Constructing Glamour: The Sequel

Thanks to everyone who commented on my original Constructing Glamour post with the Toni Frissell photos. These two were the favorites, both among commenters and people I happened to talk to.

Glamour exists in the audience's mind, so there's no right or wrong answer. But I believe the evening shot on the right is by far the most compelling of the group.



As the comments made clear, having a pretty model in a luxurious outfit isn't enough to create the magical quality called glamour. Glamour must invite the viewer into a special world, one that holds the promise of escape and transformation. In both these photos, the model seems to be in such a world. In both, she appears graceful and self-contained, also qualities that create glamour.

But the lighting in the evening shot adds drama and mystery. In the daylight shot, the dress looks heavy and a bit dull and wrinkled. In the evening shot, it glistens, and its weight is less obvious, enhancing the model's grace. As commenter Irene noted, the photo's glamour comes in part from the allure of light and shine. That allure is not just glitz, however. Shadow and contrast are just as important. To see the shimmer of the dress, you need the shadows. Similarly, the distant obelisk is more compelling in the evening shot. In contrast to the flat form in the daytime, light and shadow play on the shaft as it rises from the trees, and its tip glints with just a spot of light.

As commenter DMC noted, in the daytime shot the model does have an appealingly confident "queen of her empire" quality. I prefer the more contemplative evening shot, with its active hands and hint of yearning. But what really makes the difference between the two is not the central figure but the background: the enticingly illuminated monument, lights on the opposite shore, and a barely seen boat sculling along the river. (You have to look at the large version of the shot to see it.) The scene shimmers with possibility.