By Bill Dobbins
In the 19030s, and 1940s there was no television and certainly no Internet. Lots of people read magazines but almost everybody went to the movies. During the Depression, when times were hard, taking our mind off your troubles by going to a movie cost only a few cents. As a result, movie stars were pretty much the most famous and often admired people in the world.
Hollwyood did all it could to encourage this kind of popularity with lots of publicity, fan clubs and magazines and articles and photographs created by the studios to call attention to the stars and promote their images.
One of the best tools they had available to do this was a photographer named George Hurrell. Hurrell’s studio portraits were classic, dramatic and iconic. He shot on large format BW negatives, using studio lights (this was before the age of strobes). The stars he photographed came to trust him so completely that some of the women would show up without make up and Hurrell would retouch the negatives with lead pencils in order to “paint in” make up. Photoshop before the age of photoshop and without resorting to airbrushing.
In the late 1920s, Hurrell was introduced to the actor Ramon Novarro and arranged to photograph him. Navarro was a major movie actor and starred in the 1925 silent version of Ben Hur. According to Wikipedia, actress Norma Shearer, another major star, who was attempting to mould her wholesome image into something more glamorous and sophisticated, saw the photos and asked Hurrell to photograph her in poses more provocative than her fans had seen before.
Her husband was MGM production chief Irving Thalberg, Thalberg loved the results and signed Hurrell to a contract with MGM Studios, making him head of the portrait photography department.
But in 1932, Hurrell left MGM after differences with their publicity head, and from then on until 1938 ran his own studio at 8706 Sunset Boulevard.
“In the early 1940s,” according to Wikipedia, “Hurrell moved to Warner Brothers Studios photographing, among others Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Ida Lupino, Alexis Smith, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney. Later in the decade he moved to Columbia Pictures where his photographs were used to help the studio build the career of Rita Hayworth.”
In the 1950s, Hollywood was no longer relying on stylized portraits any more and Hurrell’s work was no longer sought after. He moved to New York City and began shooting more for fashion and advertising. But some years later he began shooting movie stars again and his work was in demand for album covers in the music business. But looked at in retrospect his style of glamour portrait photography looks more and more impressive, not only as great publicity photos but outstanding art as well.
In this age of digital photos, smart phones, Instagram and Snap Chat, with photos becoming more and more disposable, it may be time to consider a return to perfect, highly produced portraits like those of George Hurrell to get images noticed, rise up above the noise and capture the minds and attention of viewers.
For information regarding prints or licensing, here is a link:
Here is a BIO OF GEORGE HURRELL from his website.
Bill Dobbins is a pro photographer located in Los Angeles. He is a veteran photographer and videographer who has exhibited his fine art in two museums and a number of galleries and who has published eight books, including two fine art photo books: