There’s something about those early Hollywood images. They are black and white, and relatively low-grade when compared to the HD images of today, yet still they seem alive with color and life. This ‘color’ is largely down to the efforts of two people; two out-of-towners from Ohio and New York respectively, whose names still loom large over the legacy of 1930s Hollywood. They are George
Hurrell and Ruth Harriet Louise. Without them the modern glamour photography industry would be nothing.
Both Hurrell and Louise arrived in California in 1925 to find a Hollywood in transition. Advances in technology were paving the way for better quality pictures – both in the sense of feature films and in promotional photography – and Al Jolson’s groundbreaking “talkie,” "The Jazz Singer,” was just around the corner. Over the next 15 years, these two were responsible for some of the best known images of the day – images whose power and magic has endured over the years. Tragically, Ruth Harriet Louise died from complications relating to the birth of her child in 1940, while Hurrell continued to work in Hollywood,
off and on, for another four decades.
The images that the pair took of stars like Ann Sheridan, Olivia de Havilland, Greta Garbo and Marion Davies truly capture the zeitgeist of Hollywood in the 1920s and ‘30s, and are, in some part, responsible for our modern perception of that golden period of American cinema.
The Vision of Hurrell and Louise
The true genius of George Hurrell and Ruth Harriet Louise lay in their vision, and in their ability to give true beauty a platform from which it could shine. As the careers of Louise and Hurrell developed, America fell into the grips of The Great Depression; employment fell, banks foreclosed on mortgages and a solemn cloud of gloom fell upon the United States. Hollywood provided the antidote to this, and the movie producers and portrait photographers of the day set about creating ideals, creating escapist paeans that movie-lovers could take inspiration from.
Hurrell and Louise recognized this. They captured images that elevated movie stars above the level of humanity, turning them into symbols of perfection around which people could build hope. What had begun as a medium for packaging motion pictures and movie stars as saleable commodities became something more than this; it became a way to convince the citizens of the United States that there was still hope, there would still be a tomorrow and that there still would be a future after that. In a very real sense, glamour photography had taken on a wholly new element of social importance.