November 22, 2011

glamorous: Hollywood Portraits made in France

Marlene Dietrich, Jean Gabin, Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier, Josephine Baker, Coco Chanel - these are some of the celebrities who were photographed at Studio Harcourt in Paris. Famous for black and white studio portraits of the rich and famous up until the 1960's, the Studio Harcourt's eponymous style, founded in 1934 by two publishing tycoons and a photographer, was inspired by French cinematographer Henri Alekan (when asked what a cinematographer's job was: "to obtain psychological reactions out of mere technical means") and translated mysticism to still portraits. 

How did they do it: Small light sources against a dark background, the eyes, nose and mouth are always in focus, the rest of the face is soft. In the early days this was achieved by using a silk stocking on the lens (legend has it only a Dior stocking would do) using a cigarette to burn holes in the appropriate places. Although the cameras are digital now, the results remain consistent, the intimate atmosphere the photographer creates with his 'sujet' essential in capturing the empyrean; the visage alight as if it were the light source.   

The studio has since re-opened and continues to take black and white portraits of celebrities and those who can afford the circa €1600 two-hour sitting. If you are on a smaller budget and happen to be in Paris, visit one of the original Studio Harcourt photo booths. 

One photo booth is at the Franck and Fils Shop, 80 rue Passy, 75016 Paris. Cost: €10.  The store is worth a visit in and of itself - combining a mash up of fashion to buy and art. The site is cool - worth checking out.  

Studio Harcourt on Facebook and Twitter too.  Pretty fabulous. 


N.Scott said...

Wish I had known about this last month when I was in Paris. No worries. It's only 3 hours away.


Veronika said...

It's definitely worth seeing/doing. And the department store Franck and Fils is pretty amazing. Luckily, they own the Harcourt photo booth so it will be there next time you are there.