Photographer George Hurrell’s Moonlight Serenade to Hollywood

Photographer George Hurrell shot for Vanity Reasonable all through the 1930s, infusing his Hollywood portraits with prosperous shadow, seductive light-weight, and gobbets of intercourse enchantment. A study of his perform, “Star Electrical power,” arranged by senior curator Ann Shumard at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, evokes a dropped period of peak glamour. Hurrell’s photos summon a time, deep in the throes of the Depression, when moviegoers were being pining for icons whose onscreen life could take them out of their personal, if only for an afternoon.

Hurrell gave these stars outsize scale and otherworldly shimmer. And on celebration, as evidenced in this article, some of his topics could express such sultry incandescence that sure museumgoers with a lot more frail constitutions might want to carry alongside a vial of smelling salts.

Between the wars, lots of of his photographic peers most popular to render cinema’s giants in a kind of gauzy dreamland, but Hurrell (1904–1992) was recognized for his facility with a new invention—the increase light—that gave his shots a peculiar clarity and coolness, as if illuminated by moonbeams. That nocturnal solid and pinpoint sharpness transformed Hurrell from a mere creator of studio publicity stills into a learn of glam.

Before Vanity Good suspended publication in 1936 (its present incarnation was released in 1983), Hurrell, George Hoyningen-Huene, and Horst P. Horst were being the a few H-adult males of Hollywood, masking celebrities—as nicely as fashion—for VF, Vogue, and other outlets by their bold, modernist illustrations or photos. (Hurrell, in actuality, enjoyed this kind of longevity that he was amid a handful of portraitists commissioned by the two the Jazz Age Vainness Honest and the contemporary version. He was fortuitous sufficient to photograph, for instance, John Barrymore in 1933, as properly as the actor’s then nine-yr-aged granddaughter, Drew Barrymore, in 1984, two several years right after her appearance as Gertie in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Additional-Terrestrial.)

Hurrell enthusiasts—or actually very long-time period VF subscribers, who may well have flipped by way of the magazine in the 1930s as toddlers and would now be in their 90s or 100s—will understand two of the magazine’s most memorable shoots in the exhibition. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the tap dancer, vocalist, and actor, is caught mid-faucet as he executes his famous “stair dance.” And actor-comic Jean Harlow (whom the magazine, at the time, characterized as a “platinum blonde siren”) is demonstrated as if lounging around her residing room, possibly in front of a roaring fireplace. Harlow, usually in on the joke, is accompanied—wink-wink—by a horizontal companion. Rrrroar.

The display is on look at by January 5, 2025.