This photo appeared in Glamour Magazine on April 1, 1952. The eleven models clothed in varying shades of green strike poses of unstudied relaxation. Each woman is a separate entity but together, they create an impression of arrested action, like they are caught in a New York moment. In some ways, the set resembles a pre-war grande dame Upper East Side apartment stoop, complete with pigeons.
Before kids, I worked in fashion and we only ever shot one or two models at a time. It was never easy. So this photo floored me. Eleven models! Imagine trying to take test shots. And what about the complexity of the lighting? Every face is beautifully lit. And the details in the set amaze me. Look at the moss affixed to the door molding!
Also, fashion photography is so easy to date. Aside from the telltale clothing, the hair and make-up (eyebrows!) are usually dead giveaways. Yet this photo is notably modern. Its style is true to its era, yes, and we can't deny that some elements in the pic are definitely 2016 of-the-moment. (The model in the upper right corner wearing a hoodie and lace-up flats, right?) But the timeless appeal of the shot stems from the tight yet informal composition, the texture balanced with color, the symmetry between the outfits and the accessories on the set -- it all looks so fresh. I had to know more about the person who took this photo.
Her name was Frances McLaughlin-Gill and she was the first woman photographer offered a contract with Vogue Magazine. She was born in 1919 and both she and her twin sister, Kathryn, played around with cameras as children. Together, the sisters enrolled at the Pratt Institute where they both chose to study photography. Both sisters ended up working as fashion photographers and both married photographers. Later in life, they produced a book called Twins on Twins.
McLaughlin-Gill joined Conde Nast during a period of time when women were in front of the lens, not behind it. From her point of view, which is visible in all of her photographs, women were not mannequins to be posed in starched dresses and lacquered hair. She broke away from the tradition of shooting in aristocratic settings and instead chose gritty street scenes and urban environments. She liked hiring models who could act and she captured them in situ, like real women paused in the act of living a normal life.
McLaughlin-Gill died in 2014 at the age of 95. With her death came a renewed interest in her timeless photos. This photo certainly inspired me! Here are some behind-the-scenes photos taken that day by Eliot Elisofon for Life Magazine. I got a kick out of imagining Frances, out of the frame, watching as a group of male assistants diligently worked to help her vision come to life. That was a switch in 1952!
You can purchase a copy of the photograph here.
What makes something timeless? It is an elusive quality, but it is exactly what I seek for Finder Not Keeper. To say something is timeless does not mean that it has no place in time or history. But its essence remains visible and compelling despite the nostalgic baggage attached.
The following are new in the shop, and I had Frances McLaughlin-Gill's photograph in my head when I purchased them. Click on each photo for shopping information.
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