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img657Although Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895-1989) was of the same generation photographers as the two photographers in our earlier posts Dorothea Lange  and Tina Modotti, her career would take a very different course. Dahl-Wolfe became one of the earliest American fashion photographers when such a trade did not really exist.

Illustration was the preferred method for showing fashion in magazines like Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar. With the change in the workforce, the Depression, and the onset of the Second World War, all of this was changed. Dahl-Wolfe had been trained in California as a fine artist, and took up photography after having seen the fine photography by Anne Brigman, an early San Francisco photographer. Louise Dahl-Wolfe practically invented outdoor American fashion photography.

img649The book, shown here with one of the fashion photographs at the top of the post, is a departure from the usual books on photographers in the sense that it is truly a scrapbook illustrated with her stories. Superb life stories of meeting Alexey Brodovitch, Harper’s Art Director at the time, a magazine where she was a staff photographer from 1936 to 1958. Working with Diane Vreeland, the legendary queen of the fashion editors, it must have made for exciting times! Here is what some very famous photographers had to say about her. (from the back cover)

img650Dahl-Wolfe set the tone and pace for the next generation of photographers like Horst and Avedon and Penn. The nearly square format book with the preface by Frances McFadden was published in 1984, it also has a number of wonderful portraits besides fashion shots.  The book is a tribute not to fashion by itself, but to the women involved in it, and not just to the hype around it. Her private endeavor was in making portraits of a wide array of personalities like Mae West, the author W.H.Auden, Cecil Beaton, the painter Edward Hopper, and countless others. Hundreds of color pages and 80 plus cover shots for Harper’s is an indication of how fashion came into the limelight!