Wallace Seawell - Photographs of Classic Hollywood
July 8, 2007 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Wallace Seawell's portraits virtually created the classic Hollywood look.

Obit with small gallery.

More photos via Google Images.
posted by The Deej (11 comments total)
What a living room he had. So Wallace Seawell was the one who helped create that sort of unreal, fan mag, two-dimensional, banal look, which was mesmerising as it was dehumanising. Kind of black velvet photography without the black velvet.

Wishing him a long and peaceful chocolate box cover style rest.
posted by nickyskye at 10:14 AM on July 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I read somewhere that many photographers of the era (although I don't know if Seawell was one of them) used liberal amounts of olive oil on the skin of their subjects to give them an even more unreal, glowing, glossy look. I think this was mostly with black and white photos, though. The oil was placed on the bridge of the nose, and on the cheeks. I also recall one photographer saying that it was as much psychological as practical. "This will make you look beautiful!" After being anointed, the subject would be much more confident and thus pose more readily.

(Death is like a box of chocolates?)

posted by The Deej at 10:34 AM on July 8, 2007

Cool anecdote The Deej. Kind of a photogenic placebo effect. If his coffin were one of those fantasy ones made in Ghana, it might be a wonderful, black velvet, Liberace ornate chocolate box with a Kincaid scene on the cover.
posted by nickyskye at 12:45 PM on July 8, 2007

ps, this Dorothy Chandler photo of his has strangely incongruous elements.
posted by nickyskye at 1:12 PM on July 8, 2007

The secret to the Hollywood look? Real simple. You can do it for less than $20.

Go to Home Depot. Sears might also work. Go to the Tools department and look for shop lights. Find the 1000w shop lamps. They're usually halogen. They burn with the intensity of the sun: something like 85% of the energy they consume is heat energy. Suck it up. It's $20 for a pair of 'em.

Get a model. And a camera.

Take the two blazing lights and position them about 5 ft. in front of your model, directly in front but elevated, pointing down to her face. When you see the butterfly shadow under the nose, you're done.


Also called Paramount Lighting. The shadow under the chin is another dead giveaway.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:30 PM on July 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Cool post, thanks. I love the look of Butterfly lighting. Had my photo taken like that once and the light and heat were so intense I couldn't keep my eyes open for any longer than a few seconds at a time. So it was me, sitting there turned away from the lights with my eyes squished shut, and the photog yelling "1...2...3... NOW!" at which I'd suddenly pop into my poses. Pretty annoying, but the photos were some of my favorites ever taken.
posted by Brittanie at 4:45 PM on July 8, 2007

wow Civil_Disobedient, wonderful, clear info that makes great sense of the style. Excellent link, explaining the various lighting looks. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 7:58 PM on July 8, 2007

IMHO, George Hurrell was the father of the classic Hollywood look. His work predates Seawell's and is far more interesting aesthetically. His lighting was impeccable and the subjects couldn't look more at ease and seductive. He created the "glam photo" style, starting in silent film marketing depts. for studios and continued to work into the "talkie" phase of film. His images of stars in the 30's and 40's are some of the most iconic images of Hollywood and are still extremely relevant today.
*Interesting tidbit, Greta Garbo was not only his most prolific subject, but also his studio's landlord.
posted by rubyeyo at 10:37 AM on July 9, 2007

Indeed, Hurrell was awesome. Seawell had one advantage over Hurrell, however, which made him worthy of this FPP: he died recently. :)
posted by The Deej at 12:56 PM on July 9, 2007

rubyeyo, It was surprising, looking at the George Hurrell images, how elegant they are compared to Seawell's. There is a feeling of a person in the image, complexity and modernity. Authentically sexy. The people in Seawell's images look flattened or fake in an uncomfortable way. But I see how he did the iconic thing.

What a great car Seawell had.

An obligatory

posted by nickyskye at 7:51 AM on July 10, 2007

Ooo I love the car!

You are correct, Seawell's images do have a very flat look to them. It almost looks like he wasn't trying to "interpret" the subject, as much as take a straight, recognizable image. It would be intereting to look into what the end uses of the photos were; so many of them look like PhotoPlay covers, that maybe that was his niche: publicity photos for use in a variety of magazines and studio publicity projects.

It's the opposite of say, Arnold Newman, whose portraits tried to show the "real" person, whether the subject liked it or not. Newman's portraits also told us as much about Newman as they did the subject.

Seawell's photos look like an attempt to to NOT show the real person, but to show The Actor in a way that is not ambiguous or controversial.
posted by The Deej at 8:43 AM on July 10, 2007

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