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21/04/2016

A Legendary Fashion Photographer, Revisited

photos:marieprom

When the photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe was hired at Harper’s Bazaar in 1936, fashion photography as we think of it today hardly existed. As she recalled years later, at the beginning of her career “there weren’t really fashion photographers, just artists like Steichen, who just happened to do fashion photography.” Dahl-Wolfe worked as a principal photographer at Bazaar — alongside its editor in chief Carmel Snow, the art director Alexey Brodovich and fashion editor Diana Vreeland — for 22 years, and played a large role in redefining the form: pioneering a shift away from stiff society portraits to a more natural and relaxed style of photography.

A new book, out this month from Aperture, provides a comprehensive look at the influential photographer’s work. The daughter of Norwegian immigrants, Dahl-Wolfe grew up in San Francisco. Initially, she hoped to become a painter; she studied design, composition and art history at the San Francisco Institute of Art. Though she abandoned painting after an instructor reportedly called her work “the essence of superficiality,” she wrote in her 1984 autobiography, “The Photographer’s Scrapbook,” that much of her success as a photographer was thanks to her training. In particular, her studies in color theory served her well: Dahl-Wolfe distinguished herself as one of the first photographers at ease working with color film. “From the moment I saw her first color photograph, I knew that the Bazaar was at last going to look the way I had instinctively wanted my magazine to look,” Snow later wrote.

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Dahl-Wolfe took up photography after meeting Anne W. Brigman, an early member of the Photo-Secession group. She worked as an interior designer for a few years in New York before setting off on a trip across Europe and North Africa — where she met her future husband, the American painter and sculptor Mike Wolfe. In 1933, the couple moved to New York, where Dahl-Wolfe worked briefly as a food photographer for Woman’s Home Companion before she started shooting for Saks Fifth Avenue and Bonwit Teller.

During her tenure at Harper’s Bazaar, Dahl-Wolfe shot 86 covers for the magazine — including, in 1943, the 17-year-old model Betty Bacall, who was subsequently discovered by the film director Howard Hawks, who changed her name to Lauren and cast her in “To Have and Have Not” alongside Humphrey Bogart. But, as Ginia Bellafante wrote on the occasion of a Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology retrospective in 2000, it was the sense of “languorous sexuality” that set Dahl-Wolfe’s images apart. With women becoming increasingly more independent and active, styles were more casual and comfortable too, and Dahl-Wolfe’s images — often shot in far-flung locations including Tunisia, Cuba, Spain and the California desert, featuring women reclining and relaxing — captured the new sensibility. “Independent, witty and self-aware, allowing herself one outfit a year from the Paris fashion shows,” John P. Jacob, a curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, writes of the photographer in “Louise Dahl-Wolfe,” “she did not so much discover the new American style as she embodied it.”

Read more:http://www.marieprom.co.uk