Louise Dahl-Wolfe (November 19, 1895 – December 11, 1989) was an American photographer. She is known primarily for her work for Harper's Bazaar, in association with fashion editor Diana Vreeland.
Among the celebrated fashion photographers of the 20th century, Louise Dahl-Wolfe was an innovator and influencer who significantly contributed to the fashion world.
Louise Emma Augusta Dahl was born November 19, 1895 in San Francisco, California to Norwegian immigrant parents being youngest of three daughters. In 1914, she began her studies at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Institute of Art), where she studied design, color and painting as well as taking courses in life drawing, anatomy, figure composition and other subjects over the next six years. After graduating, Dahl-Wolfe worked in designing electric signs and interiors.
In 1921, Dahl-Wolfe met with photographer Anne Brigman, who inspired her to take up photography. She studied design, decoration and architecture at Columbia University, New York in 1923.
Her first published photograph, titled Tennessee Mountain Woman, was published in Vanity Fair (U.S. magazine 1913–36).
In 1928 she married the sculptor Meyer Wolfe, who constructed the backgrounds of many of her photos.
From 1936 to 1958 Dahl-Wolfe was a staff fashion photographer at Harper’s Bazaar. She produced portrait and fashion photographs totaling 86 covers, 600 color pages and countless black-and-white shots. She worked with editor Carmel Snow, art director Alexey Brodovitch and fashion editor Diana Vreeland, traveling widely, and she would become a great influence on photographers Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.
She was also considered a pioneer of the 'female gaze' in the fashion industry, creating the new image of American women during the world war II: They were strong and independent.
In 1943, Dahl-Wolfe photographed for the March 1943 cover of Harper's Bazaar one of her as well as the magazine's most iconic photographs:
The cover shows a young lady in front of the reception of American Red Cross Blood Donation clinic. She is styling chicly in an elegant navy suit, white blouse, black gloves, a cloche hat with long waves in her hair and holding a red bag with matching lipstick. The young woman looks either waiting to go inside to donate or about to leave the Red Cross blood donor room. The expression on her face is nonchalant with a suggestion that she does not attend the blood donation clinic regularly. Her eyes are empty. She may be disappointed or sad or helpless just as any other American woman knowing the reality is no one can escape. The audience can sense the uncertainty in the air of the time from her expression. The model in the cover was 18-year-old Lauren Bacall, who was a successful actress in Hollywood.
Dahl-Wolfe was known for taking photographs outdoors, with natural light in distant locations from South America to Africa in what became known as "environmental" fashion photography and later industry standard even now.
Her models pose candidly, almost as if Dahl-Wolfe had just walked in on them. Dahl-Wolf innovatively used color in photography and mainly concerned with the qualities of natural lighting, composition, and balance. Compared to other photographers at the time who were using red undertones, Dahl-Wolfe opted for cooler hues and also corrected her own proofs.
In 1950, she was selected for "America's Outstanding Woman Photographers" in the September issue of Foto. From 1958 until her retirement in 1960, Dahl-Wolfe worked as a freelance photographer for Vogue, Sports Illustrated, and other periodicals.
Throughout her career, one of Louise Dahl-Wolfe's favourite subjects was the model Mary Jane Russell, who is estimated to have appeared in about thirty percent of Dahl-Wolfe's photographs.
Although she worked all her life for fashion magazines, Dahl-Wolfe preferred portraiture to fashion photography. Notable portraits include: Cristobal Balenciaga, Cecil Beaton, Orson Welles, Edward Hopper, Colette and Josephine Baker.
Louise Dalhl-Wolfe lived many of her later years in Nashville, Tennessee. She died in New Jersey of pneumonia in 1989.
The full archive of Dahl-Wolfe's work is located at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) at the University of Arizona in Tucson, which also manages the copyright of her work.
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