Sunday, 21 January 2018

Louise Dahl-Wolfe at the Fashion and Textile Museum

Firstly, a couple of apologies. Normally I try to post about exhibitions well before they finish, but this one I only managed to visit just before it ended (today). Also, because most of the exhibits were framed images behind glass, it was very hard to photograph without reflections. So the quality of some of the images is not as good as I would like.

Louise Dahl-Wolfe in Good Housekeeping magazine, 1941

I must admit that I'd never heard of Dahl-Wolfe before this exhibition, but it turns out that I had seen her work; I recognized several of the portraits on show. Born in San Francisco in 1895, she initially trained as an artist before taking up photography in the 1920s and turning professional in 1930.

Black and white images on display

In the early 1930s she and her husband went to live in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where she recorded everyday life during the Great Depression.

Tennessee portraits, 1931-2

After moving to New York City in 1933, Dahl-Wolfe became a staff photographer for Harper's Bazaar in 1936. She would work on the magazine for the next 22 years. In 1938 she was sent to Hollywood to take portraits of the stars, often shooting her subjects outdoors and in natural light.

Hollywood portraits, clockwise from top left: Carole Lombard, Vivien Leigh, Veronica Lake and Bette Davis

She brought the same approach to fashion photography; a genre which in 1936 was still in its infancy and very much based on the stiff style of society portraits.

Fashion photographs

Twins at the Beach, Nassau, 1949 (image taken from

Suzy Parker by the Seine, costume by Balenciaga, 1953 (image taken from the FTM website)

Many of her indoor shots used backgrounds built and painted by her husband, the sculptor Meyer 'Mike' Wolfe.

Swimsuit, 1939

Of particular interest to me of course was a collection of images of hats.

Lots of hats!

Liz Benn and Balloons, 1948

Suzy Parker in Dior, 1953

In 1937 Dahl-Wolfe took her first colour photograph for Harper's Bazaar. In total the magazine published 600 of her colour photographs (and over 3,000 in black and white), including 86 front covers. Her artist's training gave her a strong grasp of colour theory, and she worked closely with the printer to ensure that the images produced on the printed page were true to her vision.

A study in green and brown

The New College Girl in Training for New Skills for a New World, August 1943

Betty Bridges and Evelyn Tripp, April 1948

Jean Patchett, January 1955

Unfortunately many of the more colourful covers were impossible to photograph well. My favourite however was not especially colourful, and happily it was positioned where the reflections were not a major distraction. An outdoor shot, like so much of Dahl-Wolfe's work, it was photographed in the courtyard of Les Invalides in Paris. The discoloured stonework forms the perfect backdrop to the masthead, and this and the slight green tinge to the carving perfectly set off the model's clothing.

Green velour hat, Dior, November 1947


  1. I wanted to go to see this but unfortunately there just wasn't time. Thank you so much for sharing lots of photos from it though, so I didn't miss out entirely! xx

    1. You're welcome Cate! I only just made it myself - fortunately I had a free day, and it's only a couple of hours on the train. xx