Here’s what happens: I snap a picture and she—every she I’ve ever photographed—takes a look at the raw digital image and recoils in horror.
No matter how beautiful the woman or girl she always says:
“Is that what I really look like?”
“I look so old.”
On location, I’ve taken photographs of gorgeous and glamorous movie stars and even they claim to be, yup, ugly.
The greatest Hollywood still photographer ever was George Hurrell. During Hollywood’s golden age, in the 1930′s and 40′s, his studio portraits became the desired image of Hollywood beauty and glamor. For a handful of stars Hurrell portraits defined their G-d like images. For years the biggest stars in Hollywood clamored to sit for Hurrell.
What was Hurrell’s secret?
He hated studio make-up.
Normally, Hollywood stars—male and female—slapped on the same heavy make-up that was used in motion pictures, and then posed for the various studio photographers.
The studios valued the stills for publicity purposes. Photos were submitted to the numerous movie magazines. Influential columnists—often accepting pay-offs from studio PR people—published photos that helped stoke public interest in the latest starlet. Before she made a single movie, MGM flooded newspapers and magazines with Ava Gardner’s stunning image.
Hurrell was unhappy with the thick, painted-on look. He felt that what worked in movies did not cross-over into still photographs—at least his vision of what a Hollywood portrait should be. And so Hurrell insisted that the stars scrub their faces clean, and then he lit and shot them with his large format camera.
Hurrell and his staff then spent hours in the dark room retouching the photographs.
He made blemished and freckled skin glow with an inner luminescence, eyes were turned into deep clouds, lips were made sensually moist, and hair shined like a planet.
Here’s a rare Hurrell portrait of Joan Crawford—unretouched.
And after six hours of darkroom retouching, here’s Crawford as the public saw her.
The very best study of Hurrell’s work and methodology is Hurrells’ Hollywood Portraits by Mark A. Vieira.
Update: The beauty blog Jack and Hill has cross-posted this entry. Take a look as Hillary PhotoShops herself, in an effort to achieve the Hurrell glow.