advertising photography in vogue magazine -1930.pdf
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RI ichard Avedon's first published photographsadver-Itisements for New York's Bonwit Teller department storeappeared in Vogue in late 1944 and 1945. From that one clientand that one important magazine, his commercial reputation(and income) quickly soared. Avedon's success has additionalsignificance when viewed against the work of others whosephotographs also appeared in the ad pages of Vogue, such asGjon Mili, George Hoyningen-Huene, and George Platt Lynes,whose art images are part of the canon but whose commercialwork has been lost. Similarly, advertising work by Horst P. Horst,Erwin Blumenfeld, and Diane and Allan Arbus, all featured inVogue, is often talked about, but rarely seen.
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Each issue of Vogue opened with several dozen pages of ads;nearly the same number of editorial pages followed; a backsection printed ads and text side by side. In effect, at midcentury(from the 1930s to the 1950s) Vogue published two magazinesback to back: the first was filled with pictures of dresses, shoes,coats, furs, stockings, makeup, and even cars you could buy. Thefollowing pages showed new fashions from Paris and New York,alongside articles on beauty, travel, art, and good living. (The ratiohas changed in the intervening years: according to the marketingfirm Fast Horse, of the September 2011 Vogue's 758 pages, 584were adsthat is, around 75 percent of the issue.)
Given the importance that magazines played in the history oftwentieth-century photography, it is remarkable how little we knowabout these ad images. Before the 1970s, modernist art history'sproscriptions kept anything commercial or colorful out of the canon(for many years color photography was closely associated withcommerce). Today's liberal art marketplace has made nearly allphotographs valuableas long they can hang on a wall. But theephemeral nature of magazine advertisements, which appearedonly on the printed page, makes them unreliable exhibition material,with little value to dealers and collectors. Historians of photographyhave to scramble for sources: until the late twentieth century.
Magazine, 1930s-1950sphotographers suppressed attention to their commercial efforts,believing that only unpaid, personal work had lasting value.^
Yet from a practical point of view, commercial photographs are themost important of all, because they pay for everything else. In 1960,cultural historian Raymond Williams called advertising "the officialart of modern capitalist society. . . . It commands the services ofperhaps the largest organized body of writers and artists, with theirattendant managers and advisers, in the whole society."^
Among those "managers and advisers" were the many art directorswho wielded influence throughout the magazine industry. None hadmore power than Alexander Liberman, who learned his trade inParis in the 1920s and '30s at Vu magazine, pioneering journal ofthe illustrated press, then started at Vogue in 1941, was appointedart director in 1943, and would serve as editorial director of CondeNastfrom 1962 until his retirement in 1994. During his long tenure,
THIS PAGE: Riciiard Avedon, advertisement for Swansdown, Vogue,September 1 , 1955; OPPOSITE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT:Richard Avedon, advertisement for Warner's corselettes. Vogue,August 1 ,1956 ; John Rawlings, advertisement for Enka Rayon, Vogue,February 1 , 1 9 5 1 ; George Platt Lynes, advertisement for Henri Bendel,Vogue, September 1 , 1948; Richard Avedon, advertisement forMiron Woolens, Vogue, August 1 5 , 1 9 5 3 .
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Liberman kept all the magazines up to date, but neverlet the visual focus of the editorial pages stray fromthe content his readers had paid to see. At Vogue,every feature, from Irving Penn's studio photographsof haute couture to Frances McLaughlin-Gill'ssportswear shots made on a plantation, preservedthe illusion that readers were staring through atransparent wall at a world that looked remarkablyreal. As writer Dawn Powell acidly observed in1963, Vogue had one overriding function: "to providedelicious discontent. Here is what other peoplehave and you haven't; here is where some go andnever you. Here is the lovely land of never, andyou may dream of it, but that's all."='
Overall, Vogue's advertising carried far morevariety and more innovation than its editorial section.Throughout the 1940s ad pages included work byartists such as Salvador Dal, Christian Brard, andRen Bouch. Cultural taboos challenged artists and photographersto sell brassieres, girdles, and negligees without inspiring the "wrong"kind of desire. Vogue staff photographers, such as John Rawlings,Toni Frisseil, and even Penn, made plenty of ads, adhering to editorialrulesa useful strategy for advertisers, who could be confident thattheir pages would compete successfully with editorial for viewers'attention. And ads from department stores, fabric companies andmanufacturers, and dress manufacturers show that advertisers usedVogue to reach the whole garment trade, not just retail customers.Vogue's ad pages also featured work by Harper's Bazaar staffmembers, such as Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Lillian Bassman.
Familiar styles stand out. Mili applied multiple exposures to adsfor Saks Fifth Avenue. Dayton's of Minneapolis bought Blumenfelddouble spreads that required readers to physically rotate themagazine into a long vertical. Frissell photographed her friends forGarfinkel's in Washington, D.C. Lynes's surrealist-inflected imagesappeared for years at the opening of Vogue as full-page ads for NewYork department stores such as Henri Bendel, Bergdorf Goodman,and Bonwit's (before Avedon took that client away). Using stark,surreal settings he delivered surprising images with the freedomand implausibility of dreams.
Even in such sophisticated company, Avedon's originality comesthrough. Every frame is tense with contrast between dark andlight, slim and full, real and artificial. Most notably, his modelsare not actors behind glass. They occupy a different world, whereit's always breezy, and there's always something going onlike aman outside the frame reaching in to hand a woman flowers. Thisworld is a frank fantasy, but the price of entry is within reach j^ustbuy a dress made of Enka Rayon. (Or buy one for your customersto find at the store.)
Access to this material has just grown much easier. In late 2011Conde Nast launched a digital archive of Vogue. They scanned morethan four hundred thousand pages, every issue from 1892 to today,and cataloged them using information from the original imagesand captions; you can search by photographer, model, designer,advertiser, and more. Less fun (and less dusty) than leafing throughthe actual pagesthis is also much more expensive: an annualsubscription to the digital archive costs around $1,500.
But whole careers can be uncovered, and missing chaptersadded to others. The canon will not change much. However, we cannow begin to follow the history of photography along a narrativemotivated by dollars and common sense.
NOTES Important reading on this subject includes: Patricia Johnston, Real Fantasies:Edward Steichen's Advertising Photography (Berkeiey: University of CaliforniaPress, 1997), and Micheie H. Bogart, Artists, Advertising, and the Borders ofArt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).= Raymond Wiliiams, "The Magic System," New Left Review 1, no. 4 (Aprii1960); repr. In Simon During, ed.. The Culturai Studies Reader (London andNew York: Routledge, 1993), pp. 421-22.^ Dawn Poweii, "Lovely Land of Never," New York Times, November 3, 1963,Book Review.
THIS PAGE: Diane and Allan Arbus, advertisement for Burlington Mills,Vogue, February 1 , 1949; OPPOSITE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT:Gjon Mili, advertisement for Saks Fiftii Avenue/Anthony Blotta, Vogue,March 1, 1 9 5 1 ; Louise Dahl-Wolfe, advertisement for La Cross Naylon,Vogue, February 1 5 , 1 9 4 7 ; Richard Avedon, advertisement for EnkaRayon, Vogue, March 1 , 1 9 5 3 ; Lillian Bassman, advertisement for GelierShoes, Vogue, January 15, 1957.
All magazines photographed by Tom Hayes
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