Jazz, Theater, Hollywood: How James Abbe Made a Stellar Pantheon with Portraits

James Abbe wanted to be a photojournalist, and he started his career in photography thanks to a commission on covering a 16-day voyage of the American battleship fleet to Europe for the Washington Post in 1910. During his work as a photojournalist, he witnessed the instability of the world. But his career as a photographer truly boosted back at home in New York and Los Angeles, on the stages of Broadway and the Hollywood screens.

Abbe had this unusual way of picturing his model-celebrities like Anna Pavlova, Natasha Rambova (his wife), Dorothy Gish, Dolly Sisters, Fred and Adele Astaire as if they're larger than life. Dressed and posed in the most perfectly picturesque fashion, his celebrity portraits glamorized the performers as if mythical, almost divine beings. How he does this has a lot to do with the way he composes his images. Compared to the usual, stoic, smile-less faces, Abbe was one of the liberators as he preferred his models having a 'look' or attitude, akin to their personalities or characters.

It was through his style did magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair saw the potential of portraiture taken outside the studio, as it was common practice among photographers to shoot inside the studio than elsewhere. From there, Abbe photographed a whole range of personalities from the famous to infamous. One anecdote from a certain Miss Tilly said Abbe even "tricked" Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator, to pose for him, resulting the rare snapshot of the politician smiling.


Images are under public domain.

2018-03-26 #culture #portraiture #vintage-photography #james-abbe

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