Friday, July 26, 2013

Still: Louise Brooks in Los Angeles Times

Today's Los Angeles Times reports on David S. Shields new book, Still: American Silent Motion Picture Photography, which examines the work of early cinematographers and still photographers who helped create celebrity in the 20th century. It is an excellent book which I have only had a chance to glance at - I want to get a copy soon. Louise Brooks, as well as the photographers who photographed her - like Eugene Richee and M.I. Boris, are featured in the book.

The Los Angeles Times story can be found here. The review begins: "Shields is both scholarly and deeply passionate about the pictures (some from his own collection), gathering rare images from the sets of epic costume dramas and the kind of celebrity portraiture that would reach its ultimate expression generations later in Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone."

The article also includes a slideshow, which begins with an image of Louise Brooks (the famous Richee portrait of Brooks wearing a string of pearls). It's caption reads, "One of the most lasting images of the silent era is actress Louise Brooks wearing black against a black background, photographed by Eugene Robert Richee. In Still, David S. Shields calls it a "'minimalist masterpiece'." 

From the publisher: "The success of movies like The Artist and Hugo recreated the wonder and magic of silent film for modern audiences, many of whom might never have experienced a movie without sound. But while the American silent movie was one of the most significant popular art forms of the modern age, it is also one that is largely lost to us, as more than eighty percent of silent films have disappeared, the victims of age, disaster, and neglect. We now know about many of these cinematic masterpieces only from the collections of still portraits and production photographs that were originally created for publicity and reference. Capturing the beauty, horror, and moodiness of silent motion pictures, these images are remarkable pieces of art in their own right. In the first history of still camera work generated by the American silent motion picture industry, David S. Shields chronicles the evolution of silent film aesthetics, glamour, and publicity, and provides unparalleled insight into this influential body of popular imagery.
Exploring the work of over sixty camera artists, Still recovers the stories of the photographers who descended on early Hollywood and the stars and starlets who sat for them between 1908 and 1928. Focusing on the most culturally influential types of photographs—the performer portrait and the scene still—Shields follows photographers such as Albert Witzel and W. F. Seely as they devised the poses that newspapers and magazines would bring to Americans, who mimicked the sultry stares and dangerous glances of silent stars. He uncovers scene shots of unprecedented splendor—visions that would ignite the popular imagination. And he details how still photographs changed the film industry, whose growing preoccupation with artistry in imagery caused directors and stars to hire celebrated stage photographers and transformed cameramen into bankable names.
Reproducing over one hundred and fifty of these gorgeous black-and-white photographs, Still brings to life an entire long-lost visual culture that a century later still has the power to enchant."

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