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Modernism and advertising photography


L. Parker Stephenson Photographs presents Modernism and Advertising Photography 1920s – 1930s, an exhibition of vintage photographs by recognized masters and lesser-known American and European photographers.

Photography did not secure its place in printed page advertising until more than forty years after the invention of the halftone process which enabled a photograph to be printed alongside text. Starting in the 1920s, advertising and public relations work provided a means of income for photographers and a number of schools in the US and Europe established departments to train students for commercial careers. The lines between art and commercial photography were often blurred as photographers were granted wide creative margin to interpret the marketed products and services according to their own artistic standards. This window of freedom did not last long, however, and after the Great Depression clients and art directors increasingly imposed their own views of how an advertisement should appear. Patriotic priorities during WWII further stifled the preceding decades’ imagination and originality.

The vintage prints selected for this exhibition from the mid-1920s and 1930s stand as prime examples of the experimental, bold, and visionary work created for advertising during this brief but fertile period. Among those on view is Margaret Bourke-White’s modernist icon, Mechanical Nuts, executed for Russell Birdsall & Ward. An image of a naked woman bound in yarn designed by Anton Bruehl – another pioneer in the field – for Bonwitt Teller’s knitted-to-order-sport clothes won the 1932 Annual Advertising Art Award in photography and was exhibited the following year at the Chicago World’s Fair. Similar surrealist overtones can be found in Ilse Bing’s elegant and haunting oversized print, Salut de Schiaparelli, of a woman lying dreaming on a bed of lilies. A still life photomontage by Claude Tolmer was included in Mise en Page; a book his father wrote and published in 1931 that, to this day, continues to serve as a reference for design and layout. Ralph Steiner’s comical Ham and Eggs and Gordon Coster’s image of a man’s distorted head (likely created for a headache medicine) inject humor while shadows, reflections, and light abstract Jaromír Funke’s Styx Coty Perfume Bottle, René-Jacques’ Lalique crystal, and Milos Dohnány’s lens filters. Other photographs by Edward Steichen, Wynn Richards, Underwood, and Edward Quigley are also on view.

Modernism and Advertising Photography
1920s – 1930s

On view until December 17, 2011

L. Parker Stephenson
New York Office:
764 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10065
T: +1.212.517.8700

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