Exploring being female (for that's what we are) in a world of media myths, publishing incompetence, and marketing madness -- as well as the female submission and subscription to those messages.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Swanson Assigment

In the 1950 Fall Issue of Photography Worskshop, in an article "The Swanson Assignment: A Movie Queen's Dilemma Becomes The Photographer's Portrait Problem", photographer Philippe Halsman recalls his photo session with Gloria Swanson.


An unhappy & nervous Swanson appears at the photographer's studio, and as time passes, he wonders if he'll get the shot he's supposed to get for Life.

He tries a little conversation to cheer her, mentions his honest delight at having just seen Sunset Boulevard. Her response? She cries.

Half-guiltily, I asked her, "Why do your cry?" She dabbed at her straight, perfect nose with a lace handkerchief and finally, when she could speak, she told me. She was tired, she said. Ever since she arrived from Hollywood, she had been pushed, pulled, driven, manipulated, by the implacable forces of publicity.

So she wept, and her eyes turned red at the lids and her face became swollen. Helplessly, I watched her beautiful face disintegrate into misery, and I saw our full-page in Life dissolving in salt.
"Why don't we go for a quiet walk in the Park?" he asks her. They did, and they "talked until her forehead smoothed and she said we could go back to the studio".

But while Swanson was feeling better, the camera was not ready to make love to her:
she was calm inside, but the calm had not yet worked its way to the outside. Her swollen, red eyes still betrayed the fact that she had wept. I clicked the shutter anyhow, not wanting to offend her, but all the time, I thought: What excuse can I make to tell her that she should come another time? Still trying to evolve a little, diplomatic plot to postpone the portraits, I haphazardly suggested that she put on some black leather gloves for the next few pictures.

What follows are some of the most beautiful & famous photos ever taken.



Why-O-why don't they publish stories like this in women's magazines? Swanson is both gorgeous and human; the photographer kind. He clearly adores women -- I should be described so when I cry!

Today the story would have be published as an egotistical bitch-fight; salacious details from an insider exploiting a celebrity.

If this article had been published in a women's magazine, it would have been some tired tripe. Like 3 Little Pick-Me-Ups: "When having a bad day a) go for a walk, b) talk to someone, c) try a new fashion accessory."

What garbage! I love fashion -- and the gloves! -- but it's Halsman's care of her -- care for her -- which puts her at ease, has her playing with the gloves, and gets him the photos. Why can't that be the story? Or at least part of it.

Why don't we have articles like this in women's magazines today?

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