Long before the age of the supermodel, "you just photographed people you liked," photographer Horst P. Horst once said.
But Horst also made sure he picked beautiful women, dressed them up in elegant gowns, and created a glamourous setting.
The works of photographer Horst and his mentor, George Hoyningen-Huene, two highly respected fashion photographers in the 20th century, are on display in "The Look: Images of Glamour and Style," at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Both were photographers for Vogue magazine.
"Horst and Hoyningen-Huene created beautiful fantasy worlds and peopled them with people of our fantasies," says museum director Malcolm Rogers.
The walls in the exhibit, painted a metallic color, complement the photographs. They create a shimmering effect, says Cliff Ackley, one of the show's curators.
The rich images take viewers back to the 1930s through the '50s: a chic model wearing gloves looking through opera glasses; Coco Chanel reclining in a chaise; Ginger Rogers showing off an elegant backless dress; and Marlene Dietrich in a stylish fitted suit and hat, boldly leaning over a chair.
Horst and Huene, both inspired by the world of classical art, met in a Paris cafe in 1930. Already established as a respected photographer, Huene helped Horst break into fashion photography. He introduced him to the art director at Vogue magazine, where Horst eventually became a top photographer.
Horst's and Huene's photographs are special because of their timeless and enduring appeal. Taken mostly at Vogue's studios, the photos are rich with dramatic lighting, classic elegance, and style.
Since those days, photo shoots have changed dramatically. Today, a pop star or actor might turn on some music and move to the music. But photo shoots during Horst's and Huene's time were a very deliberate, well-planned act.
"In the 1930s," says photographer Herb Ritts in the audio tour, "it was much less about spontaneity and more about light, shadow, and mood. It was very orchestrated."
Horst said that in order to make a great picture, you have to "find out who [the subjects] are and where they live." This approach worked well with publicity-shy Coco Chanel. After Horst invited Chanel to dinner to get to know her better, he invited her to a photo shoot and captured her in a very relaxed mood. She even brought a baroque sculpture of a grapevine for the background. The image turned out to be her favorite.
These timeless photos still influence today's artists. Huene's "Mainbocher Corset Paris," made in 1939, features the backside of a woman dressed in a partially untied corset. Madonna restaged this image for her 1990 "Vogue" video.
Huene's "Izod Bathing Suits" is probably one of the most memorable and escapist images. "I am lucky enough to own this photograph," Mr. Ritts says, "and every time [you] pass by it at home, you feel that you're there."
"It's a spare, haunting image," "The Look" curator Ackley says, "but it was a total construction, staged on a rooftop with boxes. So much of this work is fantasy."
The Look' is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, through Jan. 6.