Louise Dahl-Wolfe

Introduction by Dorothy Twining Globus, Director, The Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology
Essays by Vicki Goldberg and Nan Richardson

Renowned as the leading female fashion photographer in the world from the 1930s to 1960, Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895-1989) received universal acclaim for her fashion, still lifes, and portraits. Her celebrity reached its apogee 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 evolved a signature style of "environmental" fashion photographs, taking photographs into 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. The expression of a new American lifestyle, her photographs were relaxed and accessible, yet exotic. It was the style of the woman: spirited, worldly, and above all, free. This long-awaited assessment of Louise Dahl-Wolfe, in both exhibition and book form, will enable the full spectrum of one of the world's greatest and most influential talents in fashion photography to be finally understood.

"For those weaned on the fashion magazines of the 1940s Dahl-Wolfe's photography has achieved
a significance of almost mythic proportions."

-John Duka, The New York Times


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 took almost a decade for Dahl-Wolfe to actually pursue her hobby seriously. After a brief stint designing electronic signs in New York (1921-23), working for a decorator in San Francisco (1924), and traveling in Italy and Morocco with photographer Consuelo Kanaga (1927-28), Louise met (in Tunisia) and married sculptor Meyer (Mike) Wolfe. After a hermetic detour to a cabin in Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee in 1932 (where she created a strong portrait series of the mountain people) Dahl-Wolfe arrived in New York. 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 for Saks Fifth Avenue, Bonwit Teller, Neiman Marcus, and others, Harper's Bazaar signed her to a contract that was to last for over a quarter-century. Louise Dahl-Wolfe was ascending to the throne of doyenne of fashion photography. The advent of one-shot Kodachrome film made color photography in fashion magazines a practicable proposition, and Dahl-Wolfe's sensitivity to the new medium was a considerable asset. From 1936 on, Bazaar featured her work on eighty-six covers, using over six hundred of her color photographs and thousands of her black-and-whites on its inside pages. Her energized, healthy, American outdoor-girl look was popular with readers during 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 the full spectrum of one of the world's greatest and most influential talents in fashion photography to be finally understood.

 

About the Authors:

Dorothy Twining Globus has been the director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology since 1993. Among the exhibitions that she has presented over those years are Geoffrey Beene Unbound; Lillian Bassman; Linen; Hello Again: Recycling for the Real World; Illusions of Fashion: Papiers a La Mode, Unmistakably Mackie. Prior to this, Globus served as Curator of Exhibitions at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum for twenty years and at the Smithsonian Institution. She serves on the Board of Directors of the International Design Conference at Aspen.

Vicki Goldberg is a photography critic for The New York Times, co-author of American Photography: A Century of Images (Chronicle), author of The Power of Photography: How Photographs Changed Our Lives (Abbeville) and editor of Photography in Print (University of New Mexico Press). She is the recipient of numerous awards, from the Royal Photographic Society, London, The International Center for Photography, New York and the University of Missouri School of Journalism, among others.

Nan Richardson is the curator of the Louise Dahl-Wolfe exhibition and editor of Umbrage Editions. She has co-authored a number of books, including Lillian Bassman (Bulfinch), Chim: The Photographs of David Seymour (Bulfinch), The White T (Harper Collins), and the forthcoming Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World (Random House).

 

Photography/Fashion
9 x 12" upright 176 pages
135 illustrations
85 four color and 50 duotone images
isbn: 0-8109-4051-5 $45 August 2000
Produced by Umbrage Editions
Published by Abrams