1930s-1940s Star Glamour Portraits by George Hurrell

George Hurrell never met a light he didn’t like. His portraits are full of hot spots, strong shadows, strange blobs and imperfection-and are all amazingly strong images. George Hurrell id not just photograph his subjects the way they looked, he captured them the way we wanted to see them. George Hurrell was a genius at lighting and posing.
One complaint of modern viewers is that the people in his images often seem a little too small. While not exactly on the scale of a Chinese painting where the people are small dots in one corner, the people-the stars, are often off center and large blank areas denominate the image. Of course, these were movie images, the large blank spaces being filled up later by text and boarders. There was also the fact that the movies were a mysterious and magical thing. Many of Hurrell’s classic images from the 1930s were shot on back lots and feature movie lights and ropes and folding chairs that would become icons of Hollywood.
George Hurrell was a great fan of strong shadows and deep rich blacks and pure white whites. He liked to experiment with light coming in from different angles, so that some his images are flat, other Rembrandt, and some lite from below light a Halloween portrait of Vincent Price or Lon Chaney. I shoot with four lights, Hurrell used as amny as he could get his hands on. He was a strong influence on all those that followed him, but he fell from the forefront of Hollywood Photography after the 1950s. My favorite of his later years work was the publisity shots for Star Trek, in which he used his standard strong lighting and shadows on William Shatner and Lenoard Nimoy. These images are usunally uncredited, but they clearly have the Hurrell touch to them.
One of the trademrks of all Classic Hollywood Portraiture is the excessive use of retouching. People take on the look of a porceline doll with smooth perfect skin and never a hair out of place. Just as Ansel Adams ‘nature’ pictures were tweaked for days to make them into Fine Art Prints, Hurrell’s images required a lot of attention long after the shutter was snapped.
The results of his images give the false impression that they are simple and easy to recreate, but anyone who has tried to duplicate one of his images with three or four lights will find that the get a similar result, but not an exact one. There is an image of Marlena Dietrich which is featured in the book Hollywood Portraits and the author says it was shot with four lights, one for the model and three for the background. So why does she have four catch lights in her eyes if only one light was used to light her? To me it looks like there were at least four lights used to light the subject, most of them being spotlights from the small amount of falloff on the chair and the end of her hand. The background appears to be a window shuttered with a venetian blind with natural light filtered through it. Hurrell would not have liked using natural light, as it would be slightly out of his control, but it is still possible that this was in fact the case. Also, the shadows on her face show both butterfly lighting under her nose, and side lighting on the shadow along her chin. This is an interesting photograph, and one that lulls the viewer into thinking that taking this kind of photo is simple and easy.
George Hurrell used light to sculpt his subjects and make them look transcendent. The key to great Hollywood Portriature is making the subject look less like a person and more like a god. No one did this better than George Hurrell.
For more on Hollywood Portraits, Visit my Squidoo Lens on George Hurrell.

Jon Herrera

Jon Herrera

Writer, Photographer, Blogger.
Jon Herrera

Latest posts by Jon Herrera (see all)

Writer, Photographer, Blogger.

Posted in george hurrell, george hurrell glamour photography, george hurrell portraits, marlena dietrich

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