Exhibit | August 26, 2011

Silver Screen/Silver Prints: Hollywood Glamour Portraits at the Grolier Club

From September 14  through November 12, 2011, The Grolier Club presents an exhibition of vintage Hollywood photography tracing the careers of the leading photographers and many of the great stars of the “Golden Age” of motion pictures. Silver Screen/Silver Prints is drawn from the collection of Grolier Club member Robert Dance and curated by Anne H. Hoy. The works on display are shown together for the first time.

Silver Screen/Silver Prints presents Hollywood’s invention of the glamour portrait. The photographs in the exhibit demonstrate the centrality of studio portraits to the film industry’s star-making apparatus, especially in the two decades before the Second World War and, most notably at MGM—which boasted “more stars than there are in the heavens.” The exhibition is divided into ten parts, each dedicated to a single photographer, star, or theme.  

Cases devoted to studio photographers George Hurrell, Clarence Sinclair Bull, and Ruth Harriet Louise demonstrate their distinctive styles and chart the evolution from soft-focus Pictorialism to sculptured modernist glamour.  Luminous portrayals of Garbo, Crawford, and Ramon Novarro give audiences the chance to see how the portrait camera lens shaped their most enduring images.  Thematic displays focus on Hollywood fashion as promoted by photography and on the development of the discernible Paramount Studios house style.  The final section is devoted to Elizabeth Taylor, the last great star of the Hollywood studio system, who used photography strategically to guide an upward trajectory from her early days as a child actress to her long reign as an international superstar.

The photographs exhibited are all original silver prints, mostly 11 x 14 inches, and printed by or under the supervision of the photographer.  Examining these first-generation photographs reveals at times subtle, and sometimes quite dramatic, uses of sepia and black and white contrasts.  These beautiful rich tonalities are unfamiliar to most viewers, since they are lost in later printings in which many generations separate mass-marketed images from the originals.  To further illuminate the creative process, the exhibition includes a selection of original 8 x 10-inch camera negatives and master prints made from these negatives.

The studio portrait was the first step in the evolution of the star.  Long before a hopeful actor was given a screen test, portraits were taken to determine the camera appeal of new faces.  Once a player had appeared successfully on screen, the portrait photographer set about developing and refining an image that could be translated to the screen for public consumption.   In her American screen debut, Garbo triumphed with audiences as no other new actress has done before or since.  But it was Ruth Harriet Louise, behind the scenes in the MGM portrait studio, who molded Garbo’s persona.  The movies may have made the stars, but still photographs made them icons.

Leveraging the skillfully developed images, the studios distributed portraits widely to keep fans enthralled by their screen favorites.  Fan magazines, the most widely disseminated periodicals of the Roaring Twenties and the Depression Thirties, competed for the best new pictures of top-grossing stars.  Behind full-color covers painted from glamour photographs, these magazines delivered the stars’ images to an eager public and, indeed, into popular culture.  Many of the photographs displayed in Silver Screen/Silver Prints were used for reproduction in fan magazines—as evident in selected magazines on view.

Early stars range from Albert Witzel’s Theda Bara for Cleopatra, 1917, and Alfred Cheney Johnston’s ex-Ziegfield Girl Flapper-era Mae Murray, to James Abbe’s “candid” of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks as Hollywood royalty on vacation in Paris, c. 1925.  Joan Crawford appears with Robert Montgomery by Ruth Harriet Louise, 1929, and with the Barrymore brothers by Hurrell in Grand Hotel, 1935. In two photographs by Clarence S. Bull, Clark Gable embraces Jean Harlow in Saratoga, 1936, and succumbs to Lana Turner in Honky Tonk, 1940. Portraits of Elizabeth Taylor by Milton Greene and Cecil Beaton climax the survey. As vamp yields to flapper and blonde bombshell and then to the last Cleopatra, Silver Screen/Silver Prints sketches evolving ideas of glamour—revealing that these stars and their gifted photographers were always ready for their close-up.

LOCATION AND TIME: Silver Screen/Silver Prints will be on view at the Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, New York, from Sept. 14 -Nov. 12, 2011, with the exception of October 10, when the Club is closed. The exhibit will be open to the public free of charge, Monday - Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Additional information and directions are available at www.grolierclub.org.  

CATALOGUE: A fully-illustrated catalog of Silver Screen/Silver Prints, with contributions by Robert Dance and Anne H. Hoy, will be available at the Grolier Club.

Dec. 7, 2011 - Feb. 4, 2012. Printing for Kingdom, Empire, and Republic: Treasures from the Archives of the Imprimerie Nationale

Visit the Grolier Club website: www.grolierclub.org

Contact: Megan Smith