In 1925 George Hurrell left his Midwestern Catholic upbringing behind and moved to Laguna Beach, California, to study landscape painting. He fell in love with photography while taking snapshots of landscapes to use as inspiration for future paintings. Hurrell gained a reputation among friends as a photographer who could make anyone beautiful. Through word-of-mouth endorsements among Southern California’s elite, Hurrell spent years illuminating the glamour that existed within his subjects. In doing so, he contributed to the formation of an archetype for glamour that required white skin.
Hurrell accepted a position at MGM in 1929 as a portrait photographer. His images were used to advertise the studio’s blockbuster films. These photographs circulated widely in advertising, fashion, and media and played a major role in defining the visual markers of glamour. He photographed some of the most famous Hollywood actresses of the day, including Rita Hayworth, Jean Harlow, and Marlene Dietrich. Although the portraits were staged and therefore inherently unrealistic, women across the country strove to obtain the perfectly curled and silky hair, daring eyes, flawless makeup on porcelain skin, and impeccable style of the photographer’s sitters. However, the prototype for glamour that Hurrell popularized was not one that could be easily replicated, especially for women of color. The selection of black portraiture in this exhibition demonstrates that for black women, glamour is constructed within a diverse culture and is not defined by an outdated template based in whiteness.
From the exhibition: New Ms. Thang (May 4 – May 18, 2019)