Photographs with or without a Story, like The Critic, Dovima with Elephants & Mainbocher Corset

23 Mar

The Critic by Weegee

The Critic

by Weegee

Originally titled The Fashionable People, this photograph is not the  journalistic coup it appears to be, but rather a setup planned in advance by the  photographer, Arthur H. Fellig, nicknamed Weegee.

On opening night at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1943 — the 60th  anniversary of the company and thus its Diamond Jubilee — Weegee sent an  assistant to Sammy’s Bar in the Bowery to pick up the drunken woman shown at  right. Weegee positioned himself for the picture as the woman encountered Mrs.  George Washington Kavanaugh and Lady Decies, two well-known art patrons often  featured in New York society pages. The setup is typical of the photographer,  who was enamored with stark juxtapositions of rich and poor, young and old, dead  and living.

The Critic, 1943.  Mrs Cavanaugh and friend entering the opera.The original photograph which was cropped later.

The picture, bearing the title The Fashionable People, was first published in Life magazine on December 03, 1943. It was renamed The  Critic in Weegee’s book The Naked City (1945).



Yves Saint-Lauren Outside Church Where Dior’s Funeral Was Held

by Loomis Dean, 1957

Yves saint LaurentA young man with the weight of the world on his shoulders



Dovima with Elephants

by Richard Avedon, 1955

Dovima by Avedon

When it took place, New York-born Avedon was 32 and had been a professional  photographer for ten years. He had been recruited to work as a staff  photographer for Harper’s Bazaar in1945 soon after completing his military  service, by the influential art director Alexey Brodovitch. Avedon, with his  enthusiasm, inventiveness and instinctive visual flair, soon established himself  as a significant new voice in fashion photography.
Although most  conventional fashion images after the Second World War were shot in the studio, Avedon often created his images outside, posing his models in streets, cafés and  casinos. Influenced by the Hungarian photographer Martin Munkacsi, he rejected  conventional static poses and instead pictured the models in motion and using  expressive gestures. The model chosen for the Cirque d’hiver shoot was  known as Dovima. Her real name was Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba, but she  created her professional name from the first two letters in her three given  names. Tall and slender, Dovima epitomised 1950s style and was said to be one of  the highest-paid models of the period. She and Avedon often worked  together and Dovima later commented that the two of them ‘became like mental  Siamese twins, with me knowing what he wanted before he explained it. He asked  me to do extraordinary things, but I always knew I was going to be part of a  great picture.’ For this particular Harper’s Bazaar shoot, Dovima was asked to  pose close to four circus elephants. The shoot took place on a hot summer’s day. Avedon later recalled that when he entered the area where the elephants were kept, he saw that the animals were beautifully lit by natural light. ‘I saw the elephants  under an enormous skylight and in a second I knew… there was the potential here  for a kind of dream image.’
Richard Avedon
Richard Avedon, selfportrait
In the most famous image from the shoot,  Dovima is shown in an ankle-length black evening gown with a white sash. It was  the first dress designed for Dior by his 19-year-old assistant, Yves  Saint-Laurent. Although the elephants each had one foot chained to the floor,  they were still potentially dangerous and Dovima had to hold her nerve as they  moved restlessly behind her. She is shown striking a graceful, narcissistic  pose, her eyes almost closed, with one hand resting on an elephant’s trunk.  The picture has become iconic for a number of reasons. First, it’s almost  surreal juxtaposition of the model and elephants is visually arresting and  unexpected, combining fantasy and reality. Second, it is beautifully lit and  elegantly posed. Finally, the picture represents a contrast of opposites: youth  and age, strength and frailty, grace and awkwardness, freedom and captivity. The  picture’s rich combination of qualities elevates it beyond the standard fashion  image and into the realm of high art.
Avedon’s photograph was considered  revolutionary when first published in Harper’s Bazaar in September 1955. It was  shown as part of a 14-page report on the latest Paris fashions, together with  another picture of Dovima posing with the elephants. In the second picture, she  was in a white dress with long black gloves. This latter image, however, lacks  the impact of the first and is rarely printed; Avedon stated that the negative  of this image ‘disappeared mysteriously.’
Dovima by Avedon
Avedon went on to become one of  America’s most celebrated and influential photographers, particularly for his  fashion and portraiture, and was still creating new work up to his death at the  age of 81 in 2004. Dovima, however, was less fortunate. After her modelling  career ended she appeared in a few minor film roles before ending her working  life employed as a pizza restaurant hostess. She died in 1990, aged 62. ‘She was  the last of the great elegant, aristocratic beauties,’ said Avedon, ‘the most  remarkable and unconventional beauty of her time.’
‘Dovima with  Elephants’ is widely regarded as one of the most iconic fashion photograph of  the 20th century. Avedon recognised its importance and displayed a large print  of the image in the entrance to his studio for more than 20 years. He  nevertheless remained unsatisfied with it. ‘I look at that picture to this day  and I don’t know why I didn’t have the sash blowing out to the left, to complete  the line of the picture,’ he said late in life. ‘The picture will always be a  failure to me because that sash isn’t out there.’ 
info Dovima with Elephants:

Lisa Fonssagrives on the Eiffel Tower

by Erwin Blumenfeld, 1939

Erwin BlumenfeldErwin Blumenfeld’s original set of photos featuring Lisa Fonssagrives swinging from the girders of the Eiffel Tower in a Lucien Lelong dress appeared in May 1939 Vogue.



Mainbocher Corset

by Horst P. Horst, 1939

Horst P. Horst

In August 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, Horst P. Horst (called a master of dramatic lighting ) took his famous photograph of the Mainbocher Corset in the Paris Vogue studios on the Champs-Elysees. The picture, which marked the end of his work for some time, later became his most cited fashion photograph.

Many consider the photograph to be Horst P. Horst’s best work, an opinion that the photographer himself would probably agree with, for otherwise, how is one to explain that he chose the motif almost as a matter of course for the cover of his autobiography Horst – His Work and His World? 

Lucile Brokaw on Long Island Beach' by Martin MunkácsiLucile Brokaw on Long Island Beach' by Martin Munkácsi, 1933


Horst P. Horst photographed his Mainbocher Corset in the studios of the Paris Vogue in 1939. Only a few years earlier, Martin Munkacsi had let a model in light summer clothing and bathing shoes run along the dunes of a beach – freedom, adventure, summertime, sun, air, movement, sporty femininity – all caught by a photographic technique schooled in photojournalism. Munkacsi’s picture, first published in the December 1935 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, caused a sensation. Munkacsi photographed with a Leica, and the photographer moved to keep up with the moving object. Horst in contrast favored the large camera mounted on a stand and a focusing screen that allowed him to calculate his photograph down to the last detail. In other words, Horst sought to produce elegance as the outgrowth of intuition and hard work. How long did he pull at the bands, turn and twirl them, until they arrived at the right balance on an imaginary scale between insignificance and the determining factor in the picture! Occasionally he spoke of “a little mess” that he carefully incorporated into his pictures. 

Horst P. HorstPortrait of Horst P. Horst, by Cecil Beaton

Horst had photographed his famous study on the very eve of the coming catastrophe. “It was the last photograph I took in Paris before the war”, he later recalled, “I left the studio at 4:00 a.m., went back to the house, picked up my bags and caught the 7.00 a.m. train to Le Havre to board the Normandie. We all felt that war was coming. Too much armament, too much talk. And you knew that whatever happened, life would be completely different after. I had found a family in Paris and a way of life. The clothes, the books, the apartment, everything left behind. I had left Germany, George (Hoyningen-Huene, chief of photography of the French Vogue, who, in 1931 met Horst, the future photographer, who became his lover and frequent model) had left Russia, and now we experienced the same kind of loss all over again. This photograph is peculiar – for me, it is the essence of that moment. While I was taking it, I was thinking of all that I was leaving behind.” 

info the Mainbocher Corset:

Men at Lunch

by  Charles Clyde Ebbets / unknown, 1932

men at lunch, charles c. Ebbets

A famous black-and-white photograph taken during construction of the RCA Building (renamed the GE Building in 1988) at Rockefeller Center .

The photograph depicts eleven men eating lunch, seated on a girder with their feet dangling 256 meters (840 feet) above the New York City streets. The men have no safety harness, which was linked to the Great Depression, when people were willing to take any job regardless of safety issues. They probably had a plank floor just some meters below them. The photo was taken on September 20, 1932 on the 69th floor of the RCA Building during the last months of construction. According to archivists, the photo was in fact prearranged. Although the photo shows real construction workers, it is believed that the moment was staged by the Rockefeller Center to promote its new skyscraper. The photo appeared in the Sunday photo supplement of the New York Herald Tribune on October 2. The glass negative is now owned by Corbis who acquired it from the Acme Newspictures archive in 1995.

Formerly attributed to “unkown”, it has been credited to Charles C. Ebbets since 2003 and erroneously to Lewis Hine. The Corbis corporation is now officially returning its status to unknown although sources continue to credit Ebbets.

Resting on a Girder. by Charles Glyde EbbetsResting on a Girder by Charles C. Ebbets/ unknown

The same day, just a few hours later the photographer takes another picture at the same location, only this time the men on the girder are taking a break and resting.


Documentary: Men at Lunch


Taken in September 1932 during the construction of Rockefeller Center, the iconic image speaks to the American dream and the immigrant experience at the height of the Depression, with daredevil workers at ease in their natural habitat, 800 feet above the street. This 2012 documentary zooms in on the hugely popular picture, whose actual photographer and subjects remain a mystery. New research yields clues to their possible identities, though the universal nature of the image is such that many are inclined to believe their father or uncle is one of the fearless workers. As one scribe wrote, they “lived on the thin edge of nothingness.” Two percent of skyscraper construction workers died on the job, the film says, or an average of one man for every 10 floors. And yet despite the daily danger, the jobs were coveted because of their high wages at a time when work was scarce. The film defends the photo against claims that it is a fake, though it probably was staged, the film concedes. But that doesn’t detract from its authenticity. It’s one of those rare photos in which everything comes together, making it work on every level. Though this film is only 67 minutes, it does start to feel a little padded near the end, but it’s still a fascinating study of a uniquely American tableau.



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