Essays by Vicki Goldberg and Nan Richardson
Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895–1989) was renowned as the world’s leading female fashion photographer from the 1930s to 1960. Her celebrity reached its apex after she joined Harper’s Bazaar, vanguard of women’s magazines. Working alongside legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch and editor Carmel Snow, Dahl-Wolfe was part of a triumvirate rarely equaled in fashion or media, before or since. She developed a signature style of "environmental" fashion photographs, taking photographs in natural light and using background to advantage, all the while experimenting with new color technology. Her influence had immense resonance with contemporary talents such as Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, and with succeeding generations of photographers. Her photographs were relaxed and accessible, yet exotic, the expression of a new American lifestyle. They embodied the style of the post-war American woman: spirited, worldly, and above all, free. This is the only available full-color monograph of her work.
Born in 1895 in San Francisco, Louise Dahl-Wolfe attended the California School of Design (now San Francisco Art Institute). Her interest in photography grew after meeting photographer Anne W. Brigman in 1921, but it was almost a decade before Dahl-Wolfe actually pursued her hobby seriously. Vanity Fair, her first national publication, garnered her favorable notice, and Edward Steichen included her work in his vast 1937 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, alongside Walker Evans and Edward Weston. After various freelance assignments, Harper’s Bazaar signed her to a contract that was to last for over a quarter-century, and Louise Dahl-Wolfe became the doyenne of fashion photography. Her energized, healthy, American outdoor-girl look was popular with readers for the next twenty-odd years, from 1936 to 1958. She moved fashion outdoors, with work shot on location in far-flung places from North and South America to Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. Her photographs became a byword for exquisite color and formal sophistication.
This long-awaited assessment of Louise Dahl-Wolfe, in both exhibition and book form, will enable modern viewers to understand and appreciate one of the world’s greatest and most influential talents in fashion photography.