Louise Dahl Wolfe

Liz Gibbons as photographer, 1938

"Although Louise planned every picture meticulously, her photographs look like she just serendipitously chose the perfect moment to snap the girl with her scarf blowing in the wind. They were more like stories than portraits." —Valerie Steele        

Suzy Parker in Dior Hat, Tuileries, Paris, 1950
I came across Louise Dahl Wolfe's work whilst looking at her fashion photography as she worked in the hey day of Harper's Bazaar and was one of the most celebrated photographers of the 30s, 40s and 50s. I am using her as a source of inspiration in this project because I came across some portrait photographs of hers in the book 'Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A Photographer's Scrapbook', that I felt would be particularly relevant for the kinds of portraits I want to take during this portraiture project. 

Dahl Wolfe influenced the likes of Richard Avedon and Irving Penn and was one of the first to master colour photography and use daylight for fashion photography. She brought a new vision informed by her own fine art studies, to the stilted European photography at that time. With her relaxed and empowering fashion portraits of women; often relaxed and reclining. 

As I have only looked at studio photographers so far it was really interesting for me to look at Dahl Wolfe's work as she made brilliant use of natural lighting to create portraits that feel more informal and intimate. I love her work because she captures a real sense of character in her fashion models and even though the images are of an editorial/commercial nature, there is a real sense of modesty in these photographs that I think allows women to get something more out of these images. Rather than just gazing in awe at the kind of intimidating, rigid beauty that was the focus of much of the other European distributed fashion portraits of that time. 

The work of Louise Dahl Wolfe's that I really want to use as inspiration for this project is her portraits of designers such as Christian Dior and Coco Chanel. As they are really beautiful environmental portraits that show the depth and personalities, of the faces behind these heavyweight designer labels. These observed, environmental portraits I think are particularly special because although meticulously planned out, the images often seem like candids capturing perfectly a revealing moment that has occurred.     

Like in Yousuf Karsh's photographs of artists, the environments framed with the subjects in these portraits serve to add more to the sense of their personality and character that we get in viewing these portraits of them. These photographs like in Dahl Wolfe's fashion portraits have a more earthly, natural feel about them with a real sense of fluidity in how the subjects are composed within the image. Giving us this impression of seeing a moment of activity captured in the subject, rather than them having posed for any amount of time for the shot. Which I think is an incredibly quality to achieve in a photograph. 

Looking at Louis Dahl Wolfe's work has really inspired me to think more about how I can make use of naturally lit environments in my own photographs to really inform more about my subjects in my portraits. Her work has also given me more to think about in terms of representing my subjects, as I really admire the kind of sensibility she had in her approach to taking her photographs, in rejecting the kind of fantasy that surrounded the aesthetics of formal portrait and fashion photography at that time. 

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