Legendary Fashion Photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe Honored in London Exhibit

Legendary Fashion Photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe Honored in London Exhibit

Legendary Fashion Photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe Honored in London Exhibit

A lesson in fashion history and the creation of the supermodel.

A lesson in fashion history and the creation of the supermodel.

Text: Megan Kasselberg

The Fashion and Textile Museum in London is honoring American fashion photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe with an exhibit of her trailblazing photographs, focusing on those taken in the 1930's through the '50s. Her subjects include Hollywood icons Bette Davis, Mae West, Orson Welles and Veronica Lake, writer W.H. Auden, and two of the century's most influential designers, Coco Chanel and Madeleine Vionnet, along with many more in the industry.

Ms. Dahl-Wolfe could be credited with creating fashion photography and the supermodel as we know it today. Years later, looking back at her early career, she wrote: "There weren’t really fashion photographers, just artists like Steichen, who just happened to do fashion photography.” She developed a style where models were sensual and fluid, rather than stiff, influencing all subsequent documentary depictions of the female form. It is easy to get lost in her work. Her photographs reflect the glamorous styles of the period, and the creation and development of the modern woman. She challenged gender norms and society's understanding of femininity throughout her career.

After growing up in San Fransisco to immigrant parents and studying painting, Louise Dahl-Wolfe documented the depression in Nashville, Tennessee, and shot for Saks Fifth Avenue and Bonwit Teller in New York. She was quickly hired by Harper's Bazaar, where she stayed from 1936 until 1958, working alongside legendary editor-in-chief Carmel Snow, fashion editor Diana Vreeland and art director Alexey Brodovich.

During her 22-year stay at Harper's Bazaar as lead photographer, she produced 86 covers, more than 2,000 black-and-white images, and 600 color palettes. Carmel Snow once said: "From the moment I saw her first color photograph, I knew that the Bazaar was at last going to look the way I had instinctively wanted my magazine to look.”

A Style of Her Own opens today, and runs until January 28, featuring many rare pieces. Louise Dahl-Wolfe passed away in 1989, living until age 94. Take a look at some of her best-known work below.

Harpers Bazaar Cover June 1953. Jean Patchett at the Alhambra, Spain. Shorts and Jacket by Clare Potter.
Credits: Banner Image Suzy Parker in Dior Hat, Tuileries, Paris, 1950. Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Collection Staley Wise Gallery, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents.

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