This Day’s Notable Aesthetic


One of the most seminal photographers of the 20’s and 30’s, regarded by many as the greatest master of photographic lighting who ever lived, was also one of its most eminent practitioners in the art of Illusion. George Hoyningen-Huene was a journeyman long before he came into his own as one of the most sought-after fashion phtographers of his day photographing for Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar in what came to be known as the “cult of the classical.”

Working in huge film studios and using whatever lighting worked best, from huge theatrical spots to, on at least one occasion, an ordinary flashlight, Hoyningen-Huene perfected the art of lighting to transmit emotion, gesture and setting.

Although his photographs always appeared the epitome of casual elegance, they were carefully composed, accentuating the style and texture of individual garments, while juxtaposing angular shapes and flowing curves, to create a masterpiece of fashion timelessness.

Rather than merely making a pictorial record of the clothing worn by his models, he would integrate the posed model into an evocative scene through atmosphere, lighting, and background.

In his studios, he could create any illusion, like the one above, for example, where he simulated a beach scene complete with sun and sand for the two models gazing out over the water. No prop escaped his attention. He introduced automobiles, chairs, plants, and sunshades on the set, whatever might suggest real life and real fashions being shot outdoors.

This famous photograph of a pair of bathers, published in July, 1930, shows a young man and woman in bathing suits who seem to be on a diving board looking out over the sea. Idyllic as the setting may seem, the far more interesting truth reveals that the photo was taken on the roof of Vogue’s photo studio on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. The models were seated on boxes, and the low wall surrounding the roof, rendered slightly out of focus, created the illusion of the sea and its horizon.

Another little known fact about this infamous photo; the male model was Huene’s assistant, Horst P. Horst, who went on to become an incredible fashion photographer in his own right.




~ by eaesthete on 07/20/10.

6 Responses to “This Day’s Notable Aesthetic”

  1. I always thought this photograph was of Gerald and Sara Murphy, the wealthy ex-Pats who inspired Fitzgerald to write “Tender is the Night.” I must be confusing it with another similar photo of them in bathing suits.

    My husband has a wonderful table sized book on Horst. His work is also wonderful.

  2. I actually like it better knowing this.

  3. The delicate poise in the photograph is very appealing. The languor projected, though studied, doesn’t feel inauthentic. And that’s quite a feat

    Thanks for the edification,


  4. One of my all-time favourite images. So simple & sparse yet so elegant, timeless &, I now find thanks to the Errant Aesthete, illusory. No matter, I look at it and still find I want to be that athletic, mysterious woman basking in the sun with that athletic, (no longer so) mysterious man!

  5. I once used this iconic shot in a lecture, talking about the natures of illusion vs. reality, facts vs. Truth. It’s only a photo of the photographer’s assistant on the studio roof in the same narrow, pedantic way that, say, King Lear is a combination of vowels & consonants. In the broader sense, this image captures Gerald & Sara Murphy better than do some of their actual photographs, cluttered up as they are with incidental detail. Then again, those photos were just snapshots, taken by friends & family. This one, taken by a genius, distills the Murphys–and their brief, perfect world–to their essence. The fact that it’s not really them is a mere technicality.

    • Magnaverde,

      Your reputation precedes you and you, certainly, don’t disappoint. What an insightful and interesting observation. You’re absolutely correct in the ‘mere technicality’ of the imagined identity of the bathers. Hoyningen-Huene personifies the wondrous world of Sara & Gerald Murphy so much more eloquently than the true-to-life snapshots that survive them. I remember reading about them long before actually seeing them in photographs and was crestfallen by what the words obviously couldn’t (didn’t) capture on film. Had this image been provided , I feel sure I would have thought it a perfect match to my fanciful imagination.

      Having not been aware of what appears to have been a rather common case of mistaken identity as noted by CG, I am, now, even more captivated by the sense of illusion and shall, forevermore, imagine them as the Golden Couple. Many thanks.

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