dealt with have all been extremely generous; they want their photos to be seen. And of course if you are trying to describe the look and feel of a particular dance piece, a picture is worth a thousand words.
DG: It has been said that part of ballet is creating the illusion of defying gravity, and that in contrast modern dance seems more grounded. Do you agree?
PG: In general, yes, though I seen some high-flying modern dancers and also ballets that seem heavier and more earthbound. Again I must say that it is dancing on pointe that seems the dividing line for me between ballet and modern. Watching the girls defy gravity as they hover and spin on pointe really gives ballet its special quality. It's certainly unnatural, and very intriguing.
DG: You also blog about opera. How does its appeal to you differ from that of ballet or modern dance? What's similar?
PG: I loved opera long before I discovered dance as an art form. Opera was the companion of my dark, unhappy teenage years where I found solace in the passion and beauty of the human voice. The last great heyday of opera in New York (the 1960s thru the mid 1980s) was a thrilling time for me. Going to the opera nowadays can still be exciting but the atmosphere has changed and there are surely far fewer interesting vocal personalities around. Dance I find to be on a steadier trajectory in terms of holding its appeal. For me, everything is emotional. I'm not sure I believe in intellect, really. I simply want to be moved or thrilled by people doing something I cannot do. Both opera and dance can provide this: in a way it's replaced going to church for me. It's spiritually nourishing.
DG: You've written a couple of recent posts about bad audience behavior at both ballets and operas--all sorts of things that break the spell for others. What do you think is going on? Has a substantial portion of the audience stopped seeing the performance as an immersive experience?
PG: Ah, my pet peeve...bad manners at the theatre! I should not get started on this but in brief I believe that the performing arts have simply become too accesible. Yes, I'm a snob. I do not think one can go to the opera or ballet casually, just to be entertained, as one might go to a film or a sports event. Of course the opera and ballet companies need to bring in new audiences but with that goes the need for people to learn how to behave. It's hard for me to imagine people paying money and making the effort to attend and then squandering the opportunity by talking, eating, checking the cellphone. It seems that people are too self-absorbed, too accustomed to being spoon-fed their 'culture' without making any real effort to connect with music or dance beyond the surface realities. Opera and dance can still be immersive, but the viewer must be willing to be immersed. That means being attentive and putting aside other concerns and distractions while the performance goes forward. In general I think many people have simply never been taught how to behave in such a setting; I learned how to sit still and be attentive by being taken to church for many years by my parents. What it comes down to is: common courtesy. That seems to be a forgotten concept.
Photo by Kyle Froman of New York City Ballet. Used with permission.
DG: Do you find that the audience for dance dresses more casually now than when you first started attending? Do audiences for ballet tend to dress differently than audiences for modern dance?
DG: Yes, things are far more casual now in terms of dress but I do not think that being well-dressed necessarily enhances one's enjoyment of the performance. However, it does make the event more 'special' in a way. Both ballet and modern dance audiences tend to dress for comfort mainly - gala nights aside, of course.
PG: Since you have been following dance for some time, do you sometimes find that a change of performers seems to change the content (meaning) of a dance (even when the choreography remains essentially the same)? If so, does this change of meaning surprise you? How do you react to it?
PG: I have always loved to see (dance) and hear (opera) many different intrepretations of a given work. It's exhilirating to find a dancer giving a new slant to a familiar piece and I always find it intriguing how even a change of one dancer in a cast of - say - twenty can alter the tone of a ballet. In the world of Balanchine's ballets, where I spend so much time, self-styled purists often get upset when they feel the boundaries of a given work are being pushed by a given dancer. My feeling is that only Mr. B could say if something was right or wrong, and everything I have read about him makes me feel he would always have been open to a fresh approach. (I also get the feeling he was far more adaptable about altering steps for individual dancers in a given ballet than his advocates today are...he never seemed to me to be writing in stone.) What keeps ballet alive is the ever-changing casting as the years pass by...so that Mozartiana for instance never became 'fossilized' for me in Suzanne Farrell's interpretation but rather I looked forward to dancers like Kyra Nichols, Miranda Weese and Wendy Whelan dancing it...and whoever will dance it next! It's almost like a new ballet every time. For me, that's the best tribute to Balanchine's genius: it's the music that we are seeing and the dancer is the vessel.
DG: Can you say what is it about ballet and modern dance that can bring you back to see works performed more than once? Do you have any thoughts on what makes dance so compelling to you?
If I like a ballet or dance work, I will want to see it dozens and dozens of times. Invariably it is the music that is the primary appeal of a piece. Some works - like Balanchine's Serenade or Tudor's Jardin Aux Lilas - are like a drug: you feel an urgent need to see them whenever they are on offer. I like to be moved, to weep and be transported by the music and by the beauty and poetry of the human body in motion. Dance is very sustaining and elevating for the human spirit; in a way, dance and music are my religion.
The DG Dozen
1) How do you define glamour? Elegance and self-assurance.
2) Who or what is your glamorous icon? Maria Callas